Cliff Lee To the Philadelphia Phillies: A Conspiracy Two Years in the Making

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Cliff Lee To the Philadelphia Phillies: A Conspiracy Two Years in the Making

Late last night, it was reported that the New York Yankees were out of the running to sign free agent pitcher Cliff Lee and that the Philadelphia Phillies were making a late push.

As I fell asleep last night, I couldn't help but wonder about the timing of those two reports. The Yankees were out and the Phillies were suddenly in it? It could only mean one thing:

Cliff Lee was going to leave millions on the table to add his name to a rotation that already includes Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt to form the best rotation in baseball.

And so he did. He turned down an offer which, at one time, was reported at $161 million from the Yankees.

He left as much as $40 million on the table to return to the team which traded him away to the Seattle Mariners just a season ago.

Not only that. But he left two whole years on the table.

The Yankees began with a six-year offer, which they later added a $16 million player option which would have brought the deal to around $148 million, according to an unnamed source (as usual).

So instead of seven-years, $161 million, Lee chose the Phillies' five-year, $120 million offer which came like a bolt from the blue.

Lee's agreement with the Phillies is the third-richest contract for a pitcher in baseball, behind the Yankees' CC Sabathia ( $161 million) and the San Francisco Giants' Barry Zito ($126 million).

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In July 2009, the Phillies acquired Lee from the Cleveland Indians and he carried them on his back into the World Series, posting a 4-0 record and a 1.56 ERA in the playoffs.

Lee came to love Philadelphia during his time there and when the Phillies traded Lee to the Seattle Mariners last December, after acquiring Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays, Lee and his wife, Kristen were "heartbroken."

So how did Lee repay the Phillies' kindness?

He took a $40 million pay cut and came crawling back.

Trading Lee to Seattle enabled the Phillies to complete their trade for Halladay. Did Lee sacrifice himself to ensure the Phillies obtained Halladay, knowing he'd return once he hit free agency?

Sure, he didn't know he'd then be traded again, this time to the Texas Rangers, but he knew he'd hit free agency at the end of the season, so whether he was traded or not before that didn't matter.

Lee could have accepted the Yankees' offer, like everyone expected from the beginning, and salvaged their starting rotation. He would have slid in right behind fellow lefty CC Sabathia and given the Yankees a tremendous one-two punch.

Or he could have gone back to the Texas Rangers, the second team in two seasons that Lee came to halfway through the season to lead into October. Rangers fans had held out hope for weeks that Lee might return, and were bolstered by the Rangers' ability to hang in with the Yankees' offers all offseason.

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So after all the wondering; after all the theorizing and praying from Yankees and Rangers fans alike, the Phillies swoop in like a thief in the night with their low-ball offer and steal Lee away.

The Phillies' GM Rubin Amaro Jr. threw the club's handbook out the window in order to sign Lee. Previously, the Phillies never went beyond three years with any pitcher. After trading for Halladay, the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $60 million contract.

That wasn't going to get it done with Lee, so the Phillies pulled out all the stops.

We'll never know, and it's probably sour grapes on my part, but was an eventual return to Philadelphia once Lee hit free agency discussed before the Phillies shipped Lee to Seattle?

Outfielder Jayson Werth, one of the fan-favorites on the Phillies, became a free agent this season, and most people expected the Phillies to make a push to resign him. They made him an offer which was considered enough to bring Werth back, but instead he bolted for Washington DC and signed a seven-year, $125 million contract with the Nationals.

Given the reports surrounding another free agent outfielder, Carl Crawford and the type of contract he was looking for, and given Werth's agent is Scott Boras, the Phillies had to know that a contract of anything less than six-years and $100 million wasn't going to be enough for Werth.

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But they offered less than that.

Did they know Werth wouldn't take it? Maybe.

But by making an offer they knew Boras and Werth would decline, no one could say they didn't try to resign him and they could then direct that money towards another free agent, say, Cliff Lee.

A contract of five-years, $120 million for Werth would have raised some eyebrows, but it would have looked realistic in the face of Crawford's seven-year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Instead, that $120 million sat in their back pocket until the doomsday clock reached five minutes to midnight and they swooped in to sign Cliff Lee and leave the Yankees and Rangers out in the cold.

Some said seven years on a pitcher of Cliff Lee's age (32) was too long. Well, the Phillies got him for just five years. Some said spending $140-150 million on Lee was too much. Well, the Phillies got him for the basement price of $120 million.

Less years and less money got Lee to Philadelphia. Interesting.

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