By Sam Bush

There have been so many rumors surrounding Phillies pitching ace Cole Hamels that it is actually refreshing to report on rumors about another pitcher.

Cliff Lee.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Boston Red Sox, obviously fed up with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and his pie-in-the-sky demands for Hamels, are now focused on Lee, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger since last July 31, when his word out elbow put him on the shelf for the rest of 2014.

Cue Jim Salisbury’s most recent update on CSN Philadelphia: the Red Sox join the Padres, Rangers, and Cardinals as potential landing spots for Hamels. Nothing much new there. The Dodgers are one-time suitors no longer listed, but that’s not that surprising given the current state of their rotation. The Red Sox, of course, also have their fair share of starters, and Salisbury acknowledges that they might be a long shot for Hamels:

Of the four teams most connected to Hamels, the Red Sox might be most in the background. They added three pitchers – Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson – last month and seem content to see how that trio improves their fortunes before jumping in full force on Hamels…

The Red Sox aren’t panicking. As always, the team’s stance seems to be that if Amaro come down on their asking price they’ll be interested. Until then, no thanks.

Lee is not exactly a prime trade candidate at the moment. He last pitched on July 31, with his season coming to an early close due to an elbow injury. It’s unlikely, then, that the Red Sox or any other team with five starters in place is going to go out of their way to displace one with the question mark that Lee represents.

However, a couple months into the season, we might be looking at a very different picture. At no point will the 36-year-old Lee represent the sort of trade chip that Cole Hamels is.

There’s too much uncertainty about his health, and Hamels’ semi-lengthy contract is actually quite the positive to most teams that would trade for him, particularly those he can’t force to pick up his option (as he can with the Red Sox). Lee, meanwhile, is only signed on for one more year, though he has a $27.5 million option (with a $12.5 million buyout) that vests with 200 innings pitched in 2015. That’s not the worst of scenarios–if Lee pitches 200 innings, he’s probably worth quite a lot of money on a one-year deal–but it’s still extra baggage on the contract of a player Lee’s age.

Salisbury notes that the Red Sox have long been interested in Lee, whether they were in a position to actively pursue him or not. It’s possible that those days (and Lee’s best) are in the past. But if the 13-year veteran does come back strong in 2015, and the Red Sox are still in need of a front-line arm a couple months in, there might well be a match there. With Hamels, if the Phillies aren’t willing to budge from an unreasonably high price in January or February, they won’t be much more inclined to do so in July when contenders are only getting more desperate. With Lee, however, the ship will be ready to sail. They’ll either find a buyer in 2015, or be left with nothing when he leaves, as it’s hard to imagine the Phillies are in any position to risk a qualifying offer to a player on a $25 million salary.

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