In signing with Phillies, Cliff Lee chases memory of the World Series run, but he may regret decision
Cliff Lee yawned and chewed gum while his glove, a basket hanging near his chest, snagged the Johnny Damon popup. It was Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium, and Lee was in the 6th inning of a masterpiece sublime enough to include that iconic moment. In the outfield and dugout, his teammates laughed and marveled at Lee's nonchalance.

That catch represented the peak of an otherworldly postseason for the lefty, and defined Lee for the Philadelphia public as a Phillie forever. It had the same effect on the pitcher, whose hurt was raw when the Phils traded him to Seattle in December to make room in the payroll for Roy Halladay. 12 months later, clearly still pulled by the memory of a heightened experience, Lee did what professional athletes almost never do: He prioritized desire over dollars.

Of course, the approximately $100 millions that the Phillies will pay Lee over the next 5 years is more than almost anyone would make in 5 lifetimes, but that's almost irrelevant in baseball. Athletes are among the most competitive people in this competitive country, and in their business, contracts indicate status and success nearly as much as titles do. Lee could have become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world had he signed with the Yankees. No matter how much he will make, it could not have been easy to turn down so much more.

Instead of doing that, he will try to recreate his favorite memory. It's a nice narrative, even a noble impulse, but it is fraught with risk and potential disappointment. The Phillies are already altered from the team Lee joined in July 2009, when he was traded from Cleveland.

The Phils' lineup is reduced, due to age and attrition. Jayson Werth, Lee's good friend and the team's only righthanded power hitter, is gone, having decided to accept a Publishers Clearing House check for $126 million from the Washington Nationals. Infielders Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are aging, and could not make it through last season without suffering serious and nagging injuries. This month, centerfielder Shane Victorino turned 30, the last Phils starter to cross the precarious boundary. Decline awaits in a few years, if not sooner.

Derek Jeter can't play shortstop in a year or 2? Move him somewhere else, and sign an All-Star replacement. CC's arm is dead after all those innings? Well, when is King Felix a free agent?

Unlike the Yankees, the Phils will not be able to buy their way out of a rebuilding phase. Had Lee signed with New York, he would have received the implicit promise of $200 million payrolls every season, enough to purchase playoff contention despite an abundance of aging regulars.

The Yankees would have given Lee not just more money, but the security of knowing he wouldn't ever be stuck for long on an irrelevant team. The Phillies might be great next year, and a rotation beginning with Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt sounds like one of the best ever. But what if it doesn't immediately click, due to injuries or inconsistency or other human frailty (remember, that group without Lee was supposed to win a World Series this year)?

This Phils team has a one-year window before it sees sweeping change. Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have potentially expiring deals, and could follow Werth out of town in eleven months. Halladay, Hamels and Victorino might follow in the ensuing years. And Cliff Lee might be stuck chasing the ghosts of an elusive memory, and wishing he had just taken the money.


Post a Comment

Age Calculator

Date  Month  Year

You have been living for:
In months:
In days:
In hours:
In minutes:
Your next birthday will be in:

Subscribe here