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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Phillies pick up Lee’s $9 million option


Photo from fOTOGLIF

It was a pleasure to watch Cliff Lee during the playoffs. The Phillies left-hander flaunted a studly 1.56 ERA in five starts, finishing 4-0. When the Phillies aquired Lee in late July for four minor leaguers, the former Indian went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA. Given his success, it’s the no wonder the Phillies have decided to pick up his $9 million option for the 2010 season.

The 31 year-old is a perfect fit for a Phillies club that suddenly lost it’s pitching prowess. Throughout the year, the Phillies dealt with a shaky rotation. Every pitcher on their roster was a risk factor, exluding Lee: Cole Hamels couldn’t find the groove he had in 2008; Joe Blanton lacked confidence in big games; Pedro Martinez couldn’t give you a full nine; Jamie Moyer was hurt; J.A. Happ was a sensation the team couldn’t trust; Brett Myers was still Brett Myers. Cliff Lee brings a calmness and a confidence to a Phillies team with dynasty potential.

Although Lee’s contract expires after next season, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is open to signing the former Cy Young winner to a long-term deal similar to Yankees zillionaire CC Sabathia. The Phillies have a slew of free agents to juggle, but keeping Lee was obviously a priority. The organization needs to decide what they’re going to do with Pedro Feliz, Matt Stairs, Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, Myers, and Martinez. Also of concern are the the expected raises coming to Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Chad Durbin, and Blanton.

I think the Phillies team of next year will look similar to the team that lost to Yankees in this recent World Series. Feliz, Moyer, Stairs, Eyre, and Myers might not be back, but the Phillies should contend for another championship.

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