Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lee shocks baseball world, takes his talents back to south Philly

By Chris Ruddick

All along you heard there was a mystery team lurking in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Most people assumed it was the Los Angeles Angels, others thought it could be a real longshot like Minnesota or even Baltimore.

This much became clear, though, by about Friday evening. Whomever this mystery team was, it had a real shot at landing Lee because it was starting to become apparent that he didn't want New York and really had no intention of returning to Texas.

Really, what more did he need to think about from the time the Yankees upped their offer to seven years and $160 million. It's either yes or no right then and there. The longer this lingered, you had the feeling something else was going on.

Word started to leak out Monday afternoon that the Phillies were indeed the mystery team and by the time the New York Giants finished off the Minnesota Vikings later that night it was clear where Lee was going to sign. In fact once Yankees officials got word that Philly was the team lurking, they knew they were done.

And they were right because Lee has stunned the baseball world, agreeing to a deal with the Phillies for five years and $120 million, leaving close to $40 million and two years on the table from the Yankees. The deal is also believed to include a $27.5 million option that vests if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings in the 2014/2015 seasons. There is also a $12.5 million buyout.

Apparently Lee enjoyed his time in Philadelphia in 2009. When he was traded last winter to make room for Roy Halladay, he said he was stunned and disappointed. People close to him insisted that he really loved Philly and wanted to pitch alongside Halladay.

I just assumed it was just mindless banter from the one player, who if you listened to everyone, would go to the highest bidder.

If Lee wasn't a hero already in Philadelphia, he certainly is now. Remember there were still people in that city who at the time of the Halladay trade last winter still preferred the lefty who had starred for them in the 2009 postseason.

You have to hand it to Lee, he left a lot of money on the table. Players don't do that, especially that much. Mark Teixeira took less to go to the Yankees a few years ago, but it wasn't much less. The one guy you could compare this to was Greg Maddux who, like Lee, turned down the Yankees big money to stay with Atlanta back in the early 90s.

Speaking of that Atlanta team, when you talk of the great rotations of all- time, the Braves of the 90s are always in that discussion. Well this group the Phillies are going to throw out this year may even trump them. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, or R2C2 as they are being called today in Philadelphia, are about as good a rotation on paper that I can remember.

If you are a National League team how do you matchup against that? Heck how does any team matchup against that.

I have to admit I enjoyed the tete-a-tete that went on Twitter between Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman and ESPN's Buster Olney. Heyman was the first one to put the mystery team out there. Most people were skeptical, but none more so than Olney, who tweeted that basically Heyman was getting sold a bill of goods from Lee's agent.

Good stuff.

So where does this leave the Yankees? Well there has to be some people in their organization who are quite happy that Lee decided to go elsewhere. Seven years is an awful lot for a 32-year-old pitcher who already has some back troubles.

In case you haven't noticed seven-year deals for pitchers don't normally pan out. See Barry Zito, Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton.

However, the fact of the matter is, the Yankees needed Cliff Lee. Given the additions the Boston Red Sox have made in the past couple of weeks, the Yanks are going to need lefties. Brian Cashman already believes that Andy Pettitte is retiring. The Yanks need pitching and the free agent market is bare. Do they take a chance on Brandon Webb? Or make a play for Zach Greinke or Florida's Ricky Nolasco?

If I am Cashman I get on the phone with the Los Angeles Dodgers and see what it would take to get either Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley. The Dodgers need a catcher and the Yankees have an abundance in their system.

Then again Carl Pavano is still available.

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