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Buster Olney on M&M: Phillies unlikely to trade Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon

05.29.13 at 1:55 pm ET

ESPN baseball reporter Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday, with the Red Sox having bounced back from their mid-May slump and back in first place in the American League East.

Olney said the Red Sox deserve their ranking as one of the best teams in baseball, while the Yankees might be headed for a dip after leading the division for a couple of weeks.

“I do, and I think they’re getting better,” he said of the Sox. “They have a nice baseline with that offense. Because it looks like all year, no matter what happens to the pitching staff, they’re going to be a team that scores runs. On the other hand, I’ve spent the last couple of days around the Yankees. And it feels like they have been this great marathoner, a group that went out early, and they’re starting to sputter a little bit. Some of the guys who have been so terrific for them early in the year are starting to fade.

“What I’m going to be fascinated by in the days ahead — because it looks like Kevin Youkilis is going to play this weekend and come back, it looks like Mark Teixeira is going to come back — is how does this change the culture of what they’ve been accomplishing? Because every day, Joe Girardi, the manager, has walked into his office and been able to — because he’s got so many pieces and parts he’s been working with, castoffs and players like that — on a daily basis, all he needs to focus on is picking the best lineup for that day. Well, now that Teixeira is coming back — I’m not saying he’s a bad player, but he’s going to play every day. Youkilis is going to play every day. So, Girardi is going to be fashioning his lineup in a very different way than he has been.

“And I just thought back to what happened to the Dodgers last year. They got off to a 34-14 start, [Don] Mattingly using all these pieces and parts. And they’re feeling was, hey, once we get [Matt] Kemp back, then that’s when we can get rolling. But what happened was, once they got those injured everyday guys back, they really fell apart. Because there was something about the esprit de corps that had just — it was an important part of what they were doing. And I think that’s what the case is with the Yankees. So, I’m going to be fascinated to see how Joe handles that lineup going forward.”

The Red Sox are heading to Philadelphia for a pair of games against the Phillies, who are underachieving for the second straight season. This has led to speculation that Philadelphia might considering trading one of its premier pitchers, ace left-hander Cliff Lee or closer Jonathan Papelbon. Olney explained why that’s unlikely.

“The Phillies, their owner, David Montgomery, is very conservative. He also is very cognizant of the idea that he’s got a lot of people who bought tickets to see his team play,” Olney said. “He will not necessarily be someone who’s going to be looking in July to blow it up and start over — even though it might make some sense, because Lee, after the next three years of his contract, he’s got a huge buyout of like $10½ million. He’s basically a $28 million-a-year pitcher. If you’re the Phillies, you might think it would make sense to get out from underneath that.

“But their ownership, as I mentioned, is not necessarily a group that would do that. And on top of that, and this is why I keep telling people, look, don’t go to sleep on the Phillies: They have two of the three worst teams in baseball in their division in the Mets and the Miami Marlins. And that’s why I think they’re going to hang around and hang around. We saw it at the end of last year, they made a run at the wild card spot, even though we all thought they stunk for most of the year. So, I don’t think that they’re going to trade Cliff Lee, I don’t think they’re going to trade Papelbon.”

Mariano Rivera, who blew his first save of the season Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 2-1 loss to the Mets, is having another tremendous season in what he’s said will be his final year in the majors. Olney said he wouldn’t be surprised if the team pushed him to return for another year.

“I think at some point, if he continues to be this good — and he’s the best closer in baseball right now, at age 43 — that when the year’s over, and he’s sitting home in November, and the Yankees call him and say, ‘Hey, do you have any second thoughts about this? Because we’ll give you another year with $15 million,’ you do wonder if there will be some second thoughts.

“And here’s the thing about it, too: Rivera’s so great in handling this farewell tour ‘€¦ that if he changed his mind, no one would be upset about it. No one would feel he did a bait-and-switch.”

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Cliff Lee, Joe Girardi, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis
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