Well, I’ve made it to column two without Big Money Mike firing me. So far, so good right? (ed. note: am I a kick-ass boss or what?)

In my first column, I wrote that I’d be soon writing about Cliff Lee, and with the news late Monday night that he signed to pitch in Philadelphia, now seemed like a good time to write about him.

Lee spurned the New York Yankees (more money) and Texas Rangers (comfy home) for the Philadelphia Phillies, who stole him like a thief in the night. They snagged him away like Jay-Z snagged Jay Electronica away from Puff Daddy. Not known to be in the running until late last weekend, these same Phillies were the ones who let him get away after 2009.

Spurned by his unwillingness to sign a three-year deal, they traded him in a three-team trade that netted them Roy Halladay. One year later, and two more years added onto the deal, Lee is back with the team he probably never wanted to leave.

Let’s get to the details of the signing. All of these numbers are what’s been reported and I imagine they’re pretty close to what the real deals were.

Here’s what Cliff Lee walked away from:

Yankees: He was offered both a six-year deal (for 23 million per) and one with an option for a seventh year at around 148 million dollars.

Rangers: They offered him a six-year deal for 138 million dollars, but were weary of the seventh year. Some of that was deferred money as well.

What he signed for:

Phillies: It took five years for 120-million (plus an easy to obtain sixth-year option as long as he doesn’t get hurt) to sign him. If he fulfills the life of his contract, he’s probably looking at about 135 million dollars.

When people were throwing around the idea that he was walking away from 50 million dollars, it was wrong. He might be a fluky lefty, but he’s not dumb.

There’s a lot to like about this deal for Phillies fans. It gives them a starting staff of former Cy Young Winners (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee), an ace as their third starter (Roy Oswalt), and a left-hander who would be in the number one or two slot in most baseball rotations (Cole Hamels). It’s scary good.

You have to wonder if the Phillies even bother to go after Lee if not for the San Francisco Giants’ dominance in 2010. The Giants showed that you can actually win a World Series with pitching. They threw out Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner in three playoff series’ and went 11-4. I think the Phillies saw who they were going to have to match up against for the next several years and decided that they needed Lee or else risk being blitzed like they were in the NLCS.

Lee signed the third highest guaranteed contract for a pitcher ever. Only CC Sabathia and Barry Zito signed higher guaranteed contracts. Giants fans just stuck their finger down their throat after reading that. What’s tricky is that Lee will be either 37 or 38 when the deal is over, and as his value to the team goes down, his contract will rise.

Based on Cliff Lee’s career ups and downs, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to me to see him regress at some point before the contract is over. Let’s look at a few details of his career in recent years.

– After coming off a then career year in 2005, he regressed in every statistical category in 2006.
– In 2007, he was sent to the minors for ten games, which I believe would’ve left him open to being claimed on waivers by another team.
– After a fantastic bounce back 2008, he regressed again in 2009, giving up more hits than innings pitched with Cleveland before he was traded to the Phillies.
– In 2010, after being traded to and then from Seattle, he finished up his regular season in Texas with a 4-6 record and 3.98 ERA.
– The Giants kind of kicked him around in the World Series.

For a guy who people like to put up there with Halladay, Lincecum, and King Felix, he sure has been moved around a lot and had major inconsistencies. I think he deserves to be up there, but for whatever reason, writers like to put him over those guys, even though he’s had just as many downs as ups.

And for that reason, I never thought he’d make it in New York. He’d have been under way more stress pitching in that city than anywhere else and based on everything I’ve read about him, he’s better with less expectation. And let’s not forget that Yankees fans were rude to his wife. I highly doubt it was a big reason for him not going to New York, but it had to be in the back of his mind.

(In the deciding game of the World Series, he had a chance to walk Edgar Renteria with two outs and two on, but decided to pitch to him simply because he doesn’t like walking guys and is stubborn. If he did that in New York, and then gave up a World Series winning home run, they’d burn him at the stake.)

I think Lee will be dynamite for at least two years. He gets to pitch in the National League where he really only faces up to seven good hitters on any team versus throwing against nine good hitters on some American League teams. And with Halladay in front of him, he won’t have to carry the staff on his back.

But there’s something in the back of my mind that tells me that in the end, this deal won’t be looked on with amazement like it is today. His history says that he’s inconsistent and in order to fulfill everyone’s World Series wishes for the Phillies, he simply won’t be able to be inconsistent.

He’s really good, but I don’t think he’s the best.

Photo by thesemers

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