"It's fun to dream." - Huey Freeman, The Boondocks
It had long been perceived as a long shot of the highest order, as something that only a fool would spend an excess of time thinking about, but it was reinvigorated with new life this morning, as Buster Olney and friends reported that the Phillies had re-opened trade discussions on Cliff Lee, and also indicated that if any trade were to actually materialize, the Rangers would be the likeliest taker at the front of the line.
Any legitimate hope of a Lee-to-Texas deal actualizing within the next 20-something hours, though, appears to have dissipated as quickly as it materialized, as MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reported during the 3:00 p.m. CDT hour that the likelihood of Lee returning to Texas had dipped below "one percent," and ESPN.com's Jayson Stark is reporting that a Lee-to-Texas trade "is not going to happen," as the talks between the clubs have "all but ended." Olney characterized the Lee trade situation as "complicated, multi-layered, [and] better for [the] off-season."
This was a fun rumor to dream on, I think, as there is still tremendous love and appreciation for Lee within the Rangers' fan base, and Lee is still a very good pitcher with an elite pedigree who would have given the Rangers a measurable boost both down the stretch and in the post-season ... but it was also something of a fool's dream, as the Phillies have apparently been insistent upon receiving quality prospects in any deal for Lee, and, per various reports, have been resistent to kicking in the substantial chunk of money that would be necessary to justify the inclusion of said good prospects.
Just to clarify the Lee contractual situation one more time, he's going to bank either (a) $110.5 million from now through the end of the 2016 season if his 2016 option year vests or is exercised, which is good for an average annual value of $25.3 million, or (b) $95.5 million from now through the end of the 2015 season if his 2016 option year doesn't vest and is then subsequently bought out, which is good for an average annual value of $28.3 million. That's a tremendous financial obligation, and, as I explained earlier in the Clubhouse, the Phillies likely would have needed to kick in a minimum of $30-40 million in order to have even a remote shot at acquiring the type of prospect-laden package that they were seeking. It may be fun to dream on, but it's just a lousy match going both ways.
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that the Rangers made little headway with the Phillies as far as how much of Lee's contract Philadelphia would pick up, and it seems fairly safe to assume that the contract is going to continue to be the overriding obstruction to any kind of Lee-to-Texas reunion -- even in the off-season, you'll be talking about a total obligation of $85-plus million on the low end and $100-plus million on the high end, and unless the Phillies decide that they're in such a significant financial bind that they're willing to move Lee for salary relief and a minimal package, I just don't see any real basis for expecting a Lee trade to ever come together. And so it goes.
Update: Ken Rosenthal confirms that the Lee-to-Texas trade talks never gained any real momentum, as the Phillies offered "little relief" on his contract. Nolan Ryan says that there is nothing to the Lee-to-Texas rumors. Peter Gammons tweets that Ryan still harbors "ill feelings" over Lee's departure from Texas.