By Phil Bausk

The Cliff Lee sweepstakes are over and the winners turned out to be a bit of a shocker. Late last night, it was reported that Lee signed a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, expected to be worth in the area of $120 mil. over 5 years, leaving a lot of money on the table by rejecting the offers of both the New York Yankees, and the Texas Rangers.

Lee helped lead the Phillies to the World Series in 2009, and then was traded to the Seattle Mariners because, ironically, the Phillies couldn’t afford to give him an extension. They couldn’t give him that extension because they had too much money on the team payroll, including SP Joe Blanton and his hefty contract. They then resigned Blanton to an extension worth $24 mil. over 3 years, and have been shopping him all off-season. Either way, with or without Blanton, the Phillies were able to steal Lee away from the Yanks and Rangers, and solidify their place as a top contender for the World Series crown.

When do you see this from athletes? How often do you see someone leave about $30 mil. on the table to go play for a stacked team, a city with an overrated fan base, and a star player already firmly entrenched as the team leader? Sounds familiar right?

While obviously you can’t really compare Cliff Lee to the Akron Scammer, there are some parallels here. Lee dangled his sexy package (not literally) of talent, competitiveness, and leadership in front of the Rangers and the Yankees, only to go take less money to play for a better team alongside Roy Halladay, who some consider to be the best pitcher in baseball.  It was believed that he was going to pick the Rangers or the Yankees, and at the last moment, shifted gears and turned the Phillies into a powerhouse.

With a rotation of Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies will give opposing lineups more headaches than Percy Harvin gets on a day to day basis. Lee is no longer the main guy, and while he will be scrutinized by the media, he will not be ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the Phillies this season.

Does anyone else see this as a little bit of a cop out? (Side note: Watched Cop Out with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan and all I can think about is how much money Bruce Willis got for doing that movie. The scary thing is I think Tracy Morgan got paid more…) Lee shied away from the pressure that comes with pitching in NY. Even with CC Sabathia as the staff ace, Lee would be under more scrutiny than any other Yankee not named Jeter this upcoming season. It is understandable why he wouldn’t want to play for the Yankees, as a lot of players do not like to deal with that sort of pressure everyday (Just ask Javier Vazquez).

I wonder though, Why not go back to Texas? It is right in his backyard, as he resides in Arkansas, and he helped carry a historically, mediocre franchise all the way to the World Series. Is it me, or did everyone on the Rangers look like they were having a blast last year? Did Josh Hamilton replace nights of doing Heroine in a Wendy’s bathroom with coming up with hand gestures for everyday baseball plays? Were players more excited to put up their famous “claw,” rather then spend a weekend smashing through University of Texas freshmen? What could have possible been so awful  there that Lee wouldn’t take MORE money to go back there and dominate the AL West for a few more seasons?

Deep down, I think Cliff Lee knew what he was going to do all along. His “decision” didn’t change everyday. He didn’t feel bad leaving the Rangers and their fans. He did exactly what was best for him. Go to a team that’s already a contender, and play second fiddle to a future Hall of Famer. Why not just say this from the beginning? Why string along all of the fans for this long, just to crush their spirits in the end?

Athletes love all of this attention. Whether it be Cliff Lee or LBJ, when the world is focused on them, they don’t want to give up that spotlight. Athletes are a rare group of people who can garner so much attention without even performing their jobs, and the worst part about that is that they all know this. This type of decision leaves a large percentage of fans with a poor taste in their mouths, and a different perception of said athlete.

Is Cliff Lee going to attract the same amount of negative press that the Akron Scammer did? No, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lee doesn’t get any bad press. It’s not like he even used the Yanks and the Rangers to get more money out of Philly. He just teased both teams management and fan bases and ultimately flipped them the bird by announcing his decision to go to the Phillies.

Either way, the New York baseball world took a bit of a hit last nigh twith this announcement. The Yankees will now go into the season with a “rotation” of CC, AJ “Me and Lackey could buy the Rays” Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ian Nova, and an undecided fifth starter. This is a very unimpressive group and I am sure Yankee fans are trying to convince themselves that Nova is going to be the second coming of Jose Contreras ( You know, before he turned 52).

The New York Mets now must face the fact that they may not win a division title in the next few years. While hopes for Mets fans weren’t especially high for this season, there is little reason to believe that they could overcome the Phillies and take home the NL East crown. Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins have a lot of work to do to try and catch Pat Gillick and the Philles, and something tells me that the new Mets duo isn’t up to the task.

Ultimately, Lee gives the Phillies the best chance to win, and Gillick and the rest of the Phillies front office should be applauded. Lee will not be characterized as a villain, and I don’t think we will be seeing any “What should I do?” commercials out of him anytime soon. Who knows, maybe this was all just a ploy for Lee to get on an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” after he saw Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on it. Either way, Lee, and other athletes who do the same thing, should be reprimanded somehow for their actions. This idea may be a pipe dream, but as a fan, I do not like where this trend is taking the already poor Free Agency process.

Here is a link to a piece by Ian O’Connor expressing a similar displeasure with Cliff Lee’s decision.

  1. Ari Roth says:

    Why not go back to Texas? See Rodriguez, Alex circa 2000. The team has proven it can sign a big name for an economically ill-advised contract. It has not proven that it would have any money left to field a champion after said contract.

  2. Von Hayes says:

    How often do you see someone leave about $30 mil. on the table to go play for a stacked team, a city with an overrated fan base, and a star player already firmly entrenched as the team leader? Sounds familiar right?

    Yeah! It does! It sounds like the Yankees throughout their entire existence, punk!

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