2010-11 Free Agency

Coming to Grips with Cliff Lee

Last Friday, I fell, and fell hard, for a Twitter hoax orchestrated by a former writer for The Fightins that had Zack Greinke going to the Phillies for, essentially, a bag of nickels and a case of beer. Before I realized that the report had been faked, I sent a link to the tweet in an email to several Phillies fans, including Paul Boye of this site, my father, and my younger brothers, along with the following:

“I’m sitting in the Temple computer lab right now. If this is true, I’m going to scream out the news, tear off my clothes, and run down the hall stark naked, urinating everywhere from sheer joy. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment.”

You can imagine my reaction when the news broke late last night that the Phillies had signed one Cliff Lee, the Anointed One, whose brief sojourn in red pinstripes in 2009 generated the kind of devotion among Phillies fans usually reserved for prepubescent Canadian pop stars. Whose departure, the cost of acquiring the best pitcher in baseball, led to a firestorm in this area the likes of which had not been seen since the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house in 1985.

On one hand, this move doesn’t make much sense–the Phillies, far and away the oldest team in baseball with several holes to fill, gave the richest free agent contract in team history to pitcher in his 30s. After all, this team won the division in 2007 with Kyle Kendrick as its No. 2 starter and won a World Series with Cole Hamels and three other guys who got hot at the same time. This season, it wasn’t the starting pitching that failed the team in the playoffs, it was the offense–an offense that saw its best performer in 2010 follow the money down I-95 when free agency hit. So why splurge on a fourth top-line starting pitcher?

It turns out, this move isn’t really about rationality. This move is about parking the Death Star in orbit of Alderaan. It’s about Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt showing up for Spring Training, looking at each other, and giggling and the sheer preposterousness of what has been wrought. This is about Ruben Amaro indulging his inner 14-year-old and putting together a rotation the likes of which are ordinarily only seen in video games. Perhaps most of all, this is about Cliff Lee, once again, doing what he wants, and to hell with everyone else’s expectations.

A few quick bullet points about the Cliff Lee trade:

  • The Phillies will field two Cy Young winners in the same rotation for the third time in team history (Steve Carlton and John Denny, 1984-1985 and Lee and Pedro Martinez, August-October 2009).
  • Hamels, Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee are a combined 108-66 in a Phillies uniform, including the postseason.
  • Cliff Lee is the first pitcher to leave the Phillies, make an all-star team, and come back to the team since Andy Ashby.
  • Courtesy of Dave Cameron of FanGraphs: over the past three seasons, Halladay leads all starting pitchers in wins above replacement. Lee is second, Hamels 16th, and Oswalt 21st.
  • Each of the Phillies’ top four starting pitchers has led the league in WHIP at least once.

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