Rangers' Lee throws against the Giants during Game 1 of Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco

Jayson Stark thinks the Phillies might be the “mystery team” interested in Cliff Lee


We’ve had great fun today with Jon Heyman’s mystery team, but the nagging thought remains: what if there actually is a mystery team?

To be clear: even if a new team interested in Cliff Lee’s services emerges beyond the Yankees and the Rangers, Heyman is not vindicated.  His peddling of “mystery team” reports appears to be nothing more than the non-critical passing along of what an agent tells him.  There is no attempt to analyze this new information. To use his vast experience in the hot stove game to contextualize it for readers. He’s a mouthpiece as he currently presents this kind of information, not an information source of any value.

Not so other reporters, such as Jayson Stark. He writes today that he put some thought to who might actually be a suitor for Cliff Lee other than the Yankees and the Rangers. His answer — which he notes is merely his own educated speculation, not a scoop of any kind — is the Phillies.

On the one hand, you can’t discount Stark when he’s talking about the Phillies because he knows them more than just about any major reporter knows a team. When I mentioned to him on Twitter that the Phillies interest in Lee wouldn’t make sense in light of the fact that they traded him away a year ago, his response was “that was then; this is now.” If things truly have changed in the Phillies’ front office, Stark would know before most of us would.

But I still have a really hard time seeing the Phillies as serious players for Lee. The reason they traded Lee a year ago is because they didn’t want to pay him anything approaching a market rate for the contract extension Lee and the Phillies briefly negotiated. Why then, a year later, would they go into nine-figure land with him? Especially when they already have the strongest rotation in the National League by a hefty margin? In between the “that was then” and the “this is now” would have to be a sea change in the Phillies’ organizational strategy, the likes of which are not apparent by any other move that they’ve made.

As such, if the Phillies are in on Cliff Lee, my guess is that it’s not as a serious player. Perhaps they inquired. Perhaps they submitted a low offer for some reason.  Either of those things would give Lee’s agent enough cover to where his whispers of a “mystery team” would have a sheen of honesty to them.  But only a sheen. Because it would be a supreme long shot to expect Lee to sign to a big below-market offer in Philly given what we’ve seen from his negotiating tactics.

Thus, if Lee’s agent is actually peddling Philly as a “mystery team” to credulous reporters, he’s being a bit too cute in my view.  And if credulous reporters run with it without taking the time to at least do what Stark does and try to think through it a bit, they are too.

Jon Heyman keeps banging the Cliff Lee “mystery team” drum

unsolved mysteries

This morning several baseball media heavyweights took public jabs as SI.com’s Jon Heyman over his repeatedly reporting on a supposed “mystery team” joining the Rangers and Yankees in the mix for Cliff Lee.

First there was Buster Olney of ESPN.com tweeting: “Remember: if you ever read about a ‘mystery team,’ it can only come spoon-fed from an agent who is trying to create leverage.”

Shortly after that Peter Gammons of MLB.com got in on the fun: “Mystery, Alaska in on Lee?”

And then Keith Law of ESPN.com tweeted: “Saw the Mystery Team GM at the winter meetings. He was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.”

Heyman tried to brush off the criticisms by making a joke about the situation, tweeting that he was “grabbing lunch at MLB Network now” while using a #mysterysandwich hashtag, but shortly after that his latest column was posted at SI.com and it included more references to the supposed “mystery team” bidding on Lee.

In fact, Heyman used the phrase “mystery team” five times in the column (and even threw in a “mystery offer” for good measure):

1) “The Royals are eyeing the Lee talks with interest, as the Yankees could possibly consider Greinke if they should be upset for Lee by the incumbent Rangers or even a mystery team.”

2) “It isn’t known whether the Angels are the remaining mystery team in on Lee, but they at least checked in on him and could become a suitor for Greinke, too.”

3) “Lee is believed to be deciding between the Yankees, Rangers and one remaining mystery team, whose offer is also a mystery.”

4) “The Angels have shown interest in Lee. But one person familiar with their thinking claimed they are “offensively focused” at present, so they don’t appear to be the mystery team.”

5) “The Red Sox were found to be one of two mystery teams at the winter meetings but their signing of Crawford would seem to make them very unlikely now.”

It’s one thing when some lowly bloggers like Craig and I are picking on Heyman for the “mystery team” stuff, but when guys like Olney, Gammons, and Law join in you’d think he might ease up on that type of “reporting.” Instead he made a joke about it to lessen some of the criticism coming his way … and then immediately published a new column packed with “mystery team” references.

Heyman may indeed be right, but if he knows information he should report it rather than shrouding it in hysteria-inducing “mystery.” Given his frequent attempts to assuage people of the notion that he’s a shill for agents you’d think Heyman might have a little more awareness about how this stuff is perceived by readers and colleagues. Or maybe he just can’t help himself.

The Rangers are going after Adrian Beltre. Have they lost out on Cliff Lee?

Adrian Beltre

Karl Ravech — via a tweet from Buster Olney — reports that the Texas Rangers are “moving aggressively” on Adrian Beltre.  Which suggests that they think they’re not going to get Cliff Lee, as there is no way Texas can sign both of them.  Earlier this morning we heard reports that the Yankees have been in touch with Lee’s agent. Is it possible — and I’m merely speculating — that Lee’s decision has been made and the Yankees have won?  This report would fit in quite nicely with that.

The problem: Michael Young, the Rangers’ incumbent third baseman.  Last week there were rumors that the Rangers were shopping him and would then pursue Beltre.  If they keep him around, however, where does he play? Not third base, because Beltre is an outstanding defensive third baseman. Possibly first base or in left field, but remember, Young is not a guy who takes well to moving positions. He had a major hissy fit when he was moved off shortstop. Not that I think Nolan Ryan cares about his infielders having hissy fits. Nor should he.

Personally, I think Adrian Beltre at just about any price he’d likely command on the market would be a better signing for Texas than Cliff Lee, so if they have lost out on the lefty, they may have actually won in the grand scheme of things.