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Lee's return not promising for Phillies or potential trade partners

Lee rusty in first return start before trading deadline
Lee rusty in first return start before trading deadline
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Cliff Lee made his first start in months on July 21. Nevertheless, Lee will be among the biggest talking points in baseball for the next 10 days as the trade deadline nears. The Philadelphia Phillies certainly don't have much need for him this year, but a team like the New York Yankees might -- although neither the Phillies nor the Yankees had to be encouraged by Lee's return performance against the San Francisco Giants.

The Phillies went down by 7-4 because they left countless men on base, and because Lee seemed to give up a hit every few minutes. All told, Lee yielded 12 hits in 5 2/3'rd innings, which ended up worse than the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong giving up 11 hits in three innings.

The vast majority of all these hits were singles, as the Phillies only got four runs off Vogelsong for all their batting around. It came back to haunt them when the Giants finally erased a 4-3 lead in the sixth, chasing Lee off with a go-ahead two-run homer by Adam Duvall and an RBI from former Phillie Hunter Pence.

Whether Lee will become a former Phillie in the next 10 days or next month remains to be seen. Coincidentally, Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown wrote on July 21 about Lee being a "potential trade target" for the Yankees, since they would "seem to require better players no matter the age or cost."

With an absolutely decimated starting rotation, and yet with the AL East poor enough for the Yankees to be in striking distance of first place anyway, taking on Lee and his remaining massive contract may be a necessary gamble. Lee had his chance to join the Yankees after the 2010 season, but returned to the Phillies instead -- back when Philadelphia and New York were fresh off of world championships.

Now the Phillies may have no choice but to unload Lee and many other expensive veterans for an overdue rebuild, while the Yankees are stuck in mediocrity at the tail end of the Derek Jeter era. Given that Lee looked further away from his glory days as well in his return start, going from one aging team with bloated salaries to another might be a fitting fate.

Lee has at least one more start for the Phillies before July 31, to make a better pitch to the Yankees or any other actual contender.

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