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Cliff Lee Once and Future Phillie
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Dec 14 2010 @ 1:50 pm In MLB,Philadelphia,Philadelphia Phillies | 1 Comment
Believe it or not, Santa Claus delivered early in Philadelphia. Merry “Cliffmas” and Happy “Halladay”. “Oswalt” All Ye Faithful. “Hamels” Kwanza. Whatever faith you are, whatever deity you believe in, someone is smiling down on the Philadelphia Phillies. After much debate and self-imposed budgetary constraints, it turns out the Philadelphia Phillies do have enough money for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, too. Just one year after Phillies traded Cliff Lee away (assumedly for fear of budgetary concerns), Lee chose to rejoin them and form a fearsome foursome that will surely be the envy of all of baseball. It is truly a Renaissance for Philadelphia baseball. The team that lost 10,000 games in its first century has become baseball’s new paradigm for the 21st century.
The free-agent pitcher passed up an extra $50 million from the New York Yankees and reached a preliminary agreement on a $120 million, five-year contract with the Phillies on Monday night. Reports of the details are still being reported as Lee originally sought a 7-year deal but in principle the club and Lee have reached a deal. The agreement is subject to the 32-year-old left-hander passing a physical, the source reports on condition of anonymity until the agreement was final. Apparently there is also an option for a sixth year around $127 million.
The Yankees and Texas Rangers had been considered the front-runners for Lee, but the Phillies wound up with the most-prized free agent of the offseason, reaching a deal that gives them a dominant rotation that likely is the strongest in the majors – and arguably in history.
Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner while with Cleveland, joins Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who won the NL honor last month. Lee also passed up the opportunity to reunite with CC Sabathia in New York, indicating that he wanted to return to Philadelphia. This also puts to rest 365 days of sports call-in show hate mongers and rampant media harping and should restore the reputation of Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, who’d become a pariah by dealing Lee to Seattle for second-level prospects.
After Lee was obtained from Cleveland along with Ben Francisco for Triple-A right-hander Carlos Carrasco, Class A righty Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson  and INF Jason Donald (because Roy Halladay was not available from Toronto), the southpaw helped the defending champion Phillies reach the 2009 World Series. While in contract negotiations beyond the 2010 season, Lee was then sent without notice to Seattle (for prospects RHP Phillippe Aumont, OF Tyson Gillies and RHP Juan Ramirez) in what was in effect a prolonged four-team, nine-player trade last Dec. 16. Eventually the deal brought Halladay to Philadelphia (for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, right-hander Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor). Toronto flipped Taylor to the Athletics for 3B Brett Wallace and cash considerations. Halladay then signed a new contract with Philadelphia that added $60 million over three seasons, the same average salary Lee will get under his new contract.
Seattle traded Lee to Texas in July, and Lee pitched the Rangers into their first World Series. Lee now faces the prospect of returning to the Fall Classic again with Philadelphia, armed with the likes of Halladay, Oswalt and Cole Hamels. This “Phearsome Phoursome” or “Phantastic Phour” or “Four Horsemen of the Philpocalypse” promise to the be the most formidable quartet of starting pitchers on a staff in 40 years – if not in baseball history. Not since the Baltimore Orioles of the early 1970s could a team boast a staff of potential 20-game winners. Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08 ERA), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90), Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68) and Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89 ERA) are the only foursome in MLB history to accomplish this feat. Not even the 1990s Atlanta Braves with Glavine (16-7, 3.08), Maddux (19-2, 1.63), Smoltz (12-7, 3.18) and Steve Avery (7-13, 4.67) stack up. That team won only one World Series title with 14 postseason appearances. Those men hold 7 Cy Young Awards and stayed together most of 10 years. Compare the mid-1980s NY Mets of Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez and David Cone. Much debate could be had over the best starting staffs in history, but four starters of this caliber are extremely rare – if not virtually impossible in the Modern Era.
The Phillies still have a lot of salary and collateral personnel concerns and are considering trading pitcher Joe Blanton and/or OF Raul Ibanez in order to clear payroll space. Ibanez is in the final year of a contract and at age 38, may not be worth the $12.167 M owed to him in 2011. Blanton was signed to a new contract in 2010 which would pay him approximately $8.5M per season through 2012. Certainly Blanton would be the proverbial odd man out because Kyle Kendrick is owed just $450,000. Blanton is largely blamed for his poor performance in the NLCS and had been rumored to Boston for Mike Cameron, but that deal has been squelched. More trade rumors are likely and chances are Blanton will not be a Phillie in 2011. Trading him for an outfielder would be ideal but teams know that Philadelphia is desperate to trade Ibanez and Blanton to unload salary.
“At first, I didn’t believe it. I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies,” Lee said the day after the trade to Seattle. “I thought I’d be spending the rest of my career there. … I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time. In my mind, it was going to happen.” Lee and his family had a good time during his stay with the Phillies during their brief time spent from July-December 2009 and expect a similar honeymoon now.
After advancing to the World Series in consecutive years, the Phillies were upset by the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in this year’s NL championship series. Earlier this month, outfielder Jayson Werth left Philadelphia for a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals. Not Werth it, Jayson. Werth claimed that he enjoyed his time here in Philadelphia and was sad to leave. Vaya con Dios, Mr. Moneybags.
The Yankees and Texas received telephone calls Monday night telling them they were out of the running for Lee – according to two separate sources. New York had started with a $138 million, six-year offer to Lee. After outfielder Carl Crawford agreed to a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, New York immediately increased its offer to Lee to $150 million over seven seasons. Lee’s wife, Kristen, felt insulted by fans at Yankee Stadium who were rude to her and Rangers family members during the ALCS. It was unclear whether or not that played a part in the decision.
Originally, a fourth-round draft pick in 2000, Lee is 102-61 with a 3.85 ERA in nine major league seasons. He has excelled in the postseason, going 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA for Philadelphia and Texas in the past two years, including 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA against the Yankees. Lee won 18 games for Cleveland in 2005, then got hurt in spring training in 2007 and was demoted to the minors. He returned to the big leagues, finished 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA and was left off Cleveland’s postseason roster. He rebounded to go 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008 and was voted the AL Cy Young Award. He was 14-13 for the Indians and Phillies in 2009, and 12-9 for the Seattle Mariners and Rangers this year.
With Lee’s departure, the Texas Rangers could move closer Neftali Feliz from the bullpen to the rotation and may attempt to acquire 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in a trade from the Kansas City Royals. There are other names on the market like Carl Pavano, Ben Sheets or current Phillie Joe Blanton – who is originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Rangers, Mariners, Orioles, Royals A’s – and the Yankees could all be potential suitors depending on the return value. After missing out on Cliff Lee, these teams will need to swallow their pride for another starter. Carl Pavano now becomes the premier free agent on the market but Blanton is already signed to a contract through 2012 season to the tune of $17 million.
This was a rare and nearly unprecedented instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land a player they wanted. After losing to Texas in the AL championship series, they are still seeking to add pitching to a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. New York is waiting to find out from Andy Pettitte whether he will pitch or retire; the Yankees also have promising Ivan Nova, a hard-throwing right-hander who turns 24 next month. Zack Grienke is not an option for the Yankees due to his social anxiety disorder and Carl Pavano was already a boondoggle in his Bronx years. New York also held talks with Carl Crawford before his agreement with the Red Sox, but never made an offer. So the New York Yankees have learned a lesson… that they can’t always simply drive a dump truck full of money up to someone’s house and obtain any player they desire. Perhaps the days of Yankees Rotisserie bidding supremacy have reached an end? Perhaps multi-millionaire players care about team chemistry, clubhouse environment and the community in which they are investing? Don’t get me wrong, without the money players won’t just play for anyone but perhaps these dollar figures and these contracts are so huge that spending 6 or 7 years means that location matters too!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.
Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année.
Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo
Frohe Weihnachten und Happy New Year
God Jul och Gott Nytt År
Счастливого Рождества и Нового Года
The Phillies have a $27.5 million club option for 2016, or a $12.5 million buyout. The option vests if Lee is NOT on the disabled list at the end of the 2015 season with either a left shoulder or left elbow injury AND either (a) 200 innings pitched in 2015 or (b) 400 innings pitched in 2014-15. Lee also has awards bonuses: $50,000 for All-Star appearances; $100,000 for World Series MVP; $50,000 for LCS MVP; $100,000 for Cy Young ($75,000 for second; $50,000 for third); $50,000 for Gold Glove; and $50,000 for Silver Slugger.
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