Several days ago, Phillies Assistant GM Scott Proefrock, when asked of the team potentially signing Cliff Lee, responded: “That ship has sailed.”
It did not seem like a smug, shady answer like those typically given by Godfather Ruben Amaro, it seemed like a genuine quote. He was too expensive. The Phils could not compete with seven-year offers or $150-$160 million deals.
So, what happened? How did such an improbable fantasy turn into reality in the span of one day?
The “Mystery Team”
For a little over one week, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated and the MLB Network mentioned that, in addition to the Yankees and Rangers, a third “mystery team” was expressing interest. Some did not believe Heyman, most thought that even if a mystery team existed, it did not pose a serious threat.
The entire ordeal reminded me of the WWE. It was as if there was a triple-threat match for the Heavyweight Championship, with the champion and challenger known to all, and the mystery opponent being a big name star making his return.
When the dust settled, the Phillies turned out to be the “mystery team.” But, didn’t Proefrock say mere days ago that the ship had sailed? What explains the late surge made by the Phillies after weeks of nothingness on the Cliff Lee front?
Who Called Who?
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported early Tuesday morning that his feeling was that the Yankees and Rangers made their offers, but Lee subsequently decided his heart was in Philadelphia. Grant’s thinking is that Lee came to this realization and, along with agent Darek Braunecker, “put out feelers” to the Phillies, who simply reacted. Ruben Amaro did not “act” as he did to get Lee (the first time), Roy Halladay, or Roy Oswalt. He “reacted.”
Proefrock was giving accurate information when he said the ship had sailed. But, when he and Amaro were confronted by Braunecker with his client’s wishes to return to the city that treated him like a saint 18 months ago, it was simply too incredible an opportunity to pass up.
Comfort Over Dollars
The actual offers of the Yankees and Rangers have been widely circulated. We know that Cliff Lee chose happiness over the largest offer. At first, it appeared that he had given up $50 million to choose Philly over New York. But with word coming out that his easily reachable vesting option in 2016 is worth a whopping $27.5MM, that number is realistically closer to $13MM.
The Spit Factor
Cliff Lee’s wife was reportedly spit on at Yankee Stadium last season. I think $150 million can dry the residue of any loogy, but Philadelphia author and sportswriter, Randy Miller, was told that Lee’s wife was the main reason he did not choose New York. She “wanted no part of New York.”
Amaro the Magician
For a year, we complained about the trade of Cliff Lee to Seattle. The Phillies rushed and did not get enough in return. It was a bad trade. The end. Thankfully, Ruben Amaro more than made up for it by not only re-acquiring Lee, but also obtaining Roy Oswalt via trade.
In reality, Amaro has acquired:
- Roy Halladay
- Cliff Lee
- Roy Oswalt
- Ben Francisco
- Phillippe Aumont
- Tyson Gillies
- J.C. Ramirez
- Kyle Drabek
- Michael Taylor
- Travis d’Arnaud
- J.A. Happ
- Anthony Gose
- Jonathan Villar
- Lou Marson
- Jason Donald
- Carlos Carrasco
- Jason Knapp
Three aces – two of which have won Cy Youngs – for the price of one highly touted pitching prospect (Drabek), one third starter (Happ), and eight question marks. This does not happen every day. GMs are not capable of this.
How has Amaro done it? Well, by being creative, flexible, assertive, deep-pocketed, lucky, lucky, more lucky, and lucky again. Amaro has had the backing of a notoriously frugal ownership group and has made the most of the wealthiest era in Phillies history.
He has also benefited from the fact that the Phillies have been not only successful, but they possess a beautiful stadium, unbelievably passionate fans, and a gregarious group of players.
Hanley Ramirez may outhit Jimmy Rollins, but he does not have his personality. A year ago I’d tell you that the previous sentence serves no purpose, that, in baseball, personality does not matter as much as talent. That even if Jimmy is the proxy for the Phillies attitude as a whole, that intangible is less important than dozens of other skills.
But how can you say that now, when a player said “no” to two larger offers to come back to Citizens Bank Park?
Just a few years ago, no pitcher wanted any part of CBP. Now, guys are giving up guaranteed years and trust funds for their grandchildren to pitch in Philadelphia.
Truly remarkable times, these are.