Going back to Philly: Cliff Lee chooses Phillies over Yankees and Rangers

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Wow. In one of the most surprising free agent signings in a long time, Cliff Lee has turned down longer, more lucrative offers from both the Yankees and Rangers to return to the Phillies.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Lee’s deal is worth approximately $100 million for five seasons. Obviously that’s far from chump change, especially if reports about a vesting sixth-year option are accurate, but it’s significantly less than the Yankees’ reported final offer of as much as $154 million over seven years.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a policy against speaking about free agent negotiations and somehow managed to remain under the radar until tonight, when rumors began swirling that the Phillies were the “mystery team” Jon Heyman of SI.com had been speculating about without knowing (or at least revealing) their identity.

Sure enough, Amaro swooped in and now Lee re-joins a pitching staff with fellow aces Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels for what has a chance to be one of the best rotations of all time.

Lee spent a half-season with the Phillies in 2009, going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 regular season starts and dominating in five playoff outings as the team fell to the Yankees in the World Series. He was under contract for another season, but Amaro traded him to the Mariners for prospects last December 16 and filled his spot atop the rotation with Halladay.

Lee repeatedly spoke about enjoying his time in Philadelphia, but with the Phillies seemingly having little payroll room to get into a bidding war for him after adding Oswalt’s hefty contract at midseason the Yankees and Rangers emerged as the presumed favorites. Turns out, Amaro was doing his work without leaking any information to the media and Lee was shockingly willing to leave as much as $50 million on the table to return to Philadelphia.

Rays sign lefty Ryan Merritt to a minor league deal

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The Tampa Bay Rays have signed lefty swingman Ryan Merritt to a minor league contract. Nah, it’s not a big signing but we’ll take anything today.

Merritt, who has spent his entire career in the Indians organization, spent the entire 2018 season at Triple-A Columbus. It wasn’t a bad year for him — he posted a 3.79 ERA and a 52/2 K/BB ratio in 13 starts and two relief appearances covering 71.1 innings — but the Tribe just couldn’t find a role for him at the big league level. He has shown in the past, however, that he can hack it in the bigs, having posted a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings with the Indians between 2016-2017.

His thing is that he simply doesn’t strike guys out at anything approaching a typical clip for a big leaguer: 3.7 per nine innings in his small sample of major league outings and 6.3 Ks per nine innings in the minors. Which, while it may not prevent him from having success at the big league level, is likely a reason for the limited number of chances he’s been given.

The Rays are probably the best place he could go, frankly. They’ve shown themselves willing to utilize guys in unique ways and are more likely than most teams to find places to spot a lefty control specialist who has shown he can both start and come out of the pen.