Cliff Lee: Rejoining Phillies a 'No-Brainer'
The Phillies didn't jump into the Cliff Lee sweepstakes with a serious offer until late last week, but once they showed a legitimate interest, the pitcher knew where he would be spending the next several seasons.
"I never wanted to leave this place in the first place," Lee said Wednesday during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park.
The left-hander was officially welcomed back to Philadelphia after signing a five-year contract that guarantees him $120 million. As previously reported, the deal contains a vesting option for a sixth year based on innings pitched that could boost the total value of the contract to $135 million, and there are additional bonuses possible based on year-end awards.
Lee happily accepted a No. 33 Phillies jersey from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. at the press conference, a gesture that in itself demonstrated what has changed in Philadelphia since Lee last pitched there in the 2009 World Series. He wore 34 during his previous stint, but Roy Halladay has since taken over that number.
Now Lee will join Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in a rotation that, on paper anyway, is one of the most formidable in baseball history. That opportunity played a significant part in Lee ultimately deciding Monday night to spurn more lucrative offers from the Yankees and Rangers and return to Philadelphia.
"You sit back and you evaluate your options, and to get a chance to pitch in this rotation with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, I mean, that's all I needed to see right there," Lee said. "With this team, it was kind of a no-brainer for me."
Lee helped lead the Phillies to the World Series in 2009, posting a 1.56 ERA in five playoff starts and providing the only two Phillies victories in their World Series loss to the Yankees. Philadelphia traded him to Seattle almost exactly a year ago as part of a series of moves to bring Halladay aboard, and both parties ended up in the playoffs in 2010 after Lee was dealt to Texas in July.
As the most celebrated free agent of the offseason, the perception was that Lee would choose between the comfort of staying with the Rangers -- the closest team to his Arkansas home -- or go for the outrageous amounts of money only the Yankees can provide. Lee himself admitted Wednesday that he spent much of the time since the World Series believing it was a two-team race, but once the Phillies got involved, "it was a relatively easy decision to make" and leaving several million dollars on the table wasn't a factor.
"There's plenty of money. When you hit a certain point, enough's enough," Lee said. "It's just a matter of where you're comfortable, where you're happy, where your family's the most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win. At this point it's about trying to win championships. That's really the No. 1 thing for me, and I think this team gives me the best chance to do that and that's really it."
Lee was asked during the news conference about reports that his wife Kristen, was spit on and harassed by Yankees fans during the playoffs, but he cut the questioner off before he could even finish the sentence.
"That was way overblown and it was false and it had zero to do with the whole thing," he said. "Hopefully we can put that behind us, because that was a non-issue."
He later praised Phillies fans for their intensity and dedication, indicating the environment at Citizens Bank Park played a part in his decision.
"They're passionate fans, they understand what's going on, they don't need a teleprompter to tell them to get up and cheer," he said.
Amaro also gave credit to the almost nightly full houses at home for providing the revenue that allowed the Phillies to make these kinds of deal, but added that his 2011 team is essentially set at this point.
"We're no longer flexible," he said of his payroll. "We've reached our flex point."
Now it's up to Lee and the Phillies to reward those fans with another championship to go with the one they captured pre-Lee in 2008. The final piece of the plan believes the Phillies are capable, but he acknowledged that there are no guarantees.
"It's going to be a special team," Lee said. "None of that's going to be given to us; we've still got to go out there and earn it. But I think, with what we've got on paper and the personalities that are around and the guys on this team, good things are going to happen."
FanHouse TV's Steve Phillips discusses the implications of Cliff Lee's deal with the Phillies.