25 Million Pieces: The Potential Cliff Lee Trade and How it Affects Playoff Probability, Payroll, Prospects, and Draft Picks

The season isn't over and the playoff hopes aren't either, but the odds are heavily against us. BTB had the Rays at 24% odds Sunday morning, those have almost certainly dropped to 20% or so. That's a one-in-five chance at the post-season. The Yankees are basically guaranteed a playoff spot and the Red Sox are five ahead with only 62 to play.

The Sox actually have 64 to play, but if you assume they play .592 ball the rest of the way, like they have to date, then the Rays need to go 43-19 to tie them and 44-18 to top them. Winning 70% of the remaining games isn't impossible, but at the same time isn't predictable either. From now until Friday a ton of trade rumors are going to swirl around, with the most prevalent being Cliff Lee to the Rays. The basis for any deal is going to look like this:

TB: Lee

CLE: Prospects

Third team, probably an AL West team: Scott Kazmir

Lee and Kazmir are making about the same this year and equal next year, after which Lee would be a free agent and Kazmir would be entering the final two years of his deal at a combined 25 million. The perks for adding Lee and ridding Kazmir are summed up in money, performance, and essentially guaranteed draft picks following next season. That 12-13 million freed up in 2011 and 2012 could come in real handy with Matt Garza and B.J. Upton nearing free agency as well.

As for the performance issue, there's no way of knowing whether Kazmir will ever top his 2007. The same can be said for Lee this year though. If you assume Kazmir is basically replacement level - like he's been to date this season - then Lee represents a true change of about 1.5 wins from here on out. If you assume Kazmir is better, then the difference is closer to a win at most.On that BTB chart, an additional win is worth 7%, two is worth 14%, so 1.5 is close to a 10% gain. That puts the Rays at, oh let's say 30%. About a one-third chance. Better odds for sure, but to make the playoffs we also need:

1. Luck.

2. Boston to not upgrade by the same amount.

The odds aren't fantastic, and both of those conditional statements are unlikely, still though, a Lee deal gives the Rays a better shot this year and next. Assume any Lee deal includesWade  Davis and it gets a bit murkier. Davis is a top 50 pitcher, which puts his surplus value at 16 million. Assuming Lee nets the Rays a pick between 16-30 and a supplemental pick, those two combine for 7.8 million in surplus  value.

So the Rays theoretically lose 8 million there. The difference between Lee and Kazmir probably makes that up. Even if Kazmir turns it up to be a 3 win pitcher per season, Lee is probably better next season by at least a win, maybe two. Those extra wins push the Rays closer to the playoffs which means a shot at the gold. In Baseball Between the Numbers, Nate Silver estimated that a playoff appearance is worth 25 million.That doesn't mean go out and trade Desmond Jennings and Tim Beckham - mostly because top 50 hitters are worth about 23 million apiece - but it does mean that there's a lot to be gained by simply making the playoffs.

Here's how everything breaks down if the Rays decide for trading Kazmir and Davis for Lee:

- The Rays gain ~10% in playoff odds this year, 15%+ next year. Raising their odds this season to ~30% and next season to ~53% (based on what CoolStandings.com had us slated for on opening day 2008, and adding 15%)

- The Rays gain 25 mil in budget room combined for 2011 and 2012.

- The Rays likely gain two draft picks in the 2011 draft (a first and a supplemental first) from Lee.

- The Rays potentially gain 25 million from a playoff appearance, although this is hardly guaranteed.

- Keeps Lee away from Boston and New York.

- The Rays lose two additional seasons of Kazmir.

- The Rays lose three costless seasons from Davis, and three cost-controlled seasons.

Of course the Rays could simply trade Kazmir to a team like the Angels or Mariners for some prospects or decide against dealing Wade Davis and throw him into the rotation mix next year. Those are variables and about a million of them exist. A few more would be: how much will the Red Sox and Yankees upgrade in the off-season? How will the prospect value market shift over the next 12 months? How will the free agent market shift? What is the difference between 89 and 91 wins if the Rays fail to make the playoffs? How much does losing Davis hurt the system?

It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, something in which this front office excels.

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