Lee, Phillies pull off a stunner
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.
Posted by: VPaterno | December 14, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: hlabadie | December 14, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: authorofpoetry | December 14, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rcupps | December 14, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rwest828hope | December 14, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CHUCKORSO | December 14, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: billx2001 | December 14, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: redhotCAPSaicin | December 14, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CHUCKORSO | December 14, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mgilham | December 14, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: joemktg1 | December 14, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CTaylor42 | December 15, 2010 3:35 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: anab01 | December 17, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.