Coming to Grips with Cliff Lee

Posted by Michael Baumann, Tue, December 14, 2010 05:13 PM | Comments: 66
2010-11 Free Agency, Analysis, News, Opinion, Posts

Last Friday, I fell, and fell hard, for a Twitter hoax orchestrated by a former writer for The Fightins that had Zack Greinke going to the Phillies for, essentially, a bag of nickels and a case of beer. Before I realized that the report had been faked, I sent a link to the tweet in an email to several Phillies fans, including Paul Boye of this site, my father, and my younger brothers, along with the following:

“I’m sitting in the Temple computer lab right now. If this is true, I’m going to scream out the news, tear off my clothes, and run down the hall stark naked, urinating everywhere from sheer joy. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment.”

You can imagine my reaction when the news broke late last night that the Phillies had signed one Cliff Lee, the Anointed One, whose brief sojourn in red pinstripes in 2009 generated the kind of devotion among Phillies fans usually reserved for prepubescent Canadian pop stars. Whose departure, the cost of acquiring the best pitcher in baseball, led to a firestorm in this area the likes of which had not been seen since the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house in 1985.

On one hand, this move doesn’t make much sense–the Phillies, far and away the oldest team in baseball with several holes to fill, gave the richest free agent contract in team history to pitcher in his 30s. After all, this team won the division in 2007 with Kyle Kendrick as its No. 2 starter and won a World Series with Cole Hamels and three other guys who got hot at the same time. This season, it wasn’t the starting pitching that failed the team in the playoffs, it was the offense–an offense that saw its best performer in 2010 follow the money down I-95 when free agency hit. So why splurge on a fourth top-line starting pitcher?

It turns out, this move isn’t really about rationality. This move is about parking the Death Star in orbit of Alderaan. It’s about Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt showing up for Spring Training, looking at each other, and giggling and the sheer preposterousness of what has been wrought. This is about Ruben Amaro indulging his inner 14-year-old and putting together a rotation the likes of which are ordinarily only seen in video games. Perhaps most of all, this is about Cliff Lee, once again, doing what he wants, and to hell with everyone else’s expectations.

A few quick bullet points about the Cliff Lee trade:

  • The Phillies will field two Cy Young winners in the same rotation for the third time in team history (Steve Carlton and John Denny, 1984-1985 and Lee and Pedro Martinez, August-October 2009).
  • Hamels, Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee are a combined 108-66 in a Phillies uniform, including the postseason.
  • Cliff Lee is the first pitcher to leave the Phillies, make an all-star team, and come back to the team since Andy Ashby.
  • Courtesy of Dave Cameron of FanGraphs: over the past three seasons, Halladay leads all starting pitchers in wins above replacement. Lee is second, Hamels 16th, and Oswalt 21st.
  • Each of the Phillies’ top four starting pitchers has led the league in WHIP at least once.
Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 0 Sweet Dee

    I’m still never going to beLEEve this until I see it in person in April. No way. Nope.

  • Posts: 0 SJ Mike

    Just a note, we had two Cy Young winners in the rotation before when it was Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez in 2009.


  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    And I said this on the other thread earlier…that Jayson Stark mentioned that these FOUR guys have a chance to EACH have 200Ks. That’s never been done before in baseball history, four pitchers in the same rotation doing that in the same year.

  • Posts: 0 bigbobster

    Can you believe the potential wins for Hamels, now as the fourth starter, pitching against the other team’s 3rd or 4th starter for a whole season? If Cole stays healthy, and Charlie learns how to substitute starting players when the main guys are slumping, so they actually score him some runs, he could win 20.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    In poker you win with 3 aces 85% of the time. You win with 4 99% of the time only a straight flush beats you. This was not a need signing. But it had to be done. If someone is willing to take less and not goto the Yankees you have to sign him. I really dont like giving 32 year old starters 5 year deals but thats the MLB we live in. its a great deal and a great day to be a Phillies fan. But I am not as giddy as some. The pending moves will say alot about how the season plays out.
    With injuries and rain outs and off days after the first 2 weeks of the season the 4 or 5 starter is just as likely to face the other teams ace.

  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    I am glad to have Cliff Lee back because I love the guy. Had to be done? No. With so much need in other areas, focusing on making your strength now obscenely strong, really doesn’t make a lot of sense. We spent a shitload of money and we may have, presumably, hamstrung ourselves financially. We need a big RH bat, too and we don’t have money for one…or do we? Keeping a player away from a team thats not even in your own league is not a legit reason for breaking the bank to sign him From a pure baseball standpoint, a.k.a. allocating your resources most efficiently, it probably wasn’t the best idea in the world. BUT! its uplifting, its cleansing, its epic, its historic and its real exciting. In short, its beauty and grandness of scale transcends any lack of baseball sense it may represent.

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Ted Bell

    It’s hard to argue with bringing Lee back, except for the fact that the lineup remains as dysfunctional as ever (actually more so without Werth).

    Keith Law:

    “But even with the somewhat remarkable acquisition, there are some less promising realities to consider. Mostly on offense.

    Given his contract situation, Philly could look to move Hamels for a right-handed hitter for the middle of its lineup, as losing Jayson Werth takes away most of the gain from reacquiring Lee and leaves the Phillies very left-handed. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez are on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to decline and/or get hurt than to improve. Rollins often has been hurt in the midst of a four-year free fall, Utley has fought injuries, and Howard and Ibanez are just declining. Domonic Brown is an outstanding prospect but won’t match Werth’s production, and Brown is also left-handed. Ruben Amaro Jr. has put together an enviable rotation, to say the least. However, the Phils are oddly unbalanced now and it’s strange (but not bad) to see them commit this money to Lee with an old, injury-prone lineup staring them in the face.”

    I’m Ted Bell.

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    Well said, Michael! Another good post from PN.. keep it up guys!

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    If they trade Hamels like that idi0t Keith Law is suggesting, I’ll be FURIOUS. Hamels is a homegrown Phillie, who hasn’t even hit his prime… no Cliff Lee could heal the wound of trading Cole away.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    Nice post Michael! Having a hard time picturing Doc giggling.

    May the force be with us all.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    Dipsy that was a great post.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    All day I’ve been wondering why RAJ would make this move when there are so many other needs to fill. I was completely against this, as many of you saw last night. But in fairness, I was under the impression that there was a self imposed hard cap. (clearly that is no longer the case)

    For that reason, it made no sense to me to bolster the strongest part of the team at the expense of our weaknesses. My hope is that there really is a plan in place to address that, one that doesn’t include trading Cole.

    So after thinking it through today, I think the mindset now is to “roll with the tide” in a way. Maybe the Godfather, that sneaky GM of ours, decided that if the game has now turned into a pitching dominated sport, he should “roll with the tide”, as opposed to fighting it and hoping that our offense will suddenly return to what it was in 08-09. Maybe he’s decided that we don’t need to hit like that anymore to win it all if we have the pitching and defense. And I guess when you look at the model set up by present World Champions, he’s probably right. I’m not totally sold that this plan will work, but I am hopeful.

    Welcome home Clifford Phifer Lee. It’s so heartening to know you wanted to play here so much. I’m elated that you’re back in red pinstripes. Go Phils!

  • Posts: 0 karen

    Last night on twitter and facebook, I did ask a few times whether this was a grienke prank type thing…….but glad it wasnt…..a great day to be a philly phan .

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    I dont want to trade Hamels. I will say that right out front. He is the young home grown one of them.
    But if one is going to be moved it has to be Hamels.
    Oswalt is a one year deal and has the no trade. Etc etc

    One thing I havent seen mentioned here is that Lee really likes the old man. And obviously the club house and the organization.
    Hats off to the old man and the overall clubhouse.

  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Lefty, clearly there is no salary cap. None. Zero. Maybe the Phils have made so much money the last two years that now they can afford things they couldn’t before, which would be great. If we were privy to the truth we would probably surmise that the only number that would really stop them now would be the one that triggers the luxury tax. And of course, signing Lee was Montgomery’s “payroll exception”. I love that. Thats some exception. Lets just find enough $ for a decent RH bat and I’ll see ya in Clearwater. Is it true we’re going with a four man bullpen this year?

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Keith Law is a jacka$$. Anything he says has no credibility whatsoever. Just forget it. Hamels isn’t going anywhere.

    And, AFW, the reason the Phillies signed Lee wasn’t just because he didn’t want to go to the Yankees. It’s because he really wanted to come here.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    The Yankees always have to pay more for players. Because in general players do not want to go into that media market and city.
    The Phillies signed Lee because they could. If they could do it IMO they had to. And they could.
    That it puts a little poke in the Yankees eye is just a little fun. When it comes to signing free agents it really is everyone else in the league vs the Yankees. Although the Red sox are starting to get into the yanees league.

    Hamels is also the one who would get you the most back (out of him and Roy jr).
    But I am wanting to see a year with all 4 together to just see what happens.

  • Posts: 0 bacardipr05

    i think more moves are possibly coming our line up needs tweaking and with Jay the Beard gone even more so

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    Cholly must think he’s in heaven, or Iowa

    I think good pitchers love to play for him because he lets them pitch and doesn’t overmanage them. Certainly better than Larussa,Torre etc.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    If you think about it Lee’s salary can pay for itself if we get to the WS. I haven’t done the math, but it seems to me that all those extra home games at post season prices conceivably could equal what they’re paying per year.

    And (assuming we have all four) no more debates about short rest in the postseason! They’re all aces.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    Also finally maybe the media will realize CBP is not a bandbox. I know 2 years ago it played exactly even. I know it is a hitters park but its not like Coors in its heyday like the media always try to play it.

    The moves coming up are the ones that really interest me.
    this is Madsons last year of his deal. I am hoping for a bgi year. And maybe some saves for him.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    They could….or better yet….FIGURED OUT how they could.

    But the bottom line is…

    Cliff Lee really WANTED to be here. In Philadelphia.

    THAT’S ultimately why the Phillies went for it.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    I just looked it up. 2010 CBP played 16th or right in the middle again.
    OK I know the 3 aces helped with it but still its not a bandbox. Period.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    I love the way they reportedly structured the last two years of Lee’s deal. Pitch the innings in both, which shows your still worth it, and you get the extra year! Don’t and we get to buy it out. What could be more fair than that.

    That’s creative and great work by the FO.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    Andrew, good research- we’ve had this discussion before, because we both get many games with the other teams announcers, the banbox thing is really annoying!

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    yes and in 5 years who knows

    I remember when Winfield signed his 10 year 23 million contract. (even though i was only 9)
    The world was a gasp. The sky was falling.
    By the end of the contract he was one of the best bargains in the game.

    Id really like to know what the phillies can spend. All these sell outs and beers and hot dogs people are spending money on are being put into players you can see on the field

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    Darling and the Mets guys are relentless on it.
    Like its thier only talking point.
    Braves guys too.

  • Posts: 0 Lefty

    Not to mention every national fox, espn or TBS game

  • Posts: 0 SAM

    I am in total shock that the Phillies signed Lee. I thought the Yankees had deal wrapped up and the Lee in the bag. All I can say is, I am as happy as hell!!! :)

  • Posts: 0 Bart Shart

    Pitching is the most important part of baseball. Four aces is wonderful and the return of Cliff Lee is a coup and great for the Phils. We are getting old, but this points in my mind to the importance of a solid and well-used bench. Players over age 30 need to rest sometimes. Those over 35 need to rest more. Nothing wrong with platoons for players as old as Ibanez and as young as Dom Brown. There are solid bench players out there. Players like Lastings Millidge at age 26 may be the perfect platoon partner for Ibanez. He may mature under the tutelge of the Phils players and Manuel. Felipe Lopez is only 31 and has played every infield position. He is a switch hitter who has hit in the past and is coming off a bad year. He may come cheap and would and could provide respite for Polanco, Rollins and Utley. Let’s not forget about Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload. All deserve to make the team. And play more. There are a lot of options for the Phils in 2011.

    Also, we could bundle a pitcher and a couple of good prospects (Rizzoli) for a young stud outfielder like Andrew McCutchen or an Adam Jones or an Upton for Arizona. These possibilities do indeed exist. Blanton and Kendrick would help a number of teams lacking pitching.

    The bullpen may not get the use it did in 2010 because our four aces likely will go deeper into the games. More quality starts. Overall, I am so optimistic that I scare myself. It is great to be scared. Great time to be a Phillies Fanatic !!!!

  • Posts: 0 psujoe


    I was just looking around for a top tier utility guy that the Phils might be able to land for Blanton.

    Rangers have some highly ranked SS prospects in the lower levels and with their starting SS just 22 years old Phils might be able to get one in our system.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    If you can get someone to take the 17 million owed Blanton you are happy. I am thinking the Phils will have to eat some of that.
    Anything of merit as far as a player in return? No chance.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    I am hearing Blanton to red sox is dead. thats good for Joe. The other team in SD. Thats a good fit for him and I wish him the best.
    Maybe the Mets? that would be amusing
    Question becomes how much (if any) of the 17 million do the Phils have to cover.

  • Posts: 0 psujoe

    Maybe the Phils start the season with Blantan as their #5 and hope he come out blazing to increase his trade value. Crazier things have happened. I like that RAJ is in no hurry with Joe. Something may break, you never know.

  • Posts: 0 George

    Is “four man bullpen” a joke, Dipsy? They already have Lidge, Madson, Contreras, Baez, Reyes, and Bastardo penciled in, which is six, and another one or two could show up in ST, and the loser for the fifth starter position could also be worked out of the pen.

  • Posts: 0 psujoe

    Bull Pen has to be were the Phils start to get younger. The have the arms.

    Is Felipe Lopez an FA? I’d sign him to a one year deal.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    Blanton will be gone in a few weeks.
    His agent is aware of this. The phils are gonna move him to the team that takes the most of the contract.

    The pen is where the movement will be coming and I am still not sold on lidge. Especially long term. This is Lidges last year under contract too though. So be nice for Madson to have a big ear or get some big arms.
    Maybe Lidge will have a big year?

  • Posts: 0 psujoe

    Yep, I think this is Ledge’s last season as a Phil. They’ll pay the $1.5 buyout and move on. Shame is that Lidge is finally learning how to pitch with his diminished tools.

    I’m hoping that by years end 2 of Schwimmer, Mathiason and Defratus or on the big club.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from waldorf

    I thnk Madson could be a dominate closer
    If he can wrap his head around it.
    If you can be that dominant in the 8th you should be able to be in the 9th.
    Thats really my hope.
    Let Lidge eat some of the saves this year so we dont have to pay Madson top closer money in 2012 :)

  • Posts: 0 Bruce

    Lee left $30 million behind (Yankees). Indeed it’s not all about the money for some players; even Jeter took a hefty paycut. Unlike “Show me the money” Werth who grabbed the highest offer from a last place club and ran with it to the bank (chuckles). What’s that saying? Greed knows no boundaries. ;-)

  • Posts: 0 loupossehl

    We don’t need no stinkin’ bullpen.

    We’re going for 162 complete games.

  • Posts: 0 ActuallyChilled

    phillies website sub header:
    “Addition of Lee makes Phillies’ pitching staff solid”

    what a joke. hamels with halladay made it very solid. oswalt made it epic. lee makes its unprecedented.

  • Posts: 0 Brett

    Well, it’s nice to see you all smiling and upbeat and congratulatory toward both Lee and Amaro, after how you all reacted to Jason Werth’s move to DC. After watching this place become a pretty happy forum for the last few years, I was worried that the Phillies fans of old had returned.

    I for one am ecstatic with the Lee pickup, even though it clearly was not necessary. It’s a rare thing in sports to see a “message move,” and that’s exactly what this was. It announced to the rest of the league that the Phllies are for real for the long haul. And it was a message to the fans that, given their (our?) support over the last several years, they were listening to all the bitching and moaning about letting Lee go, and wanted to make the fans happy (while, incedentally, picking up one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.)

    It is indeed a good time to be a Phillie fan.

  • Posts: 0 bfo_33

    A right handed power bat may have made more sense for 2011, but two things to keep in mind – Oswalt has an option for 2012, and Hamels is a free agent after 2011. While he’ll be a big part of 2011, Lee also stabilizes the pitching for 2012 and beyond. If moving either Hamels or Oswalt this year was in the plans, it would be done already (just look at last year).

    I also get a kick out of how some of the media state Lee has an easily attainable option for the 6 year. He ONLY has to pitch 400 innings in 2014 and 2015. 27 pitchers did that in 2009-2010 (out of 79 starters) – all were under 35 (most were under 30). Not quite the Halladay deal in terms of team friendly, but a very fair contract.

  • Posts: 0 bfo_33

    Bruce – Jeter took a paycut? Who else was going to give a terrible fielding, 0.270 hitting singles hitter 3yr/$51M? On the market, he would have been lucky to get $30M, and it probably would have been to play 2nd, 3rd, or left.

    Lee is taking less guaranteed money in the life of his contract to be a Phil, but is making more per year, If he stays healthy, he has another potential contract out there. Plus, Lee doesn’t have a ring….yet.

    Werth is in a completely different situation – the contract he got from the Nats is $70M more than anything else on the table, and the Nats have very good talent in the pipeline. If he maintains his tools, he’ll be on a very competitive Nats team in 2013 or 2014. He would have been an idiot to turn that contract down.

  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Yes, of course the four man pen is a joke. He, but I tell ya, we could conceivable go with a six man pen and carry an extra bench guy. I am convinced that this Lee thing had been in the works. You just don’t ask management for $150m at the last minute. And I’m sure it takes more than David Montgomery to approve it. I would think that something like that would go directly to the owners. In any event, if this team is gonna be choked for money, it will only be for a year in light of the salary that comes off next year. I still don’t understand the need for four aces and if it were any other pitcher I wouldn’t be anywhere close to as happy. But since I hsave total man crush on Cliff its OK.

    A thought: Before Cliff, our rotation had absolutely no personality. Halladay is a robot, Roy is…whatever, Cole is in his Nuke Laloosh-trying to do and say all the right things mode. Cliff is a breath of fresh air. Cliff ‘A River Runs Through It” Lee. That boyish charm. Did I mention that I have a man crush?

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Ted Bell

    bfo – Hamels is NOT a free agent after 2011. His current deal expires, but he’s still under team control through the end of 2012 (either through arbitration or another contract). He may become a free agent after the 2012 season.

    I’m Ted Bell.

  • Posts: 0 Ted Bell


    “A force in Phillies ownership above and beyond the normal ability and mandate of president David Montgomery and RAJ (Stoky thinks that is short for “Ruben Are Jenius”) made the numbers work. The numbers are now at a staggering $170 million. They speak to the power of the sellout after sellout after sellout. And the virtual certainty the deliriously happy faithful will cause the SRO sign to be displayed 81 more times and counting. It also guarantees the Phillies will continue to supplant the Braves and Mets as the National League’s No. 1 road draw. This is epic, folks, unthought of in my lifetime covering a team that drew 708,247 in 1970, the final season in Connie Mack Stadium. That’s two 10-game homestands for this team.

    I believe that force to be John Middleton, the man deepest in the shadows of Phillies ownership. I say that because I have heard from several of his classmates at Amherst, admirers who refused to be identified because Middleton knows them well. Both mentioned his love of wrestling while at Amherst and his dislike of any limelight shined on him. But years after his graduation, Middleton who is now a billionaire, rescued a varsity wrestling program that had been scrapped in a cost-cutting purge.

    He is known to be the most committed and victory-driven member of the shadow group I dubbed the Teflonics years ago for their total silence on ballclub matters. (That’s why limited partners are called “silent partners.”)

    I don’t believe for a minute that John Middleton said, “Here, David, I’m writing a check to make this happen.” That is not how wealthy people run their affairs. But I believe that with the approval of the other entities, he communicated a willingness to be there if the good times stop rolling, if there is a sudden cash crunch due to unforeseen circumstances. A losing season could whiplash the sellouts.

    Just know that this organization always has had a fallback plan. The Phillies will never be on the block because of a messy divorce like the one involving the glorified parking-lot attendant who thought he was big enough to own the Los Angeles Dodgers. And they won’t be left naked in the middle of free-agent season without a fallback plan, which is what just happened to Yankees GM Brian Cashman. No Lee, then who, Brian?”

    I’m Ted Bell.

  • Nice story ted,very nice……

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