Philadelphia Phillies: Could Cliff Lee Live to Regret His Long-Term Phils Deal?

Phil KeidelContributor IIMarch 22, 2013

Can't buy me love, or the playoffs necessarily.
Can't buy me love, or the playoffs necessarily.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

If it became a movie, Cliff Lee's Philadelphia story would be a romantic comedy with scenes of brilliant light and unbearable darkness.

The first time the Phillies dealt for Lee, in 2009, the deal was viewed as "adding another top starter to join Cole Hamels," per

No one could have known, though, that it would be Lee and not Hamels who would be the unhittable one in the 2009 playoffs.

In five postseason starts, Lee went 4-0 in 40.1 innings pitched. He gave up seven earned runs in that entire postseason.

So, naturally, the Phillies did what any sensible club would do with a pitcher who had done what Lee just did.

They traded him to Seattle.

History has proven this trade to be as dumb as it seemed at the time. None of the pieces the Phillies received in return (right-hander Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies and right-hander Juan Ramirez) have the look of big-time major league contributors.

In fact, only Aumont seems to have a future in the big leagues at all.

The Phillies righted the wrong by signing Lee to a long-term contract in December 2010.

When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to that five-year, $120 million deal, the prevailing narrative was that the fans never wanted Lee to leave Philadelphia in the first place. 

At Lee's December 2010 press conference announcing his return to Philadelphia, Lee said things that Phillies fans always wanted to hear. 

“I don’t know what the fans do to create that much more volume and excitement in the stadium, but it’s definitely something extra here,” Lee said. “They’re passionate fans. They understand what’s going on. They don’t need a teleprompter to tell them to get up and cheer.”

It was a feel-good story and a feel-good time for both Lee and the Phillies.

Since that day, though, the good times have been fewer and further between.

Lee's fingerprints were all over the Phillies' loss in the 2011 National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Staked to a four-run lead in Game 2 with his team already leading the best-of-five series 1-0, Lee gave it all back and the Phillies' stranglehold on the series was gone.

It never returned.

And then last season, Lee posted his first losing record (6-9) since going 5-8 in 20 starts for the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

All of the peripheral numbers were fine. Lee's earned run average of 3.16 was easily among the top 10 in the National League. He struck out 207 hitters in 211 innings. His WHIP was 1.11.

Which leads, ultimately, to the moral of the story.

One way or another, Lee accepted a discounted rate to sign his one-time-only mega-free-agent deal with the Phillies.

Only two years of the five guaranteed are gone, and in that short time, the Phillies have gone from perennial favorite in the National League East to the division's consensus third-place team behind the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves.

And if the 2013 Phillies cannot improve on last season's 81-81 and get back to the postseason, significant personnel changes are very likely.

In fact, even if the Phillies do find their way back into the October championship tournament, the likes of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Michael Young (all on expiring contracts) are probably going to leave.

Which brings us to the big question.

If Cliff Lee knew in December 2010 what he knows now, would he have come back to Philadelphia?

And if he had the chance to leave now, would he?