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Cliff Lee: The Real Reason He Signed with the Philadelphia Phillies

Unless you live under a rock, you have heard Cliff Lee is coming back to Philadelphia. As familiar as this may sound now, think back to what your reaction was a little more than a month ago when this shocking announcement was made.

Phillies fans were in utter disbelief. They had many questions, all of which were difficult to answer.

How did the Phillies have enough money to sign the most sought after player on the market to a multiyear, multimillion dollar deal, especially after that being the main reason not to re-sign Jayson Werth?

Why would Cliff Lee want to sign with the Phillies, when the Yankees offered him more years and more money and the Rangers were the closest team to his home?

Didn’t the Phillies just trade Lee one offseason ago? Why would Lee want to come back to Philly after how management treated him following the previous year’s World Series run?

All of these are very understandable, putting into question the reason which drove Cliff Lee to return to the city of brotherly love.

There are many reasons that people say why Cliff Lee chose Philadelphia as opposed to New York, Arlington or other cities that may have been in the hunt.

Two reasons clearly stand out.

The first is fairly obvious: Cliff Lee is committed to winning.

After he won the Cy Young Award in 2008 for the Indians, Lee became recognized in the national spotlight. He was traded to the Phillies in the midseason of 2009 and has not looked back since.

Lee has enjoyed two deep playoff runs, and in both of these, he was the featured pitcher on his staff. He has been treated with postseason success and loves pitching in big games.

However, Cliff Lee has been on the losing side of both of the last two World Series.

He has a bitter taste left in his mouth, with something not yet accomplished: a World Series ring to add to his resume.

The Phillies and their four aces give Cliff Lee the best chance at winning his first World Series. Lee is committed to winning, and no other team out there gave him the same opportunity. And who wouldn’t want to be in the same rotation as Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels?

Winning is definitely what keeps the fans excited, but this still does not completely explain why Cliff Lee came back to Philly. It is only one of the two reasons why he came back, and arguably the least important of two.

Cliff Lee was once just a mediocre college baseball player. He went to Meridian Community College and later transferred to Arkansas. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos but was never a standout player in their organization.

Back before Cliff Lee had any baseball career or fame, all he had was his family. He had his wife, Kristen, and his infant, Jaxon.

Jaxon was diagnosed with leukemia at four months old while Cliff was still in the minor leagues. He had a 30 percent chance of living. Lee could not believe the news and was in complete shock.

Jaxon suffered various setbacks during the process, but he fought through the cancer the whole time. Lee never liked to talk about the illness, even though he spent much of his time in the hospital.

Lee’s son received a bone marrow transplant that saved his life, and Lee’s performance on the field paralleled his son’s improvement in the hospital.

Lee’s son was diagnosed as cancer free in 2006 when he was five years old.  But during the Lee family’s quick stop in Philadelphia more than a year ago, they found something that offered them insurance in case anything every happened.

The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia is ranked as one of the top children’s hospitals in the August 2010 issue of U.S. News and World Report. The Lee family felt really comfortable with this hospital treating their son if anything ever came back up.

Cliff Lee is all about the family, his first priority even before baseball.

So why did Cliff Lee return to Philadelphia after all? 

Maybe his return was about more than just the game: the security of his family.

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Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Five 2011 MLB Surprise Teams

Now that the least interesting World Series in years is finally over, all 30 MLB teams can again have hopes and dreams for the upcoming season. Most of the 2010 playoff teams are again favorites heading into the off-season, but there is always yearly change in who makes the playoffs. 

The following list is mostly compiled of teams who were not competitive at all late into the year. The teams are in order of how much change their 2011 season will be from their respective 2010 seasons. A major motif for these teams is how their youth will take it to the next level.

Here are the teams that were considered afterthoughts in 2010, but who are going to surprise everyone in the 2011 season. 

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Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels: The Phillies Playoff Starters Must Be Only H20

Sorry Blanton. You have really helped the Philadelphia Phillies out the past few years when we needed you. But Joe, we just don’t need you this year.

In their 127-year history, this is the most dominant top end of the rotation for the Phillies. If you doubt that, just ask yourself if there has ever been a Phillies team that you have been more confident in.

Just so you can understand how much better these three pitchers are than any other one-two-three in the league, I’ll throw out some stats for you.

All three of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt have pitched over 30 starts and over 200 innings. Combined, they have six shutouts, 12 complete games, and one perfect game. They total more complete games than any other team in the league.

Roy Oswalt has the least strikeouts out of the three of them with 192. Cole Hamels has the worst WHIP, at 1.19 (Halladay’s is 1.04 and Oswalt’s is 1.02). That is an extremely high floor for those three starters.

Halladay is the front-runner to win the NL Cy Young award with a 2.44 ERA. Oswalt follows him in the rotation with a 2.73 ERA, finished by Hamels, who has a 3.09 ERA. That’s right, the Phillies have a number three starter who has an ERA just a tad over 3. To put into perspective how good that is, the Yankees‘ number three starter, Phil Hughes, has an ERA of 4.21, and the Braves’ number three starter, Derek Lowe, has an ERA of 4.

The Phillies selected that they would like to play the NLDS in eight days, which allows the Big Three to start every game on normal rest. It’s the NLCS and World Series in which the Phillies have a big decision to make. 

Assuming that they get to the NLCS, there is about .01% chance that the Phillies give Kyle Kendrick the game four start, barring injury. It’s not a secret that the Phillies have no trust in Kendrick and his 4.73 ERA, even sending him down to the minors for a short stretch earlier in the season. This is also Kendrick’s first full year in the majors, after stretches in the previous three years.

So the big decision is to whether start Blanton for game four and have Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels on normal rest for the rest of the series, or to have “H2O” also start games four, five, six, and seven on short rest.

This year Blanton has had one of the worst years in his career. His 4.74 ERA is a good 1.65 more than his teammate one spot up in the rotation. This is one of the biggest drop-offs between a 3 and 4 starter in the league.

Besides the horrid ERA, Blanton has a 1.40 WHIP, 134 strikeouts, no complete games, and no shutouts. He has 28 starts this year, so there is no blaming the injury which put him out all of April for bloating his stats.

Even his postseason stats aren’t as good as most people think they are, with a 3.89 ERA in 34.2 total innings pitched. And even if he had great playoff stats, why should the 34.2 playoff innings he has thrown in the past few years make up for these horrible 174.2 innings he has thrown most recently this year.

So what would ever make me want to start him in important playoff games when we have other great options?

The only reason that there is a possibility of starting Blanton is that H2O might not handle three games rest very well. But there is no reason that they can’t. Each of the big three has pitched over 200 innings, which shows that they can handle the workload. All of them like to work deep into games, and by the results they have showed this season, nothing really throws them off.

There is no way we should risk throwing Blanton when we have pitchers head and shoulders better than him, even if they only have three days rest. Phillies fans are probably familiar with the 2009 Yankees, who only had three good starters on their team, and it worked out just fine for them on three days’ rest.

There is no guarantee that any series will go seven games, which means that there could be only one or two of the Phillies’ starters going on three days rest.

H2O can get lots of rest in the off-season, so the Phillies need to maximize their usage while they are available, in the NLCS and World Series.

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Cliff Lee: Wasted by The Phillies

It could have happened. The dream pitching staff could have come true. There was nothing in the way. Besides one simple, but huge, mistake.

Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Rueben Amaro Jr. did not stop to think as long as he should have when he dealt Cliff Lee to the Mariners last December. His idea made sense.

Trade away an ace who would be harder to re-sign and get one that would be easier to re-sign. Replenish the farm system, which after quite a few deals in years past had left the Phillies’ minor league system depleted of talent. Amaro’s reasoning was understandable, and there was logic behind the trade.

But even with that, it was not a quality trade. Recently, Amaro has stated that pitching is their top priority to get at the trading deadline. This wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the trade.

The Phillies could have had in their rotation both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, who was traded from the Blue Jays, because they were involved in completely different deals. The Mariners and the Blue Jays did not exchange players. And the Phillies could have done all of this without having to kill the farm system.

Cliff Lee had one year left on his contract worth about $9 million. Few people thought that the Phillies could re-sign him after the season, after already having a record high payroll of $140+ million.

That made no difference, though. Pitcher Joe Blanton was set to be in salary arbitration and make anywhere from $7.5 to $10.25 million, which was pretty similar to how much Lee would get paid. The Phillies knew that they would not be able to afford both of them. Although in past years Blanton has been a very strong, consistent pitcher (he hasn’t ever had an ERA below five and has pitched at least 194.1 innings every year since he was a rookie in 2005) who many teams could have had a use for, but he is no ace like Cliff Lee. For the Mariners this year, Lee has gone 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA only walking six batters in 103.2 innings!

The prospects that the Phillies would have received had they traded Joe Blanton would not nearly of been as good as the ones for Cliff Lee, but would not been a bad consolation prize. And even if the Phillies could not resign Lee in the off-season, Lee would most likely be a Type A free agent, meaning that the Phillies would receive the first round pick of the team that signed him.

Even before the 2010 season started, a first round pick combined with prospects from a Blanton deal seemed pretty comparable to the three minor leaguers the Phillies received for Lee: Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez. Even though at the time it seemed like the Phillies might be getting the short end of the deal for Lee by not getting as much as they should have, the prospects the Phillies received looked like they had potential.

Now that Cliff Lee has been traded again for the third time in a year from the Mariners to the Rangers, the Phillies now know that they were ripped off in the off season deal. Cliff Lee has only a few months to pitch for the Rangers as opposed to the full season he was supposed to pitch for the Mariners. And yet the Mariners received better prospects.

Not only have the Phillies prospects been struggling (top prospect Aumont was sent down from Double-A Reading because of a 7.43 ERA in 49.2 innings, Gillies is hitting .238 with two homers in Double-A, and Ramirez still has several years before making an impact on the big league club), but the Rangers’ recent deal included their top prospect before the season and now rookie first baseman Justin Smoak, who has a world of potential and will be hitting in the meat of the order for the Mariners. The three other prospects that the Mariners received were good ones too, including 21 year old right-hander Blake Beavan, who has gone 10-5 with a 2.78 ERA in Double-A this year. Not only does Amaro need a pitcher at the deadline, but his newly constructed farm system also needs some work.

The Phillies eventually gave Blanton a three year extension, making their rotation more complete for the next few years. Blanton is struggling this season giving up three+ runs in all 13 starts. The Phillies need him to bounce back to avoid a downfall and a completely failed trade of Cliff Lee.

But if they had traded Blanton before the 2010 season, what would their 2011 starting rotation have looked like? The Phillies would have three definite pitchers, with Halladay, Hamels, and Happ under contract.

The next two spots could be filled in easily. One of them could go to Kyle Kendrick, who helped the Phillies make the playoffs in 2007, but is still struggling for consistency. The other could go to 47 year old Jamie Moyer, who would need to sign a new contract to join the Phillies in 2011. The veteran is putting together a solid 2010 season and is pitching as if he were 20 years younger.

Even if one of those two did not work out, the Phillies have many possible candidates in the minors including righty Drew Carpenter or they could go out and sign a number five pitcher, maybe Pedro Martinez?

While the prospects that the Phillies received for Lee can always recover, the latest Cliff Lee trade has made Amaro realize how wrong his trade was.

With right fielder Jayson Werth also set out to test the free agent market after the 2010 season, that is three first round picks that would be meant for the Phillies assuming they do not re-sign Werth.

Is that enough to help the Phillies farm recover? Only if Amaro had stopped to think before he traded Cliff Lee. The Phillies have had trouble this year and it is about time that Reuben Amaro sucks up his pride and admits that some of the problems have been his fault.



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