After a quiet first three weeks of July, The Rays are now in the middle of rumors for the the top two available pitchers on the market: Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Both are great pitchers. Both had a little major league success, then were sent down to the minors only to have even greater success after. There is no wrong choice in this debate. If the Rays were to add either Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee it would be a tremendous boost to the team. However, if the Rays are really going to make a move for one, I suggess Cliff Lee be that one.
There isn't much to dislike about Cliff Lee: He's 30 years-old. He was the best pitcher in the league last season. Despite a 6-9 record he's still a top 10 pitcher in the AL. He's left handed. And he's cheap...er. Much like my story about Grant Balfour, Lee has regressed a bit in 2009. Despite the regression, he's still a way above average major league pitcher. His 3.17 ERA is 6th best in the AL and his 3.26 FIP is 7th best, however he is just 6-9; queue the mass hysteria about acquiring a pitcher with a sub .500 W/L record.
More on why the Rays should trade for Cliff Lee after the jump...
Lee's strikeouts have dipped a bit this season while his walks have slightly increased. With that being said, his K/BB is still an above average 3.12. His HR/9 of 0.62 is attractive and his BABIP is nearly 25 points higher than his career average suggesting his numbers will improve with a better defense behind him.
If the Rays acquire Lee, they should get nearly 50 starts from him between the end of this year and next. Over his last 52 starts, Lee has been worth 11.3 wins. Over his last 52 appearances, Roy Halladay has been worth 12.2 wins. Halladay is owed the rest of his $14.25 million dollar salary in 2009, and is due to make $15.75 million in 2010. He also makes an additional $125k for an all star appearance. The Rays would be on the hook for roughly ~$18-$20 million dollars for Halladay through the end of next year.
Lee's contract is much more Rays friendly. Lee is making a total of $5.75 million in 2009. With over half the season over, the Rays would owe him less than $3 million dollars in 2009. Because of his Cy Young award in 2008, Lee's 2010 option jumps from $8 million to $9 million dollars. Let's hope for the best possible performance from him next season and say Lee makes the all star team next season (+$100k ) and wins another Cy Young award (+$250k). The Rays would be looking at a price tag of around ~$12 million dollars over the year and a half of service.
The going rate on a win varies depending on who/where you read about win values. For argument's sake, let's be conservative and say the cost of a win is $5 million dollars. If Halladay remains nearly a win better than Lee, the Rays would save money because Halladay's price tag is more than $5 million higher than Lee's, even if Lee hits all his max incentives.
Look, this is not meant to say that Lee is better than Halladay because he's not. To me Halladay is the best pitcher in the game, but I am saying Lee is a better fit for the Rays. The cheaper price tag for similar production makes more sense for a team that is constantly looking for a way to cut corners. There is also the little part of trading within the division that bothers me.
It was hard enough for me to come to terms with the idea of packaging Wade Davis plus some other top prospect (Reid Brignac?) in the first place. The idea of Davis making four starts a year against the Rays and Prospect X playing 19 games against the Rays does not appeal to me. If we are going to deal Davis to an AL team, I much rather it be a team not in the division and one we see six maybe seven times a year.
Of course, we don't know how involved the Rays are/are not in trade talks, and there is the chance the Rays won't acquire either Ace. However, if they are seriously considering making a move for one of them, and they want my advice then they should look in Cliff Lee's direction.