Late Monday night, free agent pitcher Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies reached an agreement on a five-year, $120 million contract. The deal is said to also include a vesting option for a sixth year. In a move that can arguably be considered the biggest surprise of the free agent period, Lee reportedly turned down the New York Yankees six-year, $132 million offer, with a player option for a seventh year at an additional $16 million. The Yankees had been considered the favorite to land this year’s most coveted pitcher, especially after the Boston Red Sox made news last week by signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez.
Early Monday, news had broke that a third “mystery team” had entered the Lee sweepstakes, along with the Yankees and Lee’s former team, the Texas Rangers, but it was unknown who this team was or if it was just a ploy by Lee’s camp to attempt to drive up the offers. As it turned out, that mystery team was Philadelphia, the team Lee pitched for in the World Series in 2009 before being traded to Seattle to make room for Roy Halladay.
Perhaps Philadelphia should have been considered a favorite all along, as Lee and his wife, Kristen, grew to love the city during his short time there. When news broke that he was traded, a Phillies executive said the couple was “heartbroken” over the move. Now after one year, two teams, and another World Series appearance, they appear to be back where they wanted to be all along.
Lee will join reigning N.L. Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, 2008 World Series Most Valuable Player Cole Hamels, and two-time 20 game winner Roy Oswalt in what will almost certainly be considered the best starting rotation in baseball. The signing deals a devastating blow to the Yankees, who came into free agency looking to improve their starting rotation, and also showed strong interest in Crawford.
Now they have been left out in the cold by both players, and are looking at an unimpressive class of remaining free agent pitchers, led by Carl Pavano, Jeff Francis and a couple of big names coming off of injuries in Brandon Webb and Erik Bedard. Lee’s $120 million guarantee is the third highest ever paid to a pitcher behind the Yankees’ CC Sabathia ($161 million) and the albatross the Giants gave to Barry Zito in 2007 ($126 million). Check back for additional MLB offseason updates.