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

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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.

Diamondbacks, T.J. McFarland avoid arbitration

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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that the Diamondbacks and reliever T.J. McFarland have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $1.45 million salary for the 2019 season. McFarland, in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $1.675 million while the Diamondbacks countered at $1.275 million. McFarland ended up settling for just under the midpoint of those two figures.

McFarland, 29, was terrific out of the bullpen for the D-Backs last season, finishing with a 2.00 ERA and a 42/22 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. While the lefty may not miss a lot of bats, he does induce quite a few grounders. His 67.9 percent ground ball rate last season was the third highest among relievers with at least 50 innings, trailing only Brad Ziegler (71.1%) and Scott Alexander (70.6%).

McFarland was dominant against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .388 OPS last season, but the D-Backs deployed him nearly twice as often against right-handed hitters, who posted an aggregate .764 OPS against him. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to use him more as a platoon reliever in 2019.