The Philadelphia Phillies will not be reuniting with former rotation stalwart Cliff Lee.
Despite recent pronouncements that he is interested in trying to continue his big league career, the former ace lefty is not going to get that opportunity with a rebuilding Phillies club next spring.
CBS Sports baseball insider Jon Heyman has recently reported that Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, is seeking a shot with any team that the pitcher feels would be a good fit for him.
There are any number of road blocks in the way of Lee ever returning to pitch successfully in Major League Baseball, the most obvious being his ability to compete at the highest level of competition.
He has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues since walking off the mound in the third inning at Nationals Park on July 31st, 2014.
Being given medical clearance by a doctor to make the attempt does not in any way mean that the now 37-year old’s balky elbow will hold up once he actually starts to pitch again. He has already tried this twice, and failed both times.
It’s not as if the Phillies are so loaded with talent that they couldn’t use Lee in the rotation to begin the 2016 season, and then as a trade chip later if he somehow proved healthy.
The club made the decision that $12.5 million was too much to pay a guy in order to have him show up at spring training for another shot.
The Phillies had Lee under contract at $25 million for the 2016 season, but instead wisely used their option to buy him out at a $12.5 million price tag.
For the pitcher, this means he is going to be getting paid a nice salary next year, no matter what happens.
Lee simply does not fit into the Phils’ rebuilding plans under Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak.
With the team already turning the page on players such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Jonathan Papelbon, and with the team counting the days until it sheds the Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz contracts, the new regime is not looking backwards.
A month ago, Lee finally sold his swanky Rittenhouse Square condominium, which had been on the market since back in April of this year, for a reported $6.55 million.
So the pitcher himself is quite obviously satisfied that his ties to Philly, which had been so strong at one time for he and his family, are irrevocably cut.
For any team that gives him a shot, it means very little financial risk. With Lee already drawing that $12.5 million from the Phils, a signing club would likely only have to offer him an incentive-laden one-year deal.
So who might give him that shot? There are a number of contending teams, certainly a Lee requirement at this late stage of his career, who could use his type of potential skill set and experience.
The San Francisco Giants are fishing around for arms, and Grant Brisbee at SB Nation’s “McCovey Chronicles” feels they could be the perfect fit:
“The right fit?” writes Brisbee. “Like a big ballpark with a strong defensive team that features a Hall of Fame manager, highly regarded pitching coach, and plans to contend? I’d argue that the Giants are the best fit for a pitcher like Lee, especially if he’s quietly thinking beyond 2016.”
Other teams who could eventually be in on Lee would likely include the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and New York Mets.
All are potential contenders, all have mid-back end rotation openings, all would have little to lose by giving him a shot.
Despite the sad ending to Lee’s tenure in Phillies pinstripes, his stay with the team has to be considered a success.
Alex Reimer at Forbes.com, in a piece critical of long-term deals for starting pitchers, described the Lee contract and outcome perfectly just a couple of weeks back:
“In December 2010, the Phillies signed Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal. He was spectacular in four of those five seasons, posting a 2.89 ERA and 133 ERA+. Given that Lee was 32 at the time of the signing, he was probably content taking fewer years as long as his yearly salary remained high.”
“The short-term nature of this contract saved the deal, because if Lee had signed a six-or seven-year agreement, he would still be on the Phillies books even though he missed all of 2015 with a flexor tendon tear.”
Lee originally came to the Phillies at the 2009 MLB trade deadline, as the club was trying for a repeat of their 2008 World Series championship.
Lee came from the Cleveland Indians along with Ben Francisco in exchange for four prospects, including pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who remains in the Tribe rotation today.
The Phillies did repeat as National League champions with Lee, but lost the World Series in six games to the New York Yankees.
Lee was outstanding in that postseason, going 4-0, including wins in Game One and Game Five of the Fall Classic over the Bronx Bombers.
Following that 2009 season, the Phils acquired another ace in Roy Halladay. But instead of adding Halladay to Lee and Cole Hamels to create a formidable rotation, then-GM Ruben Amaro dealt Lee away on the same day to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for three prospects who never amounted to a thing.
In July of the following 2010 season, the Mariners traded Lee to the Texas Rangers in exchange for four prospects, none of whom ever really panned out.
Lee helped the Rangers to the World Series that season where Texas lost in five games to the San Francisco Giants.
A free agent following that 2010 season, Lee was one of the hottest commodities on the market, and the Phillies did not appear to be on the radar, with the Yankees the clear front-runners for his services in the eyes of most.
But just 10 days before Christmas, most of Philly was elated and the wider baseball world stunned when “Merry Cliffmas” occurred, and Lee did indeed sign back with the Phillies.
It turned out that Lee and his wife had loved it here all along, and had never wanted to leave in the first place. Lee became even more of a fan favorite after that decision.
In all, over parts of five total Phillie seasons, Lee went 48-34 with a 2.94 ERA, a 1.089 WHIP, and a 2.85 FIP mark. He allowed 777 hits in 827.1 innings across 118 starts, with a 813/124 K:BB ratio.
He joined a dominating pitching rotation that included Halladay and Hamels, along with Roy Oswalt, with the group becoming known as the “Four Aces” and leading the club to a franchise-record 102 victories in the 2011 season.
Lee was, however, whacked around in his lone postseason start during the stretch, taking the loss in Game Two of the disappointing 2011 NLDS defeat at the hands of the Saint Louis Cardinals.
While Lee will not be returning to the Philadelphia Phillies, he left an indelible mark on the fans of Philadelphia.
Flippant, smart-alecky, roguishly handsome, he took an assassin’s demeanor and arsenal with him to the mound.
He will always be remembered well here, and undoubtedly welcomed back and cheered again at a Citizens Bank Park appearance, whether in an opposition uniform or at some future reunion ceremony.