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December 14 Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Pinch yourself, Phillies fans.
What used to be fantasy has now become reality.
Cliff Lee, even after being offered more money by the American League champion Texas Rangers and the 27-time World Series champion New York Yankees, has decided to sign with the Phillies.
That’s the kind of Philadelphia story most of you probably thought you’d never read.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said early Tuesday morning that he could neither confirm nor deny the deal, but rumblings about the Phillies‘ involvement in the Lee bidding started early Monday night, and just before midnight, MLB.com reported that the Rangers had been told that the veteran lefthander was signing with the Phillies.
Lee will receive a deal reportedly worth around $100 million over five years with a sixth-year vesting option. His agent, Darek Braunecker, did not return phone calls from The Inquirer. The 32-year-old lefthander went a combined 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA with Seattle and Texas last season and has a career record of 102-61 with a 3.85 ERA. In 10 career postseason starts, he is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA, including a 4-0 record with the Phillies during the 2009 postseason.
Both the Yankees and Rangers had better offers on the table, but Lee apparently fell in love with the Phillies during the team’s 2009 run to the World Series and wanted to return. The Yankees, according to ESPN, offered a six-year deal worth $138 million with an option for a seventh season. After the Phillies traded him to the Seattle Mariners last year, there were times when Lee sounded like a jilted lover when he talked about the Phils.
Lee’s deal with the Phillies comes exactly 362 days after Amaro traded the lefthander to the Mariners for three prospects on the same day that the team acquired Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays for three other prospects.”
December 14 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen:
“MORE THAN ONCE during baseball’s winter meetings that ended last week in the shadow of Disney World, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked how much he had to spend on his 2011 payroll.
Each time he did a nifty sidestep, saying something to the effect that it was really hard to say, that he had some flexibility, that it sort of depended on the player, etc.
In that sense, the story that broke around midnight Monday – that the Phillies were the so-called mystery team that won the bidding for free-agent lefthander Cliff Lee – made some sense. It had always been assumed that they at least were monitoring the market for the lefthander who pitched so brilliantly for them in the 2009 postseason after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians just before the trading deadline.
It seems they did more than watch from the sideline, and now they have a dream rotation of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Lee is getting a reported 5-year, $100 million deal, with a vesting option for a sixth year that could raise the total to $120 million.
Circumstantial evidence fanned the flames of conjecture. Lee took his time about making his decision, leaving the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers in a holding pattern. He truly agonized over whether to take the reported 7-year, $160 million offer the Yankees put on the table or stay closer to his Arkansas home for slightly less from the Rangers, a team he helped make it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history this year.
In the end, according to reports, he is taking considerably less than the Yankees offered, but will play for a team he likes.
Details were sketchy about how they will make this work, but some scenarios have had the Phillies trying to offload some payroll, including shopping righthander Joe Blanton, who is owed $17 million in the final 2 years of his current deal, outfielder Raul Ibanez and righthander Kyle Kendrick.
Lee made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed his time with the Phillies, for whom he went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA. He was genuinely shocked and dismayed when the deal that brought Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays last offseason was coupled with the decision to trade him to the Seattle Mariners for three minor leaguers.
December 14 Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan:
“Well, this just doesn’t happen. Highly coveted free-agent athletes take their talents to South Beach, or sign bank-busting contracts with the Washington Nationals. That’s just how it is.
And then along comes Cliff Lee.
By most reasonable estimates, Lee decided to pay somewhere between $30 million and $40 million for the privilege of returning to pitch for the Phillies. That is real, actual money – the difference between a five-year contract here and the reported seven-year, $160 million contract Lee was offered by the Yankees.
Lee doesn’t just want to win. He went to the World Series this year with the Texas Rangers, one of the teams he turned down to sign here. And the Yankees, with CC Sabathia and that lineup and Mariano Rivera, certainly offered a good chance to win as well as the biggest payday.
Cliff Lee wants to win and, brace yourselves for this, he wants to win here. In Philadelphia. He wants to do it here so much that he took less money and agreed to return to the team that traded him away a year ago.
Thinking back, it’s hard to say which move was more shocking: the deal that sent Lee to Seattle last December, just two months after his brilliant postseason performance, or the deal that brought him back in the middle of the night.
The mind reels.
OK, a quick reality check. This isn’t meant to be a buzz-kill, but we are talking about Ruben Amaro Jr., the engineer of that regrettable trade. Remember how that went down. One minute, you heard the Phillies had landed Roy Halladay in a deal with Toronto. Before you could finish high-fiving the nearest Phillies fan, you heard the other part. Amaro had flipped Lee to Seattle for three prospects.
December 14 New York Post columnist Joel Sherman:
“This is an era in Yankees history that will be defined by what they have done without Cliff Lee.
Because twice, they were on the doorstep of acquiring the ace and now have twice been spurned — or two more times than they anticipated.
They had a deal in principle to obtain Lee from the Mariners in July and had him slip away to the Rangers. And they just had him slip away in free agency despite outbidding the winning Phillies by about $50 million.
Maybe the Yankees will look back in several years and be happy about the prospects they did not give up in July for Lee. Maybe they will look back in several years and be thrilled that they did not do a seven-year deal with Lee because the lefty did not survive that tenure well.
But in the present tense, the double-barrel rejection feels overwhelming. First, because the Lee-led Rangers beat the Yankees in the ALCS last season. Second, because the Yankees now must move forward without having filled the most obvious need for next season, a high-end starter. So though the 2014 Yankees might benefit from not having another high-paid, aging player such as Lee, the 2011 Yankees are sure to be hurt by his absence.
And the Phillies are sure to benefit. Like the Red Sox, Philadelphia has found its inner Yankee. Both the Red Sox and Phillies will at least approach the Lee-less Yankees for highest payroll in the sport and also for star power and now expectations.”
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