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Rest easy, Nation: Lee becomes a Phillie

All signs pointed toward Roy Halladay. For days and weeks, it was Roy this, and Roy that. Many a restless night was spent pondering the possibilities.  What will it take to get Doc?  Happ or Drabek?  Brown or Taylor?  Will Ruben let J.P. Ricciardi have his way?  Forget about all of that, because the Philadelphia Phillies bagged another former Cy Young Award winner instead.

A deal was struck with the Cleveland Indians that will send lefty Cliff Lee, along with outfielder Ben Francisco, to Philadelphia in exchange for four minor leaguers.  Those four players are 18-year old class-A pitcher Jason Knapp, 22-year old Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson, and infielder Jason Donald.

That bounty is FAR less than what the Toronto Blue Jays coveted for their star arm, and it’s sending shockwaves through the major leagues.

FILE -- This is a June 29, 2009 file photo showing Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Cliff Lee joking from the dugout during a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, in Cleveland. Looking for a top starter to bolster their so-so rotation, the Philadelphia Phillies are pursuing reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)After failed attempts to nail down a deal for Halladay, the Phillies grew tired of the Jays exorbitant demands and made a counter move.  By virtually stealing Lee, the Phillies now become the front-runner once again in the National League.  The price they paid was miniscule compared to what Toronto wanted, and for the time being, Ruben Amaro resembles the GM-version of Einstein.

This trade conjures up an array of emotions for Phillies fans.  On one hand, many are enthralled with the job Amaro has done in receiving a number one starter for relatively decent prospects.  It’s also a move that may put even more distance on an already impressive NL East lead. On the other, Halladay was wanted so desperately that some will still be left wondering what life could have been like with arguably the best pitcher in the game.

Obtaining Lee guarantees the Phillies nothing.  Certainly, on paper, they look mightier than their counterparts, but while Lee does make it a two-horse team at the top, there are still questions surrounding him.  Many wondered if last season was a fluke.  He won 22 games after spending much of the 2007 season in the minor leagues.  Don’t forget, he was scuffling for quite a while before he found his present form.

Lee, also, has not been as dominant as last season.  In 223.1 innings in ’08, Lee allowed just 214 hits and only 63 earned runs.  In 152 innings this year, he has given up 165 hits, and already, 53 earned runs.  Some have given the excuse that he played on a terrible Indians team.  And while that does hold true for the most part, Lee has not been nearly as sharp as a year ago.

With Roy Halladay, there are no questions to be answered.  He is THE premier arm in baseball, and that notion has become widely recognized by many in the game.  There are no worrisome traits in Halladay; he has had no minor league stints, and presents a far better track record.

But beyond the sliver of doubt comes great joy to a city that has been lucky enough to find boatloads of it recently.  Lee helps this team in a myriad of ways.

Instantly, he will stabilize a rotation that has been, at times, suspect.  Over the past few weeks, the staff has stood up and righted itself.  However, you can never have too many quality pitchers.  Cole Hamels had struggled to find his groove for the better part of the season, although he is slowly rounding back to his former MVP-self.  Jamie Moyer is up and down, and the fifth starter was a mystery, and still is at this point.

Lee is now your ace.  By taking the mounting pressure off of Hamels, it can only help the young stud become even more comfortable.  It slides the rest of the rotation into a more relaxed role as well. Everyone now knows they have one of the best to lean on every fifth day.

The acquisition of Lee also brings a collective sigh of relief from the bullpen.  Overworked in the early going, the relievers have done an admirable job treading water throughout the ’09 campaign.  In recent weeks, injuries have plagued the bullpen, so the Lee Factor comes into play here.

Since a putrid start on June 30 in which he allowed seven earned runs in three innings, Lee has posted five straight quality starts.  Sprinkled in those outings were back-to-back complete games.  He has three total CG’s on the season, not to mention five other starts of eight innings.  Lee currently leads the American League in innings pitched, something that has to make Lidge and company smile.

Sure, he is 7-9 on the season, but with the added run support he is bound to receive, plus the benefit of playing for a championship contender, look for those numbers to level out.  Some other stats that are eye opening regarding the tall left-hander: Lee averages less than two walks per nine innings, a sign that he will not give in to the hitters.  He has given up just 10 home runs on the season, a positive reinforcement when playing in Citizens Bank Park.  When facing left handed hitters, Lee has allowed only seven extra-base hits this year, with just one being of the long-ball variety.

High praise is certainly in order for Ruben Amaro and his team of scouts and front-office employees.  They made a strong push to make this ballclub as strong as possible, and while the number one guy on the board remains, there is very little to complain about after this trade.  By keeping J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown, and/or Michael Taylor, their youthful core is still intact.

So, as you lay your head down tonight, while watching the Phillies battle the Diamondbacks, of course, it should be a little easier to rest comfortably.  No, it’s not our boy Roy, but it’s still a monumental addition.  Sleep well, my friends.  Cliff Lee is a Phillie.

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