Cliff Lee: Signing of Ace Makes Phillies a Formidable Foe, But Not a Lock

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Cliff Lee: Signing of Ace Makes Phillies a Formidable Foe, But Not a Lock
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Lee is re-introduced to Philadelphia alongside Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.

In a surprise twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan film, Cliff Lee passed on both the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers, the two teams thought to be the finalists for his services, to pitch once again for the Philadelphia Phillies.

What a short time ago was unknown to seemingly all is now crystal clear: Lee badly wanted to be a Phillie again, since he not only took less money but less years (the more surprising item to me) than either the Yankees or Rangers were offering, to return to southeastern Pennsylvania. 

What makes this signing all the more shocking was that just one year ago, the Phils had decided to part ways with Lee precisely because they felt they wouldn't be able to re-sign him this offseason. 

They also imported Roy Halladay at the same time, one of the few pitchers in the game with a decisively superior resume to Lee's, and all he did was throw a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter en route to his second Cy Young.

The agonized cries of despondent Phillies fans from this past year, who were haunted with visions of what could have been—a peerless top two of Halladay and Lee fronting their rotation—just turned into joyous celebrations of those visions suddenly becoming a reality. 

Add in Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and the Phillies now boast arguably the deepest rotation in baseball, with the only other real contender to that crown being the team that dispatched the Fightin' Phils this postseason on the backs of their own fearsome foursome of starters (en route to a World Series title)—the San Francisco Giants. 

With Lee back in the fold, how does 2011 end for the Phillies?

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They still boast a young core of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.

Talking about the Giants brings up an interesting point. Despite all the allure of his dominant postseason numbers from the last two seasons, Lee still hasn't led a team to the ultimate prize. 

He won both of his World Series starts in 2009, but his Phillies couldn't win a game he didn't start and they fell to the Yankees, four games to two; in 2010, he was out-pitched in both of his World Series starts by Lincecum, as the Giants toppled Lee's Rangers, four games to one. 

Admittedly, the 2009 Phillies didn't have Halladay, and one can argue that perhaps with Lee, the 2010 Phillies get past Lincecum's Giants in the NLCS, but there's another point to make here as well.

Despite this being his first foray into free agency, by the time next year's postseason comes around, Lee will already be 33 years old and Halladay will be 34. 

How much longer will either pitcher be as dominant as they have been? 

Offensively, Jimmy Rollins' best years seem to be behind him and the Phillies lost Jayson Werth this offseason, their most consistent offensive force in 2010. 

Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum will still only be 27 next October, as will Matt Cain. Jonathan Sanchez will be 28 and Madison Bumgarner just 22. Buster Posey, the Giants newly crowned NL Rookie of the Year, will be just 24 and they have another blue-chipper nearly ready, Brandon Belt, who'll be just 23. 

Time, it seems, just might be on the Giants' side.

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