Signing Cliff Lee Not All Cracked Up to Be
The Wolf peers inside the car that, until he instructed accomplices in crime, Jules and Vincent, how best to clean up, looked like a mobile slaughterhouse. Blood, skull and brain had been splattered everywhere after a gun pointed at the head of a captive accidentally discharged.
Jules and Vincent appear pleased at their emergency detail work late in the movie "Pulp Fiction." So, too, does Jimmie, a character played by the film's maker, Quentin Tarantino.
But The Wolf offers a crude suggestion that it was too early to exchange congratulations because there was still the getaway to be accomplished.
The memorable scene came to mind Tuesday as so many observers awarded the Phillies next season's World Series title based on their surprise signing of ace Cliff Lee, the offseason's biggest free agent. For as The Wolf told Jules, Vincent and Jimmie, the job was yet to be completed.
For the Phillies, they still have to get back to and survive the postseason, where the Giants last October turned Lee into their series' bookends, beating him in the World Series' opener and in Game 5 to easily close out the best-of-seven championship over Lee's last employer, the Rangers.
There is no question that Lee turned an already daunting Phillies rotation into something that looks virtually unbeatable. Like his new teammate Roy Halladay, Lee is a Cy Young winner.
Like Phillies arms Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, who have LCS MVP awards on their mantels, Lee has been superb when it counted the most -- at least until the Giants got a hold of him.
But what the Giants did to Lee last October was the same thing they did to the rest of the golden rotation the Phillies threw at them. They were the only team last season to beat each of the Phillies' three aces. They did the same in the NLCS, beating Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt again.
So the Phillies added Lee. If you're the defending World Series champions, so what?
In fact, great pitching staffs haven't always marched away with the World Series title. Bobby Cox was fortunate to have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz all those years in Atlanta -- with a sprinkling of Steve Avery, Denny Neagle and Kevin Millwood to fill out the rotation along the way – but won just one World Series, in 1995.
That legendary 1971 Orioles' club with four 20-game winners -- Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson -- lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That isn't to say the Phillies did the wrong thing in signing Lee. No suitors could've gone wrong adding him. He posted that outrageous 22-3 record in 2008 with a 2.54 ERA. He had a breakout year in 2005 going 18-5.
He did win Game 5 for the Phillies against the Yankees in 2009 to close out that postseason with a 4-0 record and 1.56 ERA in five starts. Maybe he's the Phillies' good luck charm. Maybe they shouldn't have let him go in the first place after the 2009 World Series, when they figured he was more expensive than he was worth. He does rank sixth in ERA at 2.52 among starters at the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park.
Over the last three seasons, Lee ranks sixth in baseball in wins, too, with 48. He is seventh in ERA at 2.98, but the only full season he's been under 3.00 was in 2008.
And while his postseason career numbers were off the charts going into last October, he posted a 6.94 ERA in his final playoff starts.
When Lee was expected to be The Man, he failed. When he was offered the opportunity to do the same again for the Rangers next season -- or for the biggest team on the biggest stage, the Yankees -- he balked. He took less money to slide into an already stellar staff on a team with which he was familiar.
In a sense, Lee pulled a Lebron James, but without the audacity or the media criticism that rained on James. He made a move that suggested he was looking for the path of least resistance to another World Series ring.
Lee, by further comparison to James, also didn't walk away ungraciously from a home-state team that moved heaven and earth in an attempt to make him happy. And he turned his back on more money from the dark empire of baseball, the Yankees, which is perceived in most corners as a positive attribute.
I think the better home for Lee would've been Texas, which he helped lead to the World Series after an ouster of the Yankees.
It was younger and more formidable offensively, even more so than the Phillies.
The Phillies that Lee will rejoin will be without right-handed hitter Jayson Werth, who departed for Washington and one of the most excessive contracts we've witnessed in some time.
The rest of the squad – Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez – are thirty somethings who are less likely to be as productive or as healthy as they once were. Rollins and Utley, in particular, have fought a plethora of injuries in recent years.
Lee is 32. Save an abdominal strain here and there he's been pretty durable. Some pitchers proved to be in their prime at his age.
But I think the chinks that the Giants put in Lee's armor rendered him a different pitcher from here on out, especially in the postseason where he looked just about untouchable. This is what happens to knockout fighters: someone finally knocks them down, or out, and from there on they are never the same.
Certainly the invincibility they once displayed is evaporated.
Cliff Lee won't have the pressure on him in Philadelphia that he would have had staying in Texas or going to New York. But he didn't stand up to it against the Giants, either, who should be a strong title defender.