BALTIMORE -- The Red Sox are concerned about the dollars, the age, the prospects that it would take to get him. One baseball source with direct knowledge of Boston’s thinking believes that the Phillies would begin any negotiations by asking for Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley Jr.
Still, the source said, the Sox are actively exploring trading for Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, although any of the above reasons might cause them to walk away from the table.
Lee is still owed roughly $8 million this season, and $25 million for each of the next two seasons. There is a $27.5 million club option for 2016; if the club does not exercise it, there’s a $12.5 million buyout. In all, then, you’re talking about a guaranteed $70 million-plus investment.
Lee is 34 years old. He turns 35 on Aug. 30. He will be 37 when the contract runs out, 38 if he stays through his option year.
In Sox history, only six pitchers 35 years or older have pitched as many as 150 innings in a season while winning 15 games or more: Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling, David Wells, Luis Tiant, Lefty Grove and Cy Young.
On the other hand, Schilling was 37 years old in 2004 when he won 21 games and pitched the Red Sox to a World Series, and nobody has ever questioned that deal.
And Lee has proven to be extremely durable. He has thrown 200 innings or more in seven of the last eight seasons (2007 the only outlier) and is well on his way to doing so this season. He is 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA for the Phillies, and is averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 1.4 batters.
On the other hand, the conversation probably stops if the Phillies insist on either Bogaerts or Bradley Jr. Maybe if Lee was 25, not 35, the Sox would consider that. The Sox aren’t going to take on that kind of salary and surrender either of its very best prospects.
Yet we know the Sox have deep pockets, and are deep in prospects, which is why it can’t be ruled out. Long shot, yes. But this is a team that has demonstrated its boldness before: trading Nomar, pursuing A-Rod [before the madness], acquiring Schilling, trading Manny. And there would be nothing more satisfying for a Sox ownership group widely ridiculed after last season’s collapse than to climb all the way back this October.
Shane Victorino, who played with Lee for parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, spoke highly of the left-hander.
“I look at it this way -- who knows what’s going to happen," he said. “I’ve always felt if you can make an upgrade to your team, I’m all for it. How can you not say he’d be an upgrade?
“Who knows, maybe L.A. will step in. I know L.A. wanted him last year. [GM Ned] Colletti told me, ‘We just claimed Cliff, what do you think about that?’ I said, 'Hey, any time you can get that guy, he’s still got it.’
“He can still be good. Put him in a race, he’ll step up. He’s that kind of guy. He loves to pitch, no matter what. He’s pitched in big games, he’s been there.
“We’ll see. I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wouldn’t be mad if we got him."