December 14, 2010
Yes, Virginia, there really is a baseball player who isn't after the most years or money.
His name is Cliff Lee(notes) and he turned the baseball world on its ear on Monday night, forgoing more years and more guaranteed cash with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to sign a stunning, "where did that come from?" five-year deal and return to a Philadelphia Phillies team that traded him away after the World Series last offseason.
Honestly, it's hard to process that we just saw the ace pitcher take the third-best offer that he had on the table. Sure, we often like to pretend that baseball players will realize that they'll be receiving more money than they could ever spend no matter where they sign and that they'll go where they're comfortable and most want to play. But that rarely happens, as dollar signs and union pressures usually drive the player toward his highest bidder.
In the case of Lee, however, he and his agent were able to say no to offers from both the Yankees (six years, $138 million plus a $16 million player option for the seventh, says ESPN's Buster Olney) and the Rangers (six years, $138 million plus a vesting option for another $23 million, reports Y! Sports' Tim Brown). Doing so allowed him to ink a five-year deal worth about $115 million (plus a vesting option for the sixth, reports SI's Jon Heyman) with the Phillies and join Roy Halladay(notes), Roy Oswalt(notes) and Cole Hamels(notes) to form the best starting rotation since the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.
While we shouldn't get too carried away with nominating Lee for sainthood — shed no tears as he'll still be tied with CC Sabathia(notes) for the highest annual salary for a pitcher at $23 million a season — it really is amazing he may have left an estimated $20 million to $30 million of cash out on the table (depending on what that sixth year is worth) to return to a city where he has said he really enjoyed pitching during the 2009 season.
Indeed, the entire Phillies organization and its fans should stand a little taller today. Between the stable of star starters that GM Ruben Amaro had already put together and the new electricity of Citizens Bank Park, they were able to topple the one obstacle that usually remains undefeated this time of year.
Straight cash, homey.