Well, today is the happiest day of the year. I could hardly sleep last night and I imagine that might be the case until April. Cliff Lee is a Phillie, again and he and Roy Halladay will be manning the top of our rotation for at least the next 4 years with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels along for 2. We are the slam dunk World Series favorites and will enter the season with unmatched hype and excitement. It’s a fan’s dream come true and I think there are many of us who are still convinced it’s a dream.
As I was driving to work, I found myself with question after question in light of this signing. So many implications, so little time. Let’s get to them all.
1. What’s the catch?
Anyone else still waiting for the other shoe to drop? Last year, the catch in acquiring Roy Halladay was trading Cliff Lee (every time I type his name, it makes me happy). This year? What is it? Is it really just going to be getting someone to take Blanton and maybe Ibanez? Does this mean we won’t pick up Oswalt’s option next year? Or that we can’t extend Hamels or Rollins? Frankly, anything would be worth it (except trading Oswalt or Hamels – don’t do that again) — but there’s gotta be a catch, right? And if there is not – does that mean I’m going to get hit by a bus before April?
2. What’s the contract for, and what’s the risk involved?
If we had been given more than 4 hours notice that we had a chance at Lee, we would have been obsessing over the contract terms. The way it went down, and the discount we got, have put the contract terms to the back burner. Here are the terms (per Cot’s Contracts): 5 years, $120 million. I believe that $120 million includes a guaranteed $12.5 million in the 6th year (buyout if he doesn’t vest his option). That’s $21.5 million per year. There is a vesting option for a 6th year that is performance based (he needs to pitch 200 IP in 2015 or 400IP in 2014/15) and that is for $27.5 million. So it’s likely that this contract will end up at 6 years, $135 million unless he gets hurt.
Usually I would be terrified about a deal like this (see: Howard, Ryan) but as deals like this go, I’m as comfortable as I could be. Lee has a great work ethic, is a lefty (they tend to last longer), relies a lot on control (meaning he could still pitch well if he loses some arm strength) and has a smooth, low impact delivery. As far as pitchers go, we might have the two most reliable ones in the league now with Halladay and Lee.
3. How many frickin’ games is this team going to win?
This is what everyone is talking about today. How many regular season games is this team going to win? 100? 110? Here’s a super un-scientific way to do it. We went 22-11 in games started by Halladay last year. 18-15 in games started by Hamels. 17-14 for Kendrick. Let’s say we go 22-11 for Lee as well and 20-12 for Oswalt. That puts us at 99-63. Not quite as high as you would think, huh? But still probably good for best in the majors. And remember how bad our offense was this year (though that doesn’t mean it will improve). I’ll put the O/U at 100.
4. What’s the rotation going to look like?
Best guess: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Worley, possible Oswalt and Hamels switching.
5. What about the playoffs?
This is where it becomes somewhat interesting. You only really need a 4th starter for 2 games in the playoffs. Game 4 of the NLCS and Game 4 of WS. Would Charlie rotate them around, or send someone to 4th starter duty? My guess is an obvious answer will present itself by the time its time to think about that.
6. What number will he wear?
Halladay has his #34 he wore with us. He wore #33 for Tex and #36 for Sea last year. Obviously #36 is not available (Robin Roberts).
7. Why didn’t we just sign him to an extension last year?
The number we signed him for 5/120 or 6/135 was pretty much exactly the same deal we wouldn’t sign him for last year. Did our financial situation change that rapidly? And this was AFTER we extended Howard and acquired Oswalt. Not that I care now, but it does seem somewhat strange.
8. Is there a better GM right now than Ruben Amaro?
You be hard pressed to argue otherwise. The Howard contract was irresponsible and he sometimes gives extra years where he shouldn’t, but he’s turned Hamels, Myers, Moyer, Blanton, Kendrick into Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Worley in just two years. That’s unreal. And unprecedented.
9. Is this the best rotation of all-time?
Time will tell. Injuries happen, and all four struggled at times during the regular season last year. But we are talking about 4 potential HOFers here (with Hamels obviously the furthest out). If you think I’m not doing a “Big-4 Greatness Watch”, you’ve lost your mind. Now we just need to come up with the best 4-man rotations of all-time to compare them to.
10. Who is playing RF?
11. Should the fans feel some personal pride in this signing?
I think so. And I think this will be underreported. Strange that Lee would be dying to come back to Philly, where the “worst fans in america” live. I don’t think Lee ever felt anything quite like he did in Philly in 2009. Both the camaraderie in the clubhouse and the unadulterated love from the fans obviously endeared him to this place. Add to that the the 120+ straight sell-outs generated much of the cash for this, and I’d say we should be pretty happy with ourselves.
12. Is Lee the most popular athlete in Philadelphia?
Probably. Who are the candidates? Halladay, Utley, Rollins, Howard obviously (and probably Chooch), Mike Vick would be if not for his history, Jackson might be too much of a showboat for folks, Mike Richards is a good candidate. But Lee is different. He was universally beloved, then ripped from us, and now is back is dramatic fashion, taking less money to be in Philly. Yes, Halladay did the same, but the emotion of his arrival was tainted by the Lee trade. Obviously it’s up debate, but I’d love to see the amount of Lee jerseys that sell in the next week.
13. What kind of year could Lee have?
This will be the first year that Lee will have a full season in the NL. Like with Halladay, this likely means some improved numbers. Halladay’s ERA dropped 12.5% in the NL. If Lee does the same, we can expect an ERA in the 2.78 range next year.
14. If Lee sucks at the end of this contract, are we allowed to boo him?
No. Never. And if you ever see anyone do it. Punch them in the face. Same goes for Halladay. If you take a discount to play here, you get a lifetime free pass in my book (not that I’m a boo-er).
15. Is the 2nd best thing about this contract that we don’t have to hear “if we had Cliff Lee” anymore?
No. It’s that we stuck it to the Yankees – who are now royally screwed on their rotation.
Well that’s all I got for now.
Keep up the great discussion in the comments section. And Happy Cliff Lee day!