Both the Texas Rangers and, perhaps more so, the New York Yankees were left reeling this morning, picking up the pieces after Cliff Lee, the most coveted free agent pitcher on the market by a long shot, decided to ‘take his talents’ to Philadelphia.
How on earth did this happen?
The Phillies played it cool waiting until the tail end of negotiations to swoop. They were apparently always ready to make a deal, but decided to wait until Texas and New York had played their strongest cards. Once that happened, the Phillies calmly contacted Lee’s people and made their proposal. Lee accepted almost immediately.
The next question is, ‘why?’
Three immediate factors stand out. First, Lee is now part of the best pitching rotation in baseball. For Lee, The attraction of pitching for one of the National League’s best, alongside living legend Roy Halladay, proved too much. The Phillies can now boast one of the finest starting rotations of all time, a deep-four that includes Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. The only rotation in MLB anywhere close is Boston's stable of Lester, Bucholz, Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka, and even that has many more question marks than the Phillies 'fab four'.
Secondly, you have to wonder if Lee took one look at Boston’s sensationally revamped lineup and said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to 19 in-division games against that murderer’s row (Kevin Youkilis or David Ortiz potentially batting as low as seventh?!). On top of that, Tampa and Toronto can flat out mash. The NL East is a far pitcher friendlier place than the AL East, even with the commendable changes happening with the Mets.
Finally, Lee and his family were reportedly very comfortable in his previous stint in Philadelphia, happy with the lifestyle and the clubhouse culture also. Lee’s wife was famously verbally abused at Yankee stadium in the playoffs, whilst in contrast the Lee’s apparently really enjoyed life in and out of the ballpark in Philadelphia.
Now for the inevitable weeping and gnashing of teeth in New York.
The Gotham City media is not happy about this, not one bit. Of the three free agents who signed deals in excess of $100 million this winter, two signed with the Red Sox, and the other joined the Phillies, jolting the Yankees like they haven't been jolted since their historic 2004 ALCS collapse. The reaction in the press? About as Neanderthal as you could have predicted. The headlines of the NY Post scream ‘’CLIFF STIFFS YANKS’ – and then go on to show a bit of the arrogance that perhaps helped put Lee off New York, in opening the piece with ‘’The Phillies? Really?’’. The NY Times it should be noted are being much calmer and more contrite about the whole affair.
Interestingly Lee called the Rangers himself to announce his decision, while getting his agent to let the Yankees know he wouldn’t be pitching for them. Read into that what you will.
The Yanks have now missed out on Lee, Crawford and Werth, the three biggest (and some would say only interesting) MLB free agents on the market. At least they re-signed Jeter and Rivera. They will now probably try to ‘over-pay’ in a trade for Zack Greinke, Yankees fans would riot in the street if GM Cashman tried to placate them with any of these guys; Carl Pavano, Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis. One word, yuck.
All that can be said now is, congratulations to the Phillies on putting this together. Congratulations also to Cliff Lee. The Yankees were willing to guarantee him $154 million for seven years, instead, he picked a five-year deal worth just around $120 million because, basically, his family will be happier in Philadelphia. It’s nice to see someone make a move that isn’t entirely about the money.
Maybe, when all is said and done, the Yankees fans should have been just a bit nicer to Cliff Lee’s wife.