The news is shocking. And for those Yankee fans out there, you must be devastated. I know you are used to getting what you want.
This news came late Monday night, when Cliff Lee, baseball’s top left-handed pitcher, agreed to a five-year, $120 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Lee is just coming off a stellar season in which he led the Texas Rangers to its first World Series appearance.
We all know how the New York Yankees work. If baseball’s most standout player (pitchers especially) is not in the Yankee lineup, you can almost bet that if he is a free agent and good, he will be in the Yankees’ lineup, next season. It’s a curse for teams who find a great pitcher, because it’s only a matter of time until the Yankees’ bottomless pocketbook will open up and lure him away. As I have said before, the Yankees are the best of the best in December when large contracts are signed. (Example: C.C. Sabathia.)
So here we are in December, and surprise, the Yankees are at the bargaining table looking to get hold of Lee in order to keep up with their divisional-rival Red Sox and Rays. It was almost a given at the end of the season that the Yankees were going to go for Lee, and sure enough, they were hot on his trail, trying to pull him away from the Rangers with a big fat wad of cash.
The only questions that remained were how much the Yankees were going to pay the pitcher, and could the Rangers afford to counter their offer? It was Yankees versus Rangers for the rights to Cliff Lee. (Who’s kidding whom here? Nobody beats the Yankees in this game.) In the end, Lee surprised the sporting world and signed with his former Phillies team, who appeared on the scene out of nowhere.
According to The New York Times, Lee agreed to a five-year, guaranteed $120 million contract ($24 million a year) that includes a vesting option for a sixth year, based on the number of innings pitched.
The Yankees, in their final offer to Lee, offered up a $148 million, seven-year deal. The Rangers offered up a ton of cash, too, but didn’t really compete with the offers put up by the Yankees and Phillies.
Lee’s move to leave millions on the table to go to Philadelphia is unprecedented in these times. When Lee was traded to Seattle at the end of the 2009 season, he was unhappy. He had thought he was going to spend the rest of his career in Philadelphia. He liked the city and liked the organization.
It turns out that his love for the City of Brotherly Love means a lot – almost $30 million. A decision like Lee’s is something you just don’t see in any business transaction anymore. Who takes happiness over cash? Apparently, Cliff Lee does. I didn’t know that was a thing people do, or have ever done. Right?
Lee also made a lot of friends in his decision to go with the Phillies. The entire baseball world has a grudge against the Yankees and their deep pockets, so when Lee turned down the New York offer, you’d better believe baseball fans across the country collectively smiled – especially Red Sox geeks and the three Tampa Bay fans out there.
In what has become a game focused on stellar pitching, the Phillies look to have the best starting rotation baseball has seen in a very long time. With Lee as the team’s ace, he will join Cy Young-winner Roy Halladay in the rotation, as well as Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. To have a rotation of four pitchers like that will be almost impossible to beat, so long as they stay healthy.
But now that the Phillies have that rotation, they also have the pressure to win it all. It’s kind of like LeBron James and Co., down in Miami. They are expected to be the best NBA team ever, and so far the Heat hasn’t lived up to any expectations. In Las Vegas, the Phillies were already National League favorites to win the World Series. Adding Lee has increased those odds. We’ll see if they can handle the hype. The Phillies, not the Yankees, are the marked team this year.
And the Yankees? The Yankees needed Lee terribly. It looks like they will need a miracle if they are going to beat out the Rays or the Sox to get into the post season. But, hey, what if the Yankees do make it into the post season and, God forbid, somehow win the World Series without the pitching of Lee, without buying all the best pitching? Hell, maybe they will even use the Yankee farm system for once. If this impossible reality does happen, Yankee fans will be able to walk a little taller, because their team, for once, didn’t buy a World Series championship. And that, too, is something that hasn’t happened in a long time.