Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels reported that Cliff Lee contacted him and told him that he was going to sign a contract with the Phillies. Apparently, he's going to sign a five year contract, with an option for a sixth year, that could amount to a total of $120 million. Both the Rangers and the New York Yankees, who were widely expected to land the stud pitcher when the offseason began, were offering more years and more money. However, in the end, the Phillies swooped in and Lee decided to return to a place he had never wanted to leave in the first place.
This is what the Phillies rotation will look like next year:
Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick/who really cares at this point?
I can honestly say, I don't think I have ever seen a rotation as potentially dominant and intimidating as that in my life. I have to imagine there are people twice my age who could say the same thing. The fifth spot in the rotation aside, these aren't just four outstanding pitchers. These are four pitchers that have been stud aces in their careers. These are four pitchers who would unquestionably be Opening Day starters for most teams in the league (with the possible exception of Hamels). These are also four pitchers that have already had fantastic success in Philadelphia. In one season...
- Halladay: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 219 K in 33 starts (plus a Cy Young Award)
- Lee: 7-4, 3.39 ERA, 74 K in 12 starts (plus, remember what he did when he first came to Philly, and how dominant he was in the playoffs for them)
- Oswalt: 7-1, 1.74 ERA, 73 K in 13 starts
- Hamels: 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 205 K in 34 starts (this is a 162-game estimate from Baseball-Reference.com)
These are also guys who will be around for more than one year, with the possible exception of Oswalt, who has an option for 2012. If all goes well next year, I'd be stunned if he didn't take it. With this signing, the Phillies have set the tone of the franchise for years to come. They are committed to winning with starting pitching.
What are the ramifications of Lee's return? The Phillies have been shopping Joe Blanton and Raul Ibanez in the hope of lowering the payroll. Odds are, Blanton will be traded and Kyle Kendrick will be the fifth starter. Whether or not they should trade Ibanez, I don't know. Even though they've already lost Jayson Werth, it might not be a bad idea since it would allow top prospect Domonic Brown to start without making the lineup any more left-handed than it would have been. Ibanez has also been erratic in the past couple years and isn't getting any younger. Either way, his contract expires after this year, and the Phillies would do well to get something for him while they still can. If he isn't traded in the offseason, I wouldn't be surprised if Ibanez were shopped at the trade deadline unless he proves to be an invaluable asset to the offense. If Ibanez goes, it is very possible that they would start an outfield of Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino, and Ben Francisco. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing that.
Hard to say who would be in the market for guys like Blanton or Ibanez. Ibanez might have value to a team looking to compete next year, knowing that they're only bound to him for one year. Having missed out on Lee and Carl Crawford, I could see the Yankees being interested, or maybe a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blanton is a harder sell. He's making a lot of money, and he simply hasn't been that good. The Phillies might have to take on some of his contract in order to trade him. But clearly, Blanton is the more expendable of the two players, and it's sounding like he's the one who will be dealt.
Who knows: maybe this plan of rotation-domination will blow up in the Phillies' face. Having four players used to being the top dog of the pitching staff could result in a clashing of egos, though it seems like these four guys are as level-headed as they come. When it was Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt last year, everyone did extremely well, and Cliff Lee has never been one to make a fuss about anything. In fact, last year the three aces benefitted from playing with each other. They inspired each other to go out and conquer their opponents. Lee had better offers from a team he went to the World Series with last year, and the most dominant franchise in all of sports, and yet he chose to take less to come back to the Phillies.
I remember the Phillies in the late 90's, when they were the pits of the National League. I remember when Scott Rolen demanded to be traded because he hated what was expected of him from Larry Bowa and from the Philadelphia fans (Honestly, I don't blame him; I would welcome him back to Philadelphia with open arms). I remember when J.D. Drew wouldn't sign with the Phillies when we drafted him because he didn't want to play in Philly (Drew I would not welcome back. Have fun sitting on the DL.). Maybe it's the way Charlie Manuel manages the team, maybe it's the rest of the management, maybe it's the gratitude in the clubhouse after taveling a long road in the past ten years to rebuild the team and establish themselves as a dominant team in the league. Whatever it is, in the past two years, two of the best pitchers in baseball, possibly the best two pitchers in baseball, have committed to play for this franchise for far less money than they could be making. That says a lot about what this franchise has become and the people who are in it.
Welcome home, Cliff Lee.