So what is the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner worth? Apparently, not as much as we thought.
The Indians traded Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday for a package of four minor-league players. None are considered among the top three prospects in the Phillies' system.
This is all the Indians were able to pry away from the Phillies for Lee, a left-handed starter who went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA last season, has pitched much better than his 7-9 record and 3.14 ERA this season and has a year remaining on his contract?
This season was lost long ago, but the Indians could have held onto Lee going into 2010 for a modest - in today's market - $9 million.
''At the root of this deal was balancing the conviction of our ability to compete in 2010 with the opportunity to impact the team's construction for years to come,'' Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said in a statement.
How, exactly, is this team going to compete next season? This trade - perhaps even more than Shapiro's deal to acquire Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips from the Montreal Expos for Bartolo Colon in 2002 - is a signal that a major rebuilding project has begun.
But without forcing the Phillies to part with at least one of their top prospects - rookie left-hander, minor-league pitcher Kyle Drabek or minor-league outfielders Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown - it looks more like a salary dump.
It sure smells like one to Indians fans, most of whom knew the trade was coming, but expected Shapiro to get more for Lee.
If Indians fans want to watch minor-league players, they could come to Niles and watch the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The home stadiums of the Akron Aeros, Lake County Captains and Columbus Clippers also are with a pleasant summer drive for most Tribe fans.
Now everything is lined up for Cleveland fans to have another minor-league option at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in 2010, and perhaps beyond.
No matter how the Indians try to spin this deal, or those involving Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt (trading him actually made sense) and Ryan Garko in recent days, the fire sale is more about slicing payroll than any rebuilding project.
What platitude will Shapiro use when he trades Victor Martinez, the Indians' best hitter? And why stop there? Sizemore has been here a while, too. Why not see what he'd bring from a team that actually wants to try to win?
Shapiro will take the blame for trading Lee and the others, and also for whatever deals are still to come, but it's the ownership of the Dolans that has put the Indians on the verge of returning to those less-than-thrilling days of the 1970s and 1980s.
At least back then, the team was mediocre at best, but you got used to the better players because they stuck around a while. And why not? Salaries were much smaller then.
Then came the 1990s, and Tribe fans thought the winning was here to stay. There were multiple Central Division titles, two World Series appearances and 455 consecutive sellouts at sparkling new Jacobs Field.
And just as quickly, it was gone and the Indians were suddenly a feeder system for teams like the Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. The sellout crowds disappeared, replaced by a panorama of empty seats at Regressive Field.
Aside from 2007, when the Indians were on the verge of a World Series appearance, what have they accomplished since the last rebuilding project? Let's not include the manager Eric Wedge and his coaching staff in this mini-critique. That's a column for another day.
Bottom line: The Indians have been incredibly mediocre on the Dolans' watch, and they've done so largely on the cheap. They've developed some young players and traded for others, and then sent them packing when it came time to pay them market value.
That's what this trade is about. And if Carrasco and Knapp ever become aces and anchor a pitching staff during their careers in Cleveland, the same thing will happen again.
Why, then, should Indians fans buy into the program and renew their attachment to the team and players every spring? If the Tribe isn't playing to win, what's the point?
True baseball fans would be better off at Eastwood Field. It's not as far away, the hot dogs and beer are cheaper, and the players rotate in and out of Niles at roughly the same rate they do in Cleveland.
Maybe Tribe fans should save a few bucks on their baseball entertainment. That seems to be the Indians' modus operandi these days.