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Posted at 9:25 AM ET, 12/14/2010

Lee, Phillies pull off a stunner

By Dave Sheinin

Every once in awhile we get a reminder of how little we know about the way deals get done in baseball. Most of the time, we can punch in some mental calculations -- with every team's payroll figures and needs readily available, and every free agent's value easily deduced by linking them to comparable players and contracts from previous winters -- and have a pretty good idea of who will sign with whom.

But there is always the unknowable -- what is in a player's heart, and what is in the heads of a team's front office -- and sometimes the unknowable is a complete surprise. Suddenly, Cliff Lee signs with the Philadelphia Phillies, and an entire industry -- rival executives, media, fans -- is in a state of shock by overnight developments in what had seemed a simple equation. For months now, Lee, a 32-year-old lefty considered the top prize in this free agent market, appeared headed to one of two destinations: the Texas Rangers, who made him feel at home during a three-month stint that culminated in a World Series appearance, and the New York Yankees, who were determined not to be outbid for Lee's services.

It was the unknowable -- Lee's apparent attachment to Philadelphia, and the Phillies' late, secret campaign to sign him -- that turned the entire story, resulting in Lee's five-year $120 million contract with the Phillies. As recently as Monday morning, no one had linked the Phillies to Lee in any meaningful way. But now, with their Lee/Roy Halladay/Roy Oswalt/Cole Hamels rotation, the Phillies will be the talk of baseball from now through the end of spring training, at least.

To get a sense of how stunning the Lee-to-Philadelphia deal is, consider all the assumptions that were blown apart in making the deal happen:

*Lee was a mercenary who would take the highest offer, period. Ironically, it was the Phillies who perpetuated this view. When they traded him last winter to Seattle, they essentially admitted they did so because they felt Lee would not re-sign with them, would become a free agent after the 2010 season and sign with whomever offered the most money.

*The Yankees always get their man. Oh, sure -- there are occasional exceptions (Greg Maddux in 1993 and Albert Belle in 1999, to name two), but the Yankees almost never come away emtpy-handed when they focus their attention (and money) on one major target. Particularly when that target is presumed to be a pure mercenary such as Lee. In the end, though, Lee left nearly $30 million on the table by spurning the Yankees for the Phillies.

*The Rangers were Lee's sentimental choice. The equation was easily pegged -- heartstrings (Texas) versus purse-strings (New York). The Rangers made Lee feel like part of the family during his stint there, and they had the benefit of being close to his Arkansas home. If he turned down the Yankees' riches, it could only be because he felt so comfortable in Texas. But it turned out, it was the Phillies who had a special place in Lee's heart. And this is just a hunch, but I suspect he also fell in love with the NL game during his brief time there.

*The Phillies couldn't afford another big-ticket item. They shipped Lee away a year ago over money. They allowed right fielder Jayson Werth to depart to Washington over money. They appeared to be just about tapped out. It's still not clear whether the Phillies will need to move some veterans (Joe Blanton comes immediately to mind) to make payroll space for Lee, or are simply prepared to start fielding Red Sox-level payrolls. Either way, they could afford Lee -- or at least believed they could, which is the same thing.

*"Mystery" teams are agent-created myths designed to drive up prices. When word began to circulate of a mystery team in the Lee talks, it was immediately laughed down. Obviously, critics said, the media was simply being used by Lee's agent, Darek Brauneker, to push the Rangers and Yankees even higher. Sometimes, of course, that's exactly how it happens.

But sometimes the mystery team is real. Sometimes the Yankees' money doesn't win. Sometimes the mercenary is really a sentimentalist. And sometimes, when everyone thinks they know what is going to happen, it turns out nobody has a clue.

By Dave Sheinin  | December 14, 2010; 9:25 AM ET
 
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Comments

We now have a third "evil empire." Call this the "NL Evil Empire" (Phillies) to go with the "Original Evil Empire" (Yankees) and the "New England Evil Empire" (Bosox).

I certainly didn't see this coming; I thought the Phils and Lee had burned bridges following the trade. Guess he and his wife must really enjoy cheesesteaks.

When Roy Oswalt is the third wheel, that's a heckuva rotation.

Posted by: VPaterno | December 14, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Unless the Phillies' hitters regain their missing batting power, expect to see a lot of 1-0 wins and losses. They need another big bat to replace Werth's.

Posted by: hlabadie | December 14, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Always glad to see the Yankees lose in free agency...just wish Lee wasn't coming back to the NL East.

Posted by: authorofpoetry | December 14, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I read/heard somewhere that Yankee fans were exceptionally rude(go figure) to Lee's wife during the playoffs, even going so far as to dump beer on her, and it would be a cold day in hell before Lee signed with the Yankees because of her mistreatment. Any truth to these rumors? Oh, and HAHAHAHA Yankee fan!

Posted by: rcupps | December 14, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

hooray!i was glad to see skip bayless slumpted a cross his desk because his beloved yankes got kissed off.one guy said well the phillies broke down last year,well arod, jeter, posada and tex where all worn out last year also ,the only yank that held up last year was cano

Posted by: rwest828hope | December 14, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

"...sign with whomever offered the most money..."

C'MON, PLEASE - IT'S "...WHOEVER OFFERED..." [ SIXTH GRADE STUFF -- THE SPELLING/GRAMMAR CHECKER IN MY OWN WORD PROCESSOR PICKS IT UP ]

- YOU'RE THE PRINCIPAL NEWS ORGAN IN THE CAPITAL OF THIS (ENGLISH-SPEAKING) NATION, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD -- AND, YES - WE SEE A LOT OF THIS -- VERY DISTRACTING

- ROBINSON AND COHEN (AND HAYNESWORTH) ARE EMBARRASSMENT ENOUGH FOR YOU, WITHOUT ADDING EDITORS/PROOF-READERS TO THE MIX

- LEE'S STORY IS GREAT, THO -- THE WIFE INCIDENT MAY HAVE INDEED BEEN PIVOTAL -- REMEMBER - HE'S AN ARKANSAS BOY --- BESIDES, HOW MUCH MORE CAN ONE DO WITH $150 MILLION THAN WITH $120 MILLION ?

Posted by: CHUCKORSO | December 14, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I think "whomever" is correct. The antecedent is the object, rather than the subject, of the sentence.

Posted by: billx2001 | December 14, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

WHOEVER OR WHOMEVER SAID WHOMEVER IS CORRECT IS CORRECT.

Posted by: redhotCAPSaicin | December 14, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

BILL - MY MAN - -

[I LUV(!) THIS STUFF]

REMEMBER WHAT CASEY STENGEL USED TO SAY?
-- AMONG OTHER THINGS

Posted by: CHUCKORSO | December 14, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Isn't that the thing about assumptions though? Refer, especially, to Tom Boswell's ridiculous column of a few months ago on the subject of Cliff Lee's likely 2011 destination ...

Posted by: mgilham | December 14, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Missed one:
* Lee will never forgive the Phillies for banishing him to Seattle

Posted by: joemktg1 | December 14, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

All these internet headlines and nobody no-where mentions 24 million dollars a year, for 5 years for a normal M.L. pitcher. Is he worth anywhere near those kind of dollars? If the Nats did the same thing, all headlines would be how they're giving $24,000,000 a year to a win-half, lose-half pitcher. Every Baseball article mentions how the Nats over-paid Jason Werth, yet you read NOWHERE the Phillies over-paid Cliff Lee, but boy did they.

Posted by: CTaylor42 | December 15, 2010 3:35 AM | Report abuse

Hi Friend,
Base ball is my favorite game I played it many a times when I was in college and school, It the sport of energy and aggression.
========
sena smh10

Posted by: anab01 | December 17, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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