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Cliff Lee’s Decision – It Was Not All About The Money

{ Posted on Dec 19 2010 by Marcus Alston }

I could not believe my ears on Tuesday, December 14.  I was listening to the radio on the way to work to get the scores of 2 Monday night NFL football games when I found out that Cliff Lee had turned down the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees and took less money to return to the Philadelphia Phillies!!!

I remember thinking to myself as the negotiations dragged on between Lee and the Yankees that it would be refreshing if Lee stayed with the Texas Rangers for less money since just about everyone in the sports media (See ESPN and The Fan) had him going to the Yankees because the Yankees would NOT be denied and would pay whatever it took.  “Every man (person) has his price” as they say.  But wouldn’t it be nice if the Yanks were turned down even though they offered the most?  Don’t get me wrong, the Yanks are my second favorite team–if Cliff Lee had gone to the Yanks, I would have been pulling for another World Series for Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and company.  However, money is not and should not be everything, and I wanted this old theme to prevail.  Little did I know that my wish would come true and my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, would be the beneficiary!

Philly had traded Lee away just about a year ago after he helped them reach the 2009 World Series where he won 2 games for them in their eventual World Series loss to the New York Yankees.  Why would he go back to the Phillies?  Well, judging by the contract offers, it was not all about the money.

The New York Post reported the Yanks made 2 offers to Lee — one for 7 years and $150 million, the other for 6 years and $138 million plus a $16 million player option for a seventh year.  The Rangers reportedly offered 6 years and $138 million plus a seventh-year option, which could have raised the value of the contract to $161 million.  ESPN.com reported the deal with the Phillies was for 5 years and $120 million, plus a vesting option for a sixth season.

Lee never wanted to leave the Phillies and did not hold being traded away against them.

He said about being traded:  “At first, I didn’t believe it. I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies.  I thought I’d be spending the rest of my career there. … I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time. In my mind, it was going to happen.”

The signing of Lee gives the Phillies a dominant rotation that on paper is the strongest in the majors and maybe of all-time: Lee (2 time All Star, Cy Young Award winner), Roy Halladay (7 time All Star, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, Perfect Game, No Hitter in 2010 Playoffs), Roy Oswalt (3 time All Star and 2005 NLCS MVP), and Cole Hamels (All Star, 2008 NLCS MVP, 2008 World Series MVP).

On his decision to rejoin the Phillies:

“For me it’s more my experience here, how my family felt about it while they were here, things along those lines. Obviously, the length of the contract, how good the team’s going to be over that time fame, things like that were the most important things for me, aside from my family’s happiness. It wasn’t that tough a decision, knowing the pitching staff this team had and the offense. They sell out every game, they have passionate fans. It was a pretty simple decision.”

Ouch, sorry New York and Texas, but it was not a tough decision for Cliff Lee to join the Phillies despite the bucks you were throwing at him at 90+ miles an hour.  This said, the money the Phils are providing is not chump change either (he actually makes more per year on average than the other deals, but for less years) and one could argue that at over $100 million, it really does not matter anymore.  I think it shows that Cliff Lee is not greedy and has his priorities in the right place.  He left about $30-$40 million on the table and will make about 25%-30% less than he could have else where.  This is not insignificant.  I find it refreshing (as I find Kerry Wood returning to his beloved Cubs for less money than other teams were offering).

Based on Lee’s own words, here are his non-financial reasons for joining the Phillies and turning down the Yanks and Rangers (in no particular order):

  1. His experience in Philly.  He enjoyed Philly the first time and so did his family.  He did not want to leave the first time.
  2. The length of the contract.  The Yanks and Rangers offered 1 to 2 more years than the Phils, but I guess the other factors outweighed this one.
  3. How good the Phillies are and are expected to be during the contract.  The Phils are still relatively young.  The Yanks are old now.  Texas may not be able to put a consistently strong team together every year on paper.
  4. Pitching Staff.  The Phils have H20 (Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt) already.  Stir in L (Lee) and this combination is deadly for all the other teams.
  5. Phillies Offense.  They lost Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals, but the Phils still have a strong offensive team that underachieved last year.  GM Ruben Amaro Jr. should stock pile the team and has shown that he has a strong farm system, evaluates talent and trades well, and will surround his team with talent and pay for it if he has to.
  6. Phils sell out every game.  What else can you say here.
  7. Passionate fans.  Some of the most passionate fans are in Philly and they did not harass his wife like the Yankees’ fans.

A Holiday Gift for Phillies Fans.  Lee did Philly fans a favor.  No longer will they have to jealously watch Lee star for another team or complain about not having both Halladay and Lee on the same together.  General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Phillies management went out and made it happen.   Whoa.  And by doing so they admit that they should not have let him get away the first time.  The bonus prize in all of this may be Oswalt, who the Phillies acquired in mid-season last year to “fill” the Lee void.  They still have him too.

What do you think about the Cliff Lee deal?  What does it say that he walked away from an additional $30-$40 million which would represent about 25%-30% more than what the Phils offered.  Would you walk away from a job offer that was offering you 30% more than you make now?

In my next post, I will write about what all this sports spending may say about the economy in general.

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