Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas comes ear-LEE

Cole Hamels is now a No. 4 starter.

Let me repeat that.

Hamels, the crafty left-hander with a career ERA of 3.53 while pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, is the fourth-best starting pitcher in his team's rotation.

Most teams are happy if their No. 4 reaches the sixth inning, but the Philadelphia Phillies really won't have to give the sixth inning a second thought in 2011 after they pulled off the deal of the century Monday night. Cliff Lee, the most pursued player in the offseason, is returning for his second tour of duty with Philadelphia. He helped us reach the World Series, and exactly one year after we sent him packing, he turned down more lucrative deals with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to come back for five years and $120 million.

Things like this just don't happen, do they? It's like getting a winning lottery ticket, losing it and the lottery printing you a another copy of the winner.

OK, it wasn't quite that easy for Ruben Amaro and the rest of the Phillies brass, but it's not everyday in this present climate that you offer a guy less money than the competition and end up with him. Lee has not only proven himself as an elite pitcher, but an elite human being who unlike some others (ahem...Jayson Werth) considers multiple factors in a potential deal over just dollars and cents.

In an odd twist of fate, we have Amaro to thank for setting up this "fearsome foursome" of pitchers that may provide enough of an edge over a wildly inconsistent offense. Had he traded for Roy Halladay and kept Lee before the 2010 season, it's likely he wouldn't have traded for Roy Oswalt at the deadline. Sure, he would've saved himself a lot of grief, but things could not have worked out better for him or the team.

Lee made it clear several times over the past year that he didn't want to leave Philadelphia after the 2009 season. He loved his teammates, he loved his coaches, he loved the fans and so did his family.

And my fellow Phillie fans, pay your respects to Kristen Lee, Cliff's wife. She reportedly had just as much of a say in this decision, and why shouldn't she? I mean really, where would any of us be without our wives? She loathed the poor treatment she received from Yankee fans during the ALCS in October, while the Lee's most fond memories during the last two years of frequent city-hopping were apparently made with Philadelphia.

The best part: all of the high-prized free agents are gone, and the Yankees didn't land any of them. In the end, their bottomless wallets got the shaft from Lee twice in less than six months, and he returns to the place he never wanted to leave.

Welcome home, anointed one, and hang your red stockings with cheer.

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