Could a return to the Phillies be in the offing for red-hot free-agent lefty Cliff Lee?
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.—The new Cliff Lee rumors indicate that there are two teams that have made seven-year offers for the left-handed pitcher.
No one knows if the reports are true, and they could have just been perpetuated by Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, to build up interest for the Rangers and Yankees to offer him a seventh guaranteed year.
As I wrote previously, that is a great move by Braunecker because the key is to get every team thinking seven years. Prior talks were all about a five- or six-year deal.
Now they have been bumped up to where the Yankees are already saying they will not go more than six years, no matter how many teams offer seven. That offer by the Yankees could officially come as early as Wednesday.
Before the Winter Meetings, the talk was that it would be the Yankees and five years.
Braunecker has done a good job, and he is a pretty good agent. He does what is best for his clients, without all the bluster and spreadsheets used by Scott Boras.
Look what Braunecker did for A.J. Burnett, a guy who conveniently has good years right before his arbitration year, his free-agent year and his opt-out season.
However, let’s say there are two teams that have privately offered Lee seven years.
I believe those teams would be the Los Angeles Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies. Those are just my thoughts and my guesses; I have not heard anything definitive.
The Angels have a ton of money to spend, and their owner, Arte Moreno, was not happy about missing out on the playoffs last season. They really have not delved into any big-money free agents since Torii Hunter.
And, at that time, they were never viewed as being in on Hunter. Like the predator after the prey, the Angels like to sit back and observe, then pounce.
It would not surprise me to see the Angels boost their rotation with Lee in their lineup with Carl Crawford. Getting two guys who the division rival Rangers desperately want would severely shift the tide in favor of the Halos.
That would give the Angels six viable starters with Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Scot Kazmir. Signing Lee would make one of them expendable, or the Angels could move one of them in a trade.
I don’t believe there would be much of a trade market for Kazmir, but Santana would find a few teams interested. Maybe those who lost out on Lee?
Meanwhile, the Phillies also have available cash. They have not had to pay Jayson Werth and have lots of money comoing off books after 2011.
The Phillies saw up close when they lost to the San Francisco Giants what an extremely formidable top three in the rotation can do in a postseason run. I am sure they would love to add Lee back in the fold and provide that alternating left arm between righties Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.
Also, Major League Baseball is a copycat business. What works well for certain teams is often copied by others hoping to reap the same benefits.
While this goes against what Lee desires in being the true No. 1, the seven-year contract and ability to compete every season would lessen any ego effects of being a No. 2 behind Halladay.
Lee also loved his time in Philadelphia.
Going to Philly would make a strong rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. They could also try to save money by making Hamels and Blanton expendable, but that tactic burned them when they dealt Lee last offseason and obtained Halladay.
While it would be tough to deal Blanton and his $8.5 million per year salary for the next two seasons, Hamels would surely command lots of suitors if he were offered on the trade market. He is under control for two more seasons, including an arbitration year, after his current three-year, $20.5 million deal expires. He can be a free agent after 2012.
I am not saying that the Phillies would deal Hamels, it is always a possibility. Despite his resurgent 2010, they have never been excited about Hamels’ progress. He is also making $9.5 million this year, and his arbitration figure next season would likely approach $12-15 million.
Hamels would bring back a major haul of prospects.
The Angels and Phillies are just speculation on my part. They could be good fits for Lee based on money available and team histories.
But if there are no teams willing to go to a seventh year and it came down to the Yankees and Rangers, my guess is that Lee would choose Texas because of his comfort level.
The Rangers will eventually go for that sixth year to get the guy they want, just as the Red Sox went a seventh year with Adrian Gonzalez. Whether the Yankees offer Lee his desired seventh year will likely decide if he ends up going to New York. But Yankees GM Brian Cashman has a solid history of convincing free agents to come play in New York, most notably CC Sabathia.
But it is tough to see Lee heading to New York, especially if the contract offered by Texas is the same.
However, as I have repeatedly said over the last two months, the Los Angeles Angels would like nothing more than to make a big splash and whisk Lee away from their division rivals.
But to the disappointment of many here, with more than a few teams interested in Lee, it does not look as though he will be signed at the Winter Meetings.
It may take a few more days, but it should get done by Christmas.