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Cliff Lee Spurns Yankees, Rangers, Takes Less Money To Pitch For Phillies

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIDecember 14, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 01:  Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the San Francisco Giants in Game Five of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As The New York Times‘ Ben Shpigel wrote two days ago, a 26-year-old pitcher by the name of Greg Maddux received a lucrative contract offer from the New York Yankees in 1992. The deal spanned five years and was worth $34 million, which was tremendous amount of money then.

Maddux thought about the offer, was visited by the Yankees brass, and then, when it was believed he would take it, the Atlanta Braves swooped in and nabbed the left-handed pitcher who would go on to be a member of the best rotation in baseball history and win a total of 355 games. They offered him $six million less to remain in the national league where he had previously pitched with the Chicago Cubs.

Shipgel wrote this piece to show that the Yankees don’t always get what they want. But not even he knew that what happened in 1992 would indeed happen again, just with another pitcher, another team and much, much more money.

Lee, 32, agreed to sign late Monday night with the Mystery Team everyone was talking about, the Philadelphia Phillies. New York offered him a seven-year deal worth $154 million. Instead, he took a contract worth approximately $12 million over five years to go back to the national league–where he pitched for Philadelphia in 2009.

This was a stunning decision, albeit admirable, and for this Red Sox fan a joy to see. Within three hours of Philadelphia’s confirmation as the much-ballyhooed mystery team in the Lee sweepstakes, his agent, Darren Braunecker, called the Yankees to inform them they were out of the running while Lee personally phoned Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels to tell him his plans.

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New York not getting a personal call from the ace left-hander was priceless, and was a fitting end to their chase.

I wanted Lee to return to Texas. I thought he fit with that young, up-and-coming team. Though it is not known when Philadelphia indeed entered the bidding, returning to the City of Brotherly Love was a very smart choice on his part.

It was an admirable one, too. Not many players in this day and age of baseball leave that much money on the table. With the way he was dragging the negotiations out I thought for sure he would be a money-grabber like the majority of star major-leaguers, and go to the highest bidder—presumably New York. Instead of seeing dollar signs he saw a comfortable situation.

He now joins a rotation that rivals the 1990's Braves. Maddux, signing with Atlanta, joined future Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine on the staff. This trio won 57 games in Maddux’s first season with the team. Lee, signing with Philadelphia, joins Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels—a trio that has combined to win 379 games and, last year, went 40-22 with a sparkling 2.41 ERA. Lee’s addition transforms a solid rotation into a scary one that could be as dominant as the aforementioned Atlanta trio was.

Heading back to the national league, where he faces opposing pitchers instead of designated hitters (which had to factor into his decision), he leaves the Rangers and Yankees searching for answers. Texas has the pieces to now go out and make a trade for Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke, who is on the trade market.

New York could do the same, but they are put in a more difficult position in missing out on Lee’s golden left arm. As Shipgel alluded to, they are supposed to sign the top free agents. Money is supposed to talk. In fact, the Rangers indeed offered more. But that’s not what will leave a sour taste in New York’s mouth, a mouth that is currently spewing expletives right and left in dismay.

They watched as Adrian Gonzalez was traded to the Red Sox. Then they watched Carl Crawford sign with the Red Sox. Now, Lee says thanks but no thanks. They get what is coming to them. They didn’t covet Gonzalez. They only wined and dined Crawford as a way to stir up the pot. But it’s the principle of the matter. Their rival makes two monumental moves and they come up empty.

It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I read on Twitter than New York was out of the running. I pictured George Steinbrenner rolling in his grave, his two sons, Hank and Hal, as well as general manager Brian Cashman, dumbfounded.

They, as well as the Rangers brass, are spared from making such a long-term commitment to a 32-year-old. New York’s offer, though similar in years and money to Texas, stands out. It was a desperate, risky attempt to get the player they coveted, to answer Boston, and to show that they can once more get money to talk. In the end, it didn’t work, putting a smile on my face that won’t go away anytime soon.

As a result, somewhere Maddux watched this unfold and must have nodded his head approvingly. If only more players were like them.


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