The winners and losers of the Cliff Lee deal

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The easy answer is that the Phillies and their fans are the biggest winners here. That goes without saying and explanation, I hope. But let’s look at the others in this epic story to see who comes out ahead and who comes out behind by Cliff Lee joining the Phillies:

WINNERS

Ruben Amaro: I said last night on Twitter that Amaro was a ninja for coming in so quietly for the kill. I’m thinking this morning that “ninja” doesn’t do it justice. Amaro is certainly not perfect as a GM — I still don’t like the Ryan Howard extension and his trading away of Cliff Lee last year cost him tens of millions of dollars to get him back — but in terms of approach and tightness of the ship he runs, Amaro is without peer. No one saw this coming before yesterday. No one believed it once it happened. Impressive.

The Red Sox: The Yankees didn’t get their man. They’re not done of course, but when your arch rival loses out on his primary objective, you can’t help but be happy. For the Yankees to improve their pitching staff now, they will have to give up talent. Talent which could have been used to make other moves later.

Andy Pettitte: This is bad for the Yankees, but good for the pocket book of the guy who this morning finds himself in much greater demand today than he was yesterday.

Carlos Ruiz: I lost it in the Twitter onslaught late last night, but someone made an excellent point: Chooch just has to sit back and catch the ball for seven or eight innings, four out of every five games. The men throwing it have a better plan than he could come up with on his own. And they’ll more often than not put it right where he places his glove.

The Rangers: I’ve said it multiple times, but they didn’t need Cliff Lee, even if it would have been nice to have him for a couple of years.  They don’t need the risk a six-year deal would have entailed. They have the pieces to compete in the AL West for several years. For them, losing out on Lee was really winning.

Any team shopping a starter: The Yankees, for the first time in modern memory, are desperate. I don’t want to overstate things — I’m sure Cashman and his guys thought about what might happen if they don’t get Lee — but they certainly need to deal. There are a lot of teams who will now reassess which of their pitchers are available in light of this deal.  I’ll throw one out there: Frank Wren: call Brian Cashman and see if he’ll take Derek Lowe’s entire contract off your hands!

LOSERS

The Yankees: for reasons stated.

The Braves and the rest of the NL East: I won’t suggest that having four aces will guarantee the Phillies the World Series — just ask the 1991-94 and 1996-2005 Braves how that worked out — but over the course of 162 games there is no way this rotation doesn’t grind their division rivals into dust. I suppose this is why God created the Wild Card.

LeBron James: See, it’s possible to take a bit less money and to go someplace where you’re not the top dog in the hopes of winning a title without being a deluded, self-important jerk about it. Really, if it wasn’t for “the Decision” James wouldn’t be getting the crap he’s getting. It was all about manner, not destination. Lee just made his decision and let the reporters take over. James could have done that too.

Playing card manufacturers: If someone hasn’t already placed a call to get a license for a deck of Phillies cards with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt as the four aces then I don’t believe in humanity anymore.

I’m sure there are others, but those are all who spring to mind at the moment.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.