Cliff Lee’s hot start since joining the Phillies (4-0, 0.82 ERA) brings to mind another Cy Young-winning lefthander to pitch for the team—and not Mark Davis (NL Cy Young for San Diego in ’89) or Willie Hernandez (AL Cy Young for Detroit in ’84).
Four-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Famer Steve Carlton is the Phillies’ all-time greatest trade acquisition, coming to the team from St. Louis before the 1972 season for pitcher Rick Wise. But Lee, last year’s AL Cy Young winner with Cleveland, has the potential to become the Phillies’ best in-season trade pickup.
(Some would say the best in-season trade the Phillies made was getting rid of Bobby Abreu in 2006 for essentially cab fare, but we’re talking player upgrades and not team-chemistry improvements.)
Lee is not unique on the current Phillies roster. Other in-season acquisitions include Jamie Moyer in 2006, Joe Blanton, Scott Eyre, and Matt Stairs in 2008, and Ben Francisco, who came along with Lee.
Lee’s competition for tops all-time in-season, though, includes some of the bigger names in team history, including outfielders Garry Maddox, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Bake McBride, and Tony Gonzalez (three .300 seasons in the 1960s), as well as pitchers John Denny (the ’83 NL Cy Young winner after being acquired), Gene Garber, and Terry Mulholland.
Oddly, the team’s only in-season infield pickups of note were long-time Phillie Tony Taylor in 1960 and Placido Polanco in 2002.
It wouldn’t take much for Lee to top the other pitchers. Denny, a 1982 pickup, won the Cy Young Award the next year, going 19-6 on the NL champions, but he won just 18 games combined over the next two seasons before being traded. Garber was a solid reliever on some great bullpens in the 1970s, and Mulholland was an All Star on the ’93 NL champs, but neither player is one for the ages.
Lee has tougher competition among the outfielders. Maddox played parts of 12 seasons with the Phillies and was fifth in MVP balloting in 1976 when he hit .330. Dykstra, who starred in the early part of the Steroids Era, played parts of eight seasons, was a three-time All Star, and the NL MVP runner-up in ’93.
Kruk was a part of the team for six seasons, making three All Star teams, while McBride played parts of five seasons, hitting .309 for the ’80 World Series champions.
So who is the all-time best in-season pickup? Excluding Lee for now, I’d go with Maddox, followed by Dykstra, Kruk, Taylor, and McBride.