When Cliff Lee arrived in Philadelphia on July 29, 2009, it was an exciting time for the Phillies. Fresh off of a World Series win and in the thick of another pennant race, Lee was seen as a piece that could put the Phillies over the top. And he did exactly that.
Cliff Lee’s impact was immediate. He gave the team a top of the rotation pitcher that they could pair with their ace Cole Hamels, who was in the midst of a so-so season. The Phillies rode Lee’s arm to Game 6 of the World Series, and his postseason performance forever endeared him in the hearts of the fans.
A month and a half later, Lee was dealt and the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay. The city was up in arms. That only lasted for a season though as the Phillies emerged from the shadows to scoop up Lee in a free agent coup that saw the lefty leave a large amount of money on the table to come back to Philly. Spurning the deep pocketed Yankees only further added to Cliff Lee’s legend.
This season has been a trying one for Lee who is 2-7 with 3.78 ERA, and for the Phillies in general. He has pitched very well at times and lost, and has pitched not so well and lost. In the end, for a pitcher who signed a contract with an average annual value of $24 million, he has not pitched to expectations in 2012. Then again, the Phillies have gone from a 102 win team to a team that will not make the playoffs this year.
So what came first? The chicken? The egg? Is Cliff Lee struggling because the Phillies aren’t very good or are the Phillies struggling because Lee hasn’t been very good? The answer is probably some combination of the two. Lee has come up small in situations where the Phillies really needed him. If Kyle Kendrick came up small, it would be understandable, if not expected by many fans. But this is a guy who is supposed to be an elite pitcher. He is making an ungodly amount of money, and his performance has been pedestrian.
As the Phillies look toward the future, you have to wonder how Lee’s bloated contract will figure into their plans. Frankly, for the value that he is giving you right now, that contract may be the worst deal Amaro has made yet, though I admittedly loved it when it happened.
An additional $24 million a year could go a long way toward signing a couple of bats and stabilizing the Phillies lacking bullpen. In fact, it was probably Lee’s money and the impending contract for Cole Hamels that led Ruben Amaro to chintz out on the bullpen and lineup this year.
Cliff Lee could return to form at any moment. He might just win every start for the rest of the season and come out and win the Cy Young Award next year. It is entirely possible. The problem is that Lee’s contract is weighing the Phillies down and preventing them from being able to make the necessary moves to get this team back into contention next year. It certainly hindered them in staying in contention this year.
The Phillies had an opportunity to unload Lee’s salary in its entirety to the Los Angeles Dodgers when LA claimed him off of the waiver wire earlier this month (The Dodgers completed a HUGE deal for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford off of the waiver wire last night). The Phillies didn’t just want to dump Lee’s salary, they wanted to get value in return for him too. They wanted their cake and to eat it too. In the end, they pulled Lee back. When the non-waiver trade deadline approached, there were rumors that the Phillies and the Texas Rangers were close to a deal. The complexity of the deal prevented them from beating the buzzer to get it done.
Now, the offseason is 5 weeks away. At that point, the Phillies will have as much time as they need to get a deal done. Don’t be surprised if Cliff Lee is once again looking for a new home in December. The future of the Phillies may depend on it.