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 bfo_33

    My mistake – I knew Cole was signed through 11. A big year for Cole.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    15-18 wins for Cole. Bank on it.

  • Posts: 0 Dr. Dave

    Mitch Williams, on MLB, had it right. It really came down to Texas and the Phils. If you remember, Mrs. Lee was spit on by Yankee fans during the playoffs last season. She didn’t want to go to NY! As Mitch said, if the wife isn’t happy, You aren’t happy.

    Lee was shocked when he was traded last year. He wanted to stay in Philly. According to sources, he had his agent contact the Phils to see if something could be worked out.

    It would be a huge mistake to trade Cole, and I don’t see RAJ doing it. Especially after the flack he took for trading Lee.

    Charley will be platooning in LF and RF. Felipe Lopez would be a good fit. He is 30 and a switch hitter. Another backup at 2b and 3b. Keep Valdez for SS and defense.

  • Posts: 0 Rueben

    The Phillies should trade Placido Polanco, Joe Blanton, Rizotti, and cash to the Brewers for Corey Hart. Then quite literally give away Raul Ibanez to anyone who will take him. The phillies could then sign adrian beltre to a 2 year 20 million dollar deal. This would give the phillies good right handed bats in the lineup without sacrificing that much.

  • Posts: 0 Phylan

    I just want to clarify a few things –

    Keith Law is not suggesting the Phillies trade Hamels, he’s saying that they might choose to (I think they definitely won’t, of course).

    And the lineup is not really in some terrible state that some of you guys seem to think, I find that a pretty bizarre notion. The handedness thing is the most overrated thing in recent memory, and besides that, there is no “big right-handed bat” out there anymore, unless you count Magglio, who probably wants $10 million per anyway, and that’s just not a very good allocation right now. The Phillies were set to have a pretty quiet offseason, and rightfully so, because there weren’t many moves they needed to make. Lee is a huge bonus. Enjoy it.

  • Posts: 0 Phylan

    Also, a run saved is as good (if not better) as a run earned, so to speak. Adding Lee softens the impact of whatever offensive decline may or may not happen.

  • Posts: 0 jeff of Nova

    Sorry I am late to the party here,


    I have to disagree with the following. “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 ”

    The Cliff Lee solidifies, your rotation and makes it not necessary to focus so much on the pen.

    We do not need another RH bat, it would be nice. I think the lineup is done at this point, unless RAJ decides to be out of the box again.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Like I said last night….Keith Law is a jackass. Saying that the Phillies MIGHT choose to trade Hamels is just drumming up a story for the sake of drumming up a story. Totally irresponsible reporting in my opinion.


  • Posts: 0 Phylan

    He’s not trying to drum up a story, his articles are published under ESPN insider. Most people can’t even see them. His job is to speculate on how teams will handle their personnel, and, more importantly, to inventory the character and quality of their minor league assets. He was formerly a scout and front office special assistant with the Blue Jays, is extremely knowledgeable, and it’s absolutely ridiculous how much certain Phillies fans deride him because he didn’t like the Howard contract.

  • Posts: 0 Ted Bell

    I’m not really worried about the regular season – they should win the division in spite of their offensive problems. The pitching staff is just too good.

    But, they were shutout thirteen times last season (including the NLCS game). Who can forget the trip to NY and not scoring a run in the entire series? They also scored three runs or less in almost 50% of their games. People point to injuries, but that wasn’t the only problem.

    Taking away Jayson Werth with no proven replacement makes the offense even more worrisome.

    Pitching will get them through those struggles in the regular season, but the post season is much different. In most cases, they’ll be facing very good starting pitching.

    In their last three postseason series (2009 WS, 2010 NLDS, 2010 NLCS) the offense has been shutdown. The big hitters have been pitched to rather easily and situational hitting has been totally absent. That will be the problem.

    I’m Ted Bell.

  • Posts: 0 Ted Bell

    Keith Law simply said that the starter who will bring the highest return in a trade is Cole Hamels. He’s 100% correct. Hamel’s age, skills, and contract dictate that.

    Keith Law never said it was going to happen, or that it even should happen. He was only presenting a scenario in which the Phillies could use a surplus to correct a problem area.

    I’m Ted Bell.

  • Posts: 0 betasigmashag

    It is a good time in Philly now and think that instead of a big time bat I really think the defense ability for cheap is more importent for an OF need, and maybe a good bench bat, but unless I am missing something Valdez can be the guy to rest the infield, and as bad as some of you think he was at the plate the guys batting average was not that bad after the seventh inning, and he did have some clutch hits. He is not going to bat 280 or 290 and I do not think he would be a good rh pinch hitter when he played in the field he was not a horrible hitter, little pop yes, and was a decent base runner, not speedy by any streach of the imgination, but smart. that is your guy who can spell poly, chase, and JRoll with out hurting the defense, and that is going to be of the most importance with this rotation

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Yeah, Phylan, maybe so. But he’s “speculating” wrongly. And, I’m sorry, but to even mention it at all is to create a story and see if it has legs.

  • Posts: 0 betasigmashag

    As far as the offense am I the only one that the Phillies core of Ryan, Chase, JRoll, Vic and Poly are know what their weaknesses are at the plate and will be working overtime this off season to fix that. And injuries did contribute to that, it is not just time spend off the field but coming back sooner then they should, with Ryan’s power struggle I think the ankle was a huge factor in that because his power was picking up right before that. Poly had a bone chip floating around his elbow. Chase and Vic really just struggled almost all year, some of Vic problems I think may steam from moving him around in the line up, I think if going into ST Charlie sits JRoll and Vic down and says A is going to be my lead off guy and B is going to be in the five hole all year. Because in my mind I really think their approach may be better if they have their roll. And also think JRoll will accept the five hole role, saying that I think Vic can become comfortable in the five spot also. But in my head I think it will be a line up
    Ben Fran

  • Posts: 0 bostonkate

    Oh man oh man oh man….I haven’t posted on here in awhile and felt the need to come back and post. I feel like I’m dreaming and that someone will soon pinch me and I’ll wake up from this beeyoootiful dream. I won’t beLEEve it until the spring.

    I heard the news, screamed, went running to tell my dad, tripping up the stairs in the process. Everywhere I went yesterday, from the gym, to starbucks, the mall….everyone was high fiving everyone else. It was that type of day. Ahhhhh can’t believe it. Best rotation ever ever ever ever.

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