Cliff Lee is gone, but not forgotten. A week ago he signed a 5-year deal with the Phillies and said goodbye to Texas forever. It will be an undertaking, but I can’t move on until this one is in the books. So, I’ll try to break-down what happened and why. Hopefully, I can do it more like a rational human being and less like a desperate fan with one foot off the ledge.
These are the things that I can say with almost 100% certainty:
On July 9th, Cliff Lee was traded to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and some other guys.
He did not pitch well in Texas in the regular season, allegedly because of a sore back.
He was, however, essential to winning the Rangers’ first playoff series and was a big part of getting to the World Series.
The Rangers offered 6 years, with an option for a 7th. He turned them down.
He is left-handed.
After that, the picture gets a little fuzzy.
To reiterate, I was one of the ones that wanted Cliff Lee to come back and, if I were the one with all the money, I would have given him 7 years. I said that from the beginning and I stand by it. To me, re-signing him isn’t just about getting a proven hurler for the post-season, but also an investment in the future and a way to show a still jaded fan-base that you’re serious. I really do believe that the ownership needed to make this happen.
After the WS, the team should have had one goal. Come out and prove to everyone that 2010 wasn’t just a fluke. So far, they haven’t done that. Cliff is gone. No big time trades have been made. The free agent market is looking thinner all the time. In my estimation, they haven’t done anything to get anyone excited, unless Japanese side-arm pitchers are your thing. (If that’s the case, we’ve got your man!)
We’re staying the course, they say. We’re not going to lose our heads, they say. We’ve got prospects and we aim to hold onto them, they say.
Staying the course is fine, except that the Rangers already dumped their biggest prospect to get Lee in the first place. I’m okay with that, but less okay when he turns into a rental.
According to Lee’s agent, the Rangers could have had him if they had just guaranteed a 7th year. If that’s true, then the Rangers should have had him. But is it true?
There were a lot of people out there that thought they knew Cliff Lee. He wanted to pitch in New York because CC Sabathia is in New York. He wanted to pitch in Texas because it’s so close to his home in Arkansas. He wanted to pitch in Japan because he’d already conquered America.* So on and so on.
But I remember two things about Cliff Lee from his time in Philadelphia: That he is alarmingly aloof in everything he does and that, after he was traded to Seattle, he told the media that he had hoped to sign a long-term contract so that he could finish his career with the Phillies.
In the eye of the storm of Cliff Lee rumors and speculation there were those two facts that should have clued a lot more people into what was about to happen. Ultimately, he chose the Phillies because that’s where he wanted to be. There was something about that city that appealed to his family more than anywhere else. So much so that, according to reports, his agent called the Phillies and asked what it would take to make a deal (and not the other way around).
So, although I question the level of commitment on the Rangers’ part, I don’t know if sweetening the deal further would have made it happen anyway. I think the only reason Lee’s camp put the offer on the table is because they knew the Rangers wouldn’t go for it. Now they get what they want and can rest assured that it isn’t their fault that anyone’s feelings got hurt. On top of that, the Rangers can show the fans that they were more serious than they wanted to be by offering 6 years. It’s a win-win!**
To me, that’s what this boils down to. Cliff Lee thought that maybe he should stay, but he didn’t really want to. He didn’t care so much about being a hero. He just wanted to be comfortable and, truth be told, I can’t really hate him for that.
Now we have to move on and wait for the book.
*That one is actually made up, but you get my point.
** Except for the fans…