Cliff Lee Signs With the Phillies, Leaves Yankees, Rangers Searching for Answers

December 14, 2010

Well, it is finally official.

As I predicted on my nightly radio show from Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Cliff Lee is signed, sealed and delivered to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Including all option years, Lee was offered a total of $148 million by the New York Yankees and $161 million by the Texas Rangers. Surprisingly, the Rangers offered MORE total dollars than the almighty Yankees.

And Ruben Amaro, GM of the Phillies, is a virtual master salesman.

The Rangers brass must be devastated, while the Yankees brass (likely disappointed) are probably hard at work working the phones to try and get a veteran pitcher.

And Ruben Amaro is a genius.

How can he obtain Cliff Lee, then Roy Halladay, then Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee again?

And despite making three major trades for three No. 1 type starters, he still has tons of pitching talent in their minor league system with Vance Worley, Jarrod Cosart and Brody Colvin.

Not that they will need these guys any time soon, although Worley did pitch well in a brief callup in 2010. If the Phillies trade Joe Blanton, then Worley has inside tract into the No. 5 spot.

While I said that Amaro is a genius, he does make strange deals, but those deals are always when he attempts to resign his own players. Giving a three year extension to Blanton for $24 million was extremely idiotic.

Also, that extension for Ryan Howard was kind of weird, too.

When it comes to other teams guys he can work wonders.

After trading for Halladay last off season, Amaro signed the 2010 Cy Young winner to a below market extension.

Now he convinced Cliff Lee to take almost $50 million less to sign with the Phillies.

This is also not to say that Lee left all that money on the table. This new deal is supposedly for $120 million over five years with a option with easily attainable incentives.

That deal could be for $135 million or more. Plus, if his back issues hold up, Lee likely will be able to pitch after this current deal is over. That means he can make another $10-15 million.

So Lee really didn’t turn down the Yankees gazillion dollars because the Yankees didn’t even offer the most money plus Lee liked what he saw in Philadelphia when he spent half the season there in 2009.   

And now Lee gets to keep his scruffy beard.

If you want to blame Yankee GM Brian Cashman, go back to last years deadline when he refused to include Eduardo Nunez in the Cliff Lee deal with the Mariners. If Lee comes to New York last season, maybe Lee feels about his time in New York the way he felt about his time in Philadelphia.

The Phillies now possibly possess the best rotation in the National League, although the San Francisco rotation is pretty good, too. Plus they beat Halladay and Lee twice in the postseason this past year.

But the Phillies are not quite guaranteed to have a parade down Broad Street next fall. Except for the assumed Domonic Brown replacing Jayson Werth, the entire Phillies lineup is over 30 years old for 2011. Cole Hamels is the only starting pitcher under 30.

And injuries have really hit their middle infield with lower body issues to both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, while Howard and Raul Ibanez have declined.

Plus, the lineup is extremely left handed and there is no Jayson Werth to balance out Howard, Utley and Ibanez.

I am not saying they are not going to be the favorites because they are. Everybody likes big names on paper but conveniently forget about age (except when it comes to Derek Jeter).

But funny things happen over a 162-game schedule where the game is played every day.  All players over 30 years old rarely make it through the entire season.

As I said in my piece last week from the Winter Meetings, the Phillies could try and trade Hamels for a right-handed bat and some prospects. He would bring back a boatload (especially with two seasons left of control), but after the Lee trade t Seattle fiasco last year, I don’t see Amaro making that type of mistake again.

At least until next offseason. Could the Yankees be interested?

The Phillies did not get anything of current worth back in the Lee trade last season, and now give up their first round pick to the Rangers in a very deep draft. Not a problem now, but maybe down the road.

While the Phillies shocked the baseball world early Tuesday AM, they still have lots of issues.

Can Ruben Amaro work his genius again before Spring Training?

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Ruben Amaro Knows How to Deal FOR Top Ranked Players but Not in Trading Them Away

July 31, 2010

When it became apparent that Roy Oswalt was finally dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for J.A. Happ and two mediocre minor leaguers, my first reaction was why didn’t GM Ruben Amaro just keep Cliff Lee?

The Phillies today are a better team with the acquisition of Oswalt, but it is a deal which should never have been done.

Amaro should never have traded away Cliff Lee  to the Seattle Mariners. 

After he traded for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay last off-season, Amaro thought the organization needed to replenish their minor league system. They had traded four players for Lee during the 2009 season, and three more highly rated prospects for Halladay.

That was a huge mistake. Minor league prospects are developed for two reasons: to bring up and become productive major leaguers and to trade away for pieces of the major league puzzle.

Amaro jumped the gun in thinking he needed to replenish the farm.

In addition to Low A pitcher Jason Knapp,  Amaro did trade away major league ready players in P Carlos Carrasco, INF Jason Donald and C Lou Marson for Lee. He also dealt RHP Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor and C Travis D’Arnaud for Halladay.

That is a lot of middle market talent, but only one player in Drabek who really would have fit into the Phillies long-term plans. Taylor is a pretty good player, too, but the Phillies liked OF Domonic Brown much better overall.

Therefore, the Phillies traded one guy who could be an impact player in Drabek and a bunch of non-impact talent for two of the top five pitchers in baseball in Lee and Halladay.

That would have made a great one-two punch for the Phillies during the regular season, and presumably, the post season. If Lee and Halladay were leading the Phillies rotation this year, they likely would be in first place in the NL East instead of a 3.5 games behind Atlanta.

So why trade baseball’s best big game pitcher? Prospects, LOL. The Phillies have a roster full of veterans at every position, and only needed to replace Jayson Werth, who would be a free agent after 2010.

Enter the young, talented Mr. Brown, who is already playing well in his first few games.

And it is not like Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, the three players received for Lee are tearing it up this season, except if you count Gillies hamstring, which has kept him on the disabled lis t most of the 2010 season. When healthy, Gillies was not hitting well at all after performing admirably in the hitter friendly High A California League.

Aumont (the key as he was to “replace” Drabek) was terrible in AA Reading and was demoted to the High A Florida State League.

And if money is the issue, then why the long-term deal in January 2010 for the mediocre starting pitcher Joe Blanton for three years/$24 million? That money could have been used to keep Lee, and you still would have had Blanton for this season. No need to give him that money which was better designed for Lee.

Obtaining prospects? Money issues? Doesn’t anybody besides the New York Yankees want to win World Series titles anymore? The idea is to win championships, not worry about minor league talent, “team control” years or what your team might look to be two seasons down the road.  

Then by turning around and getting Oswalt as a high need, Amaro gave up three more prospects in current major league pitcher J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, basically a swap of Oswalt and Happ. Assuming the Phillies pick up the 2012 option on Oswalt’s contract, they are now taking on $28 million in over the balance of the contract.

Add in Blanton’s $16 million due over the next two seasons, and that makes $44 million in money which could have been paid to Lee after this year. That would equate to the first two years of a four-year deal.

Amaro has made three unbelievable moves in trading almost no impact players (Happ and maybe Drabek) for three former Cy Young winners in less than a year. But the worst deal was trading away a virtual playoff spot and get to a third straight World Series appearance by trading away the best of the three.

He admitted his mistake by trading for Oswalt, and the question remains whether Roy II can pitch big games down the stretch, like Lee did last season for the Phillies.

Amaro hopes that is the case.