Cliff Lee’s best curve ball yet

December 15, 2010

BASEBALL/Cliff Lee threw his best curve ball of the year this week, freezing the anxious New York Yankees and Texas Rangers in their tracks by deciding to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies.

The decision came out of left field, as the Rangers and Yankees did all the public wooing of the 2008 American League Cy Young winner, while the Phillies worked the back channels.

The Yankees offered seven years, the Rangers were believed willing to put six seasons on the table for the 31-year-old lefty from nearby Arkansas who helped them reach their first World Series.

The Phillies won his services with a five-year deal worth a reported $120 million with an option for a sixth season.

Why that choice by Lee?

The money was right, the team was right and the pressure on the slender lefty eased by joining a rotation of four magnificent starters with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels already in place.

Lee has pitched in the last two World Series on the losing end and longs for a championship after coming close with the Phillies in 2009 and the Rangers this past season.

Oddsmakers seemed to agree with his assessment.

After word of the Lee deal, sports book Bodog.com made the Phillies 7/2 favorites to win the 2011 World Series after opening the offseason at 6/1 behind the Yankees at 4/1.

Bodog’s post-Lee odds beyond the Phillies: Red Sox 5/1; Yankees 6/1; Giants 12/1; Twins 18/1; Cards 18/1; Braves 20/1; Reds 20/1; Rockies 20/1; Rays 20/1, Rangers 20/1.

In 2009, Lee joined the Phillies in a mid-season trade with the Cleveland Indians and pitched great to help Philadelphia to the World Series, where they fell to the Yankees.

Lee enjoyed his time in Philadelphia, whose Phils had won the Fall Classic the year before over the Tampa Bay Rays, and was disappointed to have been dealt away to Seattle to make room for Halladay, who this year threw a no-hitter and a perfect game and won his second Cy Young award.

Then the Phils added Oswalt, a former NL Championship Series MVP, to a staff that also included Hamels, a World Series MVP.

Now they also have Lee.

And the big-spending Yankees don’t.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he would not push the panic button — though a talent grab became less of an option after the rival Boston Red Sox swooped in to sign free agent outfielder Carl Crawford after landing slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego while Lee mulled over his options.

“I do stress Plan B is patience,” Cashman told reporters.

Best guess is that the Yankees will explore options to trade off some young talent, including one of their crop of promising young catchers, for an established quality starter.

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