Pirates Trade Rumors: Three Prospects Flamed Out in 2009 Cliff Lee Deal


Jun 9, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on the field before the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. The Pirates won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates trade rumors continue to swirl around Jon Lester as the Pirates have erased the memories of a stale April.  Suddenly trading for a stud pitcher is on the lips or should we say fingertips of most Buccos fans.  It’s pretty exciting to see how the team has used a myriad of starting pitchers to survive crucial injuries to Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.  The club got over the departure of Wandy Rodriguez.  The battling Bucs have also been able to keep winning despite a mysterious mental throwing ailment to Pedro Alvarez.

But will a stud pitcher be enough?

Pirates trade rumors swirl around pitching. We revisit the Cliff Lee deal from 2009.

We started digging around for how some major trades that included stud pitchers worked out in baseball history.   We couldn’t help but include one that involved the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland was the organization that Pirates GM Neal Huntington worked for prior to taking over as the 12th GM in Pirates history.  While he had nothing to do with the deal as he was busy rebuilding the Pirates, we still wonder what Huntington thought about the deal the Indians made two years after he departed.

The deal went down on July 29, 2009, when Cleveland traded Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies gave up three prospects in the top 75 of the game.  All of them ranked in the sixties by Baseball America.  None worked out very well.

In 2008, Cliff Lee was an absolute horse for the Tribe.  He won the American League Cy Young putting up a monster 22-wins-don’t-matter against  just three losses.  One could argue that Lee makes Jon Lester’s 2013 season look like Jon Leiber in comparision.

The Indians were ready to unload him in the summer of 2009 before–and it all sounds so familiar–Lee would move along during the 2010 off season.   Cliff Lee was 31-years old at the time and he was sent to Philadelphia for four young prospects.

Do you happen to remember who those prospects were?  We sure didn’t.

From the ESPN report:

"Triple-A right-hander Carlos Carrasco, Class A righty Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson — the likely heir apparent to Victor Martinez — and shortstop Jason Donald were sent to Cleveland.“At the root of this deal was balancing the conviction of our ability to compete in 2010 with the opportunity to impact the team’s construction for years to come,” Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “Without the sense of confidence in the team’s ultimate competitiveness, we acted aggressively to add players that will impact the organization in 2010 and beyond.”"

The fact is none had a signficant impact for the Indians.  That player is relief pitcher Carlos Carrasco.  Instead of being hit hard for such a poor trade, Shaprio was named club President in 2010.

Meanwhile in the 2009 post season, the southpaw was dominant for the Phillies.  Just what the team needed down the stretch and in the playoffs, Lee went 4-0 over five starts and seemed to strikeout at least one playoff hitter an inning as he piled up 33 punch outs.  Of course, most fans will point to the fact that it still wasn’t enough as the Bronx Bombers took down the Phillies in just six games in the World Series.

It’s funny because the Montreal Expos–the organization Huntington worked for prior to heading to Cleveland–included Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in a trade for Bartolo Colon back in 2002.  Talk about being fleeced.  That’s the type of trade that haunts an organization for years–well unless the organization disappears like the Expos did.

The fact is sometimes prospects flame out.

Prior to the trade, Baseball America had Jason Knapp as the #64 prospect in the game.  Jason Knapp is now 23-years old and is playing in high A ball for Texas this year.  The 2nd round pick of the Phillies in 2008 has pitched more for Texas and Philadelphia than he ever did for Cleveland’s farm system.

Prior to the trade, Baseball America had Lou Marson—“the likely heir apparant to Victor Martizez” ranked as the #66 prospect in baseball.  Marson was horrid for Cleveland.

Prior to the trade, Baseball America had Jason Donald ranked as the #69 prospect.  Jason Donald hasn’t played for the Indians since 2012.  When he did play, it was pretty bad.

The Cliff Lee deal was a big move for the Indians in 2009.  The prospects they received from Philadelphia didn’t work out.  Cliff Lee really worked out for Philly.  It’s just one deal among many, but one that proves sometimes prospects simply don’t work out.

The Phillies didn’t win the World Series.  Five years later the team looks like they should be set on fire.  The three prospects they gave up for Lee didn’t work out, but it certainly makes the team wonder if they could have developed them, maybe they would have?