Phillies' Lee reacts during Game 2 of their MLB National League Divisional Series baseball playoffs against the Cardinals in Philadelphia

Cliff Lee plans to retire once his contract with the Phillies is up


Phillies starter Cliff Lee was the tough-luck loser last night against the Braves. The lefty allowed just one run — an eighth-inning Chris Johnson solo home run — in eight innings while striking out 13 and walking none. It was part of an historically-great month of September and an overall productive season in Phillies red pinstripes.

For all his personal success, however, he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to win a championship. After signing a five-year deal with the Phillies after the 2010 season, he pitched in the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals, but the Phillies were ousted in five games. That was the last time the Phillies were post-season contenders, and it seems like that may be the case through the remainder of Lee’s contract. Lee is owed $25 million in each of 2014 and 2015, and he has a 2016 option for $27.5 million which vests based on playing time and health.

Per CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury, it sounds like Lee might call it quits once his contract is up, either after 2015 or ’16:

“I’m getting up there in age. I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home, so I’m running out of opportunities. All I can control is what I can control, and I’m going to do everything I can to help us win. That’s all I know how to do.”


“Right now, I don’t [see myself pitching beyond this contract],” Lee said. “There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives.

“I’m financially able to shut it down, so … that’s how I feel right now. But when the time comes I might look at it differently.”

Lee ends his 2013 season 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, leading the league with a 6.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a walk rate of 1.3 per nine innings. Since the start of the 2011 season, he has a 2.87 ERA, the third-best among pitchers who have logged at least 500 innings over the last three seasons. He has certainly performed well enough to merit his salary.

Cliff Lee has had a September to remember

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets

Phillies starter Cliff Lee shut out the Braves through seven innings tonight, but an equally-dominating performance by Braves starter Kris Medlen and an eighth-inning solo home run by Chris Johnson left him the tough-luck loser. Lee struck out 13, walked none, and allowed just three hits over eight innings, but the Phillies’ offense just couldn’t figure Medlen out.

In 39 innings over five starts this September, Lee has compiled a 1.85 ERA with 54 strikeouts and one walk. It is the 48th time since 1901 a pitcher has struck out at least 54 batters in a month in five or fewer starts; the 12th time it has happened in September/October specifically. It is also the 62th time since 1901 that a pitcher has walked one or none in a month in at least five starts; the 17th in September/October specifically. Lee is the first to strike out 50-plus and walk one or fewer in a month.

Lee finishes the season 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 222.2 innings along with 222 strikeouts and 32 walks.

Cliff Lee does it all in win over Marlins

Cliff Lee Getty

Cliff Lee was a one-man gang in tonight’s 12-2 victory over the Marlins. In addition to allowing two runs over eight innings while striking out 14 batters, he went 3-for-4 and drove in a career-high four runs. My goodness. I’m not sure it’s possible to dominate a team more thoroughly than that.

As for his exploits on offense, Lee had a bases-loaded two-run single in the third inning, an RBI triple in the fifth, and another RBI single in the seventh. The veteran southpaw improved to 14-6 with the victory while the 14 strikeouts gave him his fourth double-digit strikeout game of the season. Just icing on the cake, with tonight’s performance, Lee surpassed the 200-inning mark for the sixth straight season and 200 strikeouts for the third straight year.

The stats below provide further context about Lee’s remarkable night. Needless to say, we don’t see this sort of thing very often.

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Keeping Cliff Lee is the wrong choice for Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets

Trends don’t get much more clear than this:

2008: Won World Series
2009: Lost World Series
2010: Lost NLCS
2011: Lost NLDS
2012: Missed playoffs

Now, that’s not entirely fair: the Phillies had their best records in that span in 2011 and 2010. But Charlie Manuel’s team has dropped off severely since then. In 2012, the Phillies finished at .500. They’ll be lucky to get back there this year; not only are they 50-56 at the moment, but their run differential (-74) is better than only Miami’s in the NL.

A rebuild seems necessary, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is resisting. His idea of going young was acquiring Michael and Delmon over the winter. The Phillies were reportedly open to trading Cliff Lee, but they priced him so high as to make that impossible. If they keep Lee and re-sign Chase Utley, here’s what they currently look for 2014:

SP: Lee – 35 – $25 million
SP: Cole Hamels – 30 – $22.5 million
SP: Kyle Kendrick – 29 – $4.5 million

??: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – 27 – $8 million (approx.)

RP: Jonathan Papelbon – 33 – $13 million
RP: Mike Adams – 35 – $7 million
RP: Antonio Bastardo – 28 – $2.5 million (approx.)

1B: Ryan Howard – 34 – $25 million
2B: Utley – 35 – $13 million (approx.)
SS: Jimmy Rollins – 35 – $11 million
OF: Domonic Brown – 26 – $600,000 (approx.)
OF: Ben Revere – 26 – $1.8 million (approx.)

That’s a $134 million foundation, and not a particularly good one. Unless the newly signed Gonzalez shows something in this next couple of months and proves he’s ready to occupy a rotation spot, the Phillies will still be in need of a one starting pitcher, a catcher and an outfielder. They do have the option of bringing back John Lannan for $4 million or so. They could also try sticking with Jonathan Pettibone as their fifth starter and filling third base from within.

But Amaro is going to have to pull off far better signings than he has of late if he hopes to turn the Phillies back into contenders in 2014. He will have financial flexibility even with all of those commitments. Perhaps the best defense for going that route is that Amaro doesn’t seem like a very good candidate to pull off a successful rebuild, either.

I’ve heard one explanation for the high price for Lee is that the Phillies know they can just as easily trade him a year from now. But that just delays the inevitable and probably leaves them wallowing in mediocrity for another year. Why wait?

The Phillies won’t be trading Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Lee points towards a pop out by New York Mets Nickeas during the third inning of their MLB National League baseball game in New York

It seemed pretty obvious that the potential suitor with the most to send back to Philly in exchange for Cliff Lee was the Red Sox, and now that they’re no longer in need of a starting pitcher, Ruben Amaro is no longer looking to deal his ace:


I think it was always about a 2% shot that he’d be dealt at best. Amaro was smart to gauge interest, of course, but the Phillies aren’t going out of business over the next couple of years. They do need people to pitch for them and they can afford Lee’s salary. It didn’t work so good this season, but the idea of starting in spring with Hamels and Lee and whatever else you can muster is a pretty smart idea.

In other news, why did Bowden put a hashtag on “source”?