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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Lee should improve in Philly; Tribe get younger


Cliff Lee is the No. 30 starting pitcher on ESPN's Player Rater, but don't blame him for failing to live up to what fantasy owners had hoped for, based on his draft-day spot. Lee is having a better season than many of the pitchers ranked ahead of him, but thanks to low run support and a nightmare of a bullpen, Lee has a record of 7-9. No, he wasn't putting up the same numbers he did in his Cy Young season of 2008, when he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, but Lee is still pretty good. Good enough to be the new ace of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cliff Lee
The addition of Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, gives the Phillies four lefties in the starting rotation.

The Indians get plenty of youth in this deal, sending Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to the National League, but the immediate winner from the Cleveland perspective is probably Matt LaPorta. Francisco was playing pretty much every day, and one would assume LaPorta's call up -- just days after Andy Marte got promoted following the Ryan Garko trade -- is somewhat imminent. LaPorta can hit for power. He might not be up by this weekend, but it shouldn't be long, and nobody's blocking him now. He's someone to watch in fantasy.

The actual prospects heading to the Indians could all have bright futures, but probably not this season. Carlos Carrasco had struggled with home runs and walks, and is not likely to make a fantasy impact yet, even if he is thrown into the proverbial fire right away. Lou Marson is a catcher who hits for average, but generally not for power. In theory, he could be the AL version of Florida's John Baker, I suppose, but he's nothing to get too excited about. Marson should play over Kelly Shoppach, though.

Victor Martinez might be the next player to be traded, what with the Tribe getting a major league ready catcher and promoting Marte to play first base, but clearly there aren't enough at-bats for everyone. By the way, the future behind the plate in Cleveland is likely Carlos Santana, who is currently hitting very well at Double-A Akron, but Marson is not a bad stopgap at all.

The Indians also picked up Class-A pitcher Jason Knapp in the deal, and utility infielder Jason Donald, an Olympian who figures to see time at second base, shortstop and third base, but is no lock to become a major league regular.

The biggest name in the deal is, of course, Lee, who should see his statistics marginally improve as he pitches in the National League. Anyone who gets to strike out pitchers instead of facing designated hitters should see a bump in numbers, and it's possible Lee could be much better. Then again, the Phillies' bullpen is a bit leaky at the back end, but Lee has been known to finish what he starts.

Fantasy owners might be worried about the home ballpark change, but Lee has not been giving up home runs since his resurrection at the start of last year; he has allowed 22 home runs in 53 starts, so even going to a relative launching pad in Philly, don't presume the long ball will be a problem. Lee should get more run support, and if he makes 10 to 12 starts for the Phillies, he should win a better percentage than he was in Cleveland. Among 91 pitchers with 100 or more innings this season, Lee ranked 84th in run support. No Phillies pitchers have such a problem.

Francisco is clearly going to lose playing time, however, since the Phillies have a trio of All-Star outfielders all healthy and playing well. He's likely to replace John Mayberry Jr. as the fourth outfielder, caddying for Raul Ibanez in the late innings and pinch hitting against lefties, so he does warrant attention in deep NL-only leagues. If you own Francisco in a mixed league, though, it's time to look elsewhere.

Also affected by this deal is Rodrigo Lopez, who did nothing wrong as the Phillies' fifth starter, winning in three of his four turns. Alas, it was not Pedro Martinez who ultimately pushed Lopez aside, but Lee. Tough to argue against that one. Lopez and Martinez don't figure to start for the Phillies now, with Lee, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton all pitching effectively. Maybe they can join Brett Myers in middle relief in September.

Cliff Lee is a Philadelphia Phillie. Roy Halladay, obviously, is not. We'll see where the Blue Jays turn now.