LOS ANGELES – Regardless of whether the Dodgers do or don't acquire Cliff Lee, the wacky waiver wire machinations that began Friday and might not end until Sunday send one unmistakable message:
The Dodgers are willing to spend money as if it's being made with a PC, scanner and color inkjet printer.
By claiming Lee hours after the Philadelphia Phillies placed the left-handed starting pitcher on waivers, the Dodgers did what the nine teams beneath them in the National League standings were afraid to do: risk that the Phillies would say, "He's all yours, and enjoy paying the last $110 million of his contract."
Frankly, the Dodgers were hoping the Phillies would tell them that very thing. Money is no object in L.A. right now, not with new ownership hell-bent on winning the National League West and making a postseason run. And doing it now.
The Dodgers also claimed starter Joe Blanton from the Phillies off waivers Friday and quickly completed a deal by taking on the $2.8 million he's owed through the end of the season and agreeing to send the Phillies a minor leaguer. In recent days, the Dodgers also acquired outfielder Shane Victorino from the Phillies, reliever Brandon League from the Mariners and infielder Hanley Ramirez and reliever Randy Choate from the Marlins, adding approximately $90 million in salary.
It's amazing what can be done when the owner and his wife aren't flying a private jet all over the world and paying $150,000 for a hairstylist.
New Dodgers owner Mark Walter and new team president Stan Kasten have said recently that they'll spend whatever it takes to win, and that's the impression holdover general manager Ned Colletti gets every time he peeks into the executive offices and pitches a potential acquisition. His bosses are the ultimate yes men.
"When we make a deal they say, 'Great, who's next?' " Colletti said.
However, the Phillies likely will say no on Lee. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro told reporters Lee "isn't going anywhere," and Colletti wouldn't comment. Sources from both teams made it clear the Phillies won't simply give up the pitcher and his contract in large part because of the public relations hit the team would take in the City of Brotherly Love and Thoroughly Vicious Fans.
In addition to allowing the claiming team to take a player under his existing contract, waiver rules allow the posting and claiming teams to negotiate a deal for 48 hours. If a trade can't be reached, the waiver claim expires and the player returns to his original team. That same player can't be placed on waivers again for 30 days, meaning that if Lee doesn't become a Dodger he won't play in the 2012 postseason because a player must be on a roster before Sept. 1 to be playoff eligible.
So the Phillies and Dodgers will negotiate until the Sunday deadline. Maybe the Dodgers would part with a top prospect, maybe they'd go Lee for Lee, sending prospect Zach Lee in exchange for the Phillies eating some of Cliff Lee's contract.
Cliff Lee is owed about $7 million the rest of this season, $25 million each of the next three seasons, and $27.5 million in 2016 provided he pitches 400 total innings in the two previous years or 200 innings in 2015. That year could be bought out for $12.5 million.
In other words, Lee is pricey, especially for a pitcher who turns 34 this month and whose velocity is down slightly. He's best known for being the crowning piece acquired at the trading deadline by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 and Texas Rangers in 2010. Both teams reached the World Series, but lost. A prominent agent suggested Friday that the Dodgers would be better off signing a free-agent starter this offseason for half the price of Lee.
That would make fiscal sense, but it doesn't factor in the Dodgers' newly minted burning desire to win now. The major addition they chased in July was a frontline starter, but negotiations for Ryan Dempster, James Shields and Zack Greinke fell through. Blanton is an upgrade at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but he's store brand; Cliff Lee is premium stuff.
"Cliff is very easy going, just a true professional," said Victorino , his former teammate. "He just wants to pitch every five days. He'd love it here just like he loves it there."
Adding Ramirez helps protect Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the lineup. Adding Victorino provides an ignition switch at the top of the order, a strong glove in left field and playoff experience. Adding League and Choate to the bullpen didn't hurt. But the Dodgers proclaimed all along that their top priority was an impact starter.
Why add Victorino, Blanton and League, whose contracts expire at the end of the season, unless the Dodgers go all in on making the postseason?
Lee is that impact starter, despite a truly bizarre season that saw him go 14 starts before his first victory July 4. Yet he went six or more innings in all but one of those starts. He's 2-6, but with a respectable 3.73 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. Negotiations will pit the Dodgers' desire to win and willingness to pay through the nose against the Phillies' need to get something in return and not appear that they are simply dumping salary and quitting on their fans.
If the deal isn't completed, it won't be because the Dodgers blanched at the price. It'll be because the Phillies didn't want to trade Lee unless they got a haul of prospects in return. Their motivation for putting Lee on waivers and vision for the future will become clearer with this outcome. Meanwhile, when it comes to spending, the Dodgers will continue to be yes men.
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