Phillies take a page out of Yankees playbook, step in and sign Cliff Lee

Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the fist inning of game 5 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants defeated the Rangers 3-1 winning the World Series 4 games to 1. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

As if it were right out of the pages of the Yankees’ playbook on how to sign a free agent, the Phillies stole Cliff Lee right from under the Bombers’ noses.

Actually, “stole” isn’t the right word. That would indicate that Lee was once the Yankees’ property, which he wasn’t. He was never a Yankee and thanks to the Phillies’ aggressiveness, he never will be either.

Lee left nearly $50 million of New York’s money on the table to go back to a place where he felt comfortable and had huge success. He’ll join a rotation that already features Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, which is mind-blowing to say the least. Philadelphia opponents will face ace-like stuff nearly everyday when they take on the Phillies. The only person associated with the National League that will sleep easy this week after Philadelphia made this move is Giants’ outfielder Cody Ross, who hit all four of the Phils’ pitchers like a piñata in last year’s postseason.

For those scoring at home, here are the obvious winners and losers of this deal.

Winners:

Phillies. They land an ace when they already had a Cy Young-winning ace in the rotation. With all due respect to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Halladay-Lee pairing is the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball and the Phillies immediately become the team to beat again in the NL. Their offense was inconsistent last year but whether pundits believe it’ll round back into ’09 form or not, the Fightin’ Phils are the favorites to win the World Series next year.

Lee. It’s a little surprising that he spurned the Rangers to return to the Phillies, seeing as how Philadelphia traded him so that it could land Halladay last winter. But obviously Lee was comfortable in Philadelphia and wanted to head back to the NL, where he absolutely dominated in the second half of ’09 (and postseason). In the end, he gets the long-term deal that he had been seeking, a ton of money ($120 million to be exact) and the opportunity to stick it to New York after its fans treated his wife poorly in the stands at Yankee Stadium last year. (Not that that was a deciding factor in him spurning the Yankees but it had to have crossed his mind.)

Losers:

Yankees.
They’re used to being the ones that swoop in at the last second, put an offer on the table that the free agent can’t refuse and then leave those in the bidding war gasping for air. Now they’re at the receiving end of a big F-you and it has to be devastating. They threw a ton of money at Lee and in the end, they still couldn’t land him. This was a huge blow in the post-George Steinbrenner era and while some Yankee fans will say that they didn’t want their club to sign a 32-year-old to a long-term deal, what is New York going to do for pitching? Maybe the Yankees will be better off in the long run for missing out on Lee, but as of right now they’re in a world of hurt.

Rangers. While everyone wanted to see the Yankees burned, nobody wanted the Rangers to become victims. They just lost their ace, who turned down the Yankees’ money to return to a place that was comfortable to him – only it wasn’t Texas. Nolan Ryan can’t be pleased with the outcome (although at least he didn’t wind up with the Yankees) and now he too must revert to his backup plan for pitching (whatever that is). Just months after losing the World Series, Ryan and Co. take yet another huge blow.

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Signing Pena a low-risk, high reward move by the Cubs

May 14, 2010 - St. Petersburg, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - epa02157685 Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena reacts after striking out against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of a Major League Baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA, 14 May 2010.

Midway through next season, people may look back at the deal the Cubs just gave Carlos Pena and consider it a huge bargain.

Chicago inked the former Rays’ first baseman to a one-year, $10 million contract on Wednesday and while the dollar amount is a little high, the Cubs did very well no matter how he plays next season.

Pena batted just .196 in 2010 and struck out 158 times. But he slugged 28 home runs and walked 87 times, so his numbers weren’t all bad. He was also reportedly dealing with plantar fasciitis, which could be one of the reasons he struggled at the dish.

The key to this deal is that it’s only for one year. Pena was hoping to sign a multi-year contract but instead inked a one-year deal so that he can build up his value before next winter. He knew his 2010 numbers wouldn’t allow him to cash in this offseason, so signing a one-year deal made sense for him given his current situation.

For the Cubs, they get a player who will be trying to earn a multi-year deal next winter. In general, players in contract years typically perform better because they knew there are no guarantees (contract wise) behind that season. If Pena rebounds to his ’07-09 production when he averaged .252 with 39 home runs and 101 RBI per year (along with 95 walks), then the Cubs could sign him to an extension. If he flops or never finds his form, so what? They’ll be rid of him in a year and can move on.

These are the types of moves that GM Jim Hendry needs to make more. Instead of just throwing millions of dollars and long-term contracts at free agents (Alfonso Soriano anyone?), the Cubs would be better served to build through their farm system and plug holes with low-risk deals like this one for Pena.

Tigers sign Victor Martinez to a $50 million contract

Boston Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez makes a throwing error as he tries to throw out New York Yankees batter Brett Gardner at first base in the tenth inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

It’s official: Victor Martinez is no longer a Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers signed Martinez to a four-year, $50 million contract that wasn’t confirmed until Wednesday. With the signing, Detroit adds a middle of the order bat to their lineup and a player that hit .302 in 538 plate appearances last year for the Red Sox. He also earned a trip to the All-Star Game for the fourth time in his career.

The Red Sox had hoped to re-sign Martinez but it was clear that they weren’t going to break the bank for him. They offered him a choice of three years and $36 million or four years and $42 million, but in the end Martinez opted to go where the money was greener. The downside for Boston is that it lost even more power in its ever fleeting lineup but the Sox pick up a high draft pick as part of their compensation for losing him via free agency.

The Orioles were also reportedly interested in V-Mart and offered him a four-year, $48 million contract, while the White Sox tried to lure him to Chicago with a three-year, $48 million deal.

But the Tigers won out in the end. They’ve been arguably the biggest players in this year’s offseason, committing $39.25 million to Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Joaquin Benoit.

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