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Olney: Cliff Lee "In Play" In Trade Talks, Rangers Potential Destination

Will Red Sox fans have to face Cliff Lee in this uniform once more? (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Will Red Sox fans have to face Cliff Lee in this uniform once more? (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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This rumor doesn't involve the Red Sox directly, but if it proved true, it could still have a huge impact on Boston's season. The Rangers currently lead the American League West, 4-1/2 games up on the second place Athletics and five up on the Angels, but supposedly are the "frontrunners" for Cliff Lee, whom the Phillies have put up on the trade block just one day before the non-waiver deadline.

Both Buster Olney and Joel Sherman believe the Rangers are the most likely candidate. Texas has both the prospects and the money to get a deal done, and it's prospects and money that the Phillies wish they had a little more of at the moment, especially after signing Cole Hamels to a lengthy -- and expensive -- extension.

This would be just another addition to the arms race in the AL West, the latest since the Angels added starter Zack Greinke to their own rotation this past weekend. The main difference here is that, unlike Greinke, who is a pure rental and a free agent at season's end, Lee has plenty of contract left. In fact, Lee left the Rangers following the 2010 World Series, signing with the Phillies for five years and $120 million. Not counting what's left of this year's $21.5 million salary, the Rangers -- or whoever acquires Lee -- would be responsible for the remaining three years and $75 million, plus the $12.5 million buyout to void the 2016 club option for $27.5 million.

Yes, you read that right -- a $12.5 million buyout for a deal. Lee could have his option declined and retire on the spot, and still make $12.5 million that year. The option becomes guaranteed should Lee throw 200 innings in 2015, or a combined 400 innings between 2014 and 2015. While that sounds good in theory, in the sense that you'd assume he's still productive, Lee could easily throw 200 average innings in 2015 and then put the Rangers on the hook for nearly $28 million the next year.

Because of this, one would think the major holdup is going to stem from this option. Either the Phillies will have to assume the buyout cost with the Rangers taking on everything else, or the cost in prospects will go down. Speaking of prospects, one wonders if the Phillies would be asking for the likes of Mike Olt, who the Rangers refused to part with in the Greink talks. As Lee is under contract, it's a different situation, but given the enormity of the contract -- and Philly's need to shed payroll in order to add some offense this off-season -- Texas might not see it that way when it comes to their future at third.

Red Sox fans might want to hope something gets in the way of a deal happening, if only to keep the AL West, who might have three playoff teams this year as things stand, from getting any stronger, especially when Boston still has to face all of them again before season's end.