Cliff Lee Spurns Yankees for Phillies

A shocked baseball world unpacks the move

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Pitcher Cliff Lee, the most coveted free agent in baseball this off-season, stunned fans and pundits in the wee hours of Monday night by announcing he would return to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that traded him away a year ago after he led the club to the 2009 World Series. The left-hander turned down a seven-year, $150 million offer from the New York Yankees for a less lucrative five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies, who, at the last moment, silently snuck into a bidding war dominated by the Yankees and the Texas Rangers, Lee's former team.

In Philadelphia, Lee will join a formidable cadre of pitchers including 2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt.

Why did Lee choose the Phillies, and what does his decision portend for the upcoming season?

  • Lee Wasn't After Biggest Paycheck, observes ESPN's Jayson Stark:
Does anyone out there remember anything like this--a player who'd been portrayed as being obsessed with getting every possible dollar out there, who then decided he didn't really need, like, 30 million of those dollars after all? ... He's still about to become the sixth starting pitcher in history to sign a $100-million contract. So it looks as though he'll still be able to afford that new toaster oven, if we've done our calculations correctly. But just as his new teammate, Roy Halladay, decided last December that he'd rather be in Philadelphia than be the richest pitcher who ever lived, now Clifton Phifer Lee has made virtually the exact same decision.
  • This Is A Philadelphia Story, asserts The Philadelphia Inquirer's Phil Sheridan: Lee "chose Philadelphia. His experience here in 2009, when he slipped right into the ultra-professional clubhouse atmosphere and the hearts of the fans, outweighed the sting of being traded and all those extra dollars."
  • This Stings More Than LeBron's Rejection, says Ian O'Connor at ESPN New York, comparing Lee's move to when basketball star LeBron James chose the Miami Heat over the New York Knicks:
[The Knicks] never truly believed James would sign with them; they just couldn't admit it for public consumption. The New York Yankees? They were so sure of opening the 2011 season with [ace pitcher] CC Sabathia in Game 1 and CC's dear friend, Cliff Lee, in Game 2, they figured the one hurdle to clear in contract talks would be whether to guarantee the lucky lefty a monument or a plaque.
  • Lee Is Chasing Memory of Phillies World Series Run, and May Regret It, submits Andy Martino at The New York Daily News: "It is a nice narrative, even a noble impulse, but it is fraught with risk and potential disappointment. The Phillies are already altered from the team Lee joined in July 2009." Martino points out that Phillies slugger Jayson Werth has bolted to the Washington Nationals and that star infielders Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are aging and plagued by injuries. He concludes, "The Yankees would have given Lee not just more money, but the security of knowing he would not ever be stuck for long on an irrelevant team."
  • Phillies Now Have Baseball's Best Starting Pitching, declares Joe Lemire at Sports Illustrated. Lemire likens Philadelphia's rotation to the 1997 Atlanta Braves, whose vaunted pitching staff included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle. The Phillies now tower over their division rivals, Lemire adds, while the Yankees find themselves with pitching troubles.
  • Why Must I Root for A Small-Market Team! laments Joel at Cup O' Joel. A Kansas City Royals fan living in Philadelphia, Joel explains that it's "way more fun to root for a team whose objective is 'let's try to win the World Series next year' instead of 'maybe we'll be ready for above-.500 baseball in 2012 if everything pans out juuuuuuust right.'" His loyalty crumbling a bit, Joel adds,  "I might even buy my son a Phillies baseball cap."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.