I can remember last year, right around this time, staring at the headlines on ESPN that read: Lee Traded to Mariners. I couldn’t figure out what Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was thinking, no matter what explanation was given to me. I think every Phillies fan was in the same boat; wondering why he was traded so soon? Why we were so concerned about getting younger right away? And what did we do to make me Cliff Lee not want to pitch here?
The season went on, and the guy Cliff Lee was traded for (you might have heard of him before, Roy Halladay) quickly made us forget about that heart-break. However, questions about the team (particularly about pitching) still remained, and Cliff was always in the back of our minds. I think Ruben sensed this, he sensed he might have made a mistake – so he made up for it.
Amaro Jr. dealt J.A. Happ (and some minor-leaguers) for veteran ace pitcher Roy Oswalt. Amaro Jr. made amends. He put a band-aid on the cut in Philadelphia’s preverbal heart and everything seemed to be right again. The trifecta of H20 was born. With Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies rotation seemed unstoppable…until the playoffs. Our three horses that carried us all season long suddenly looked human again, and our batting lineup looked non-existent. The whole team seemed to be in a mega-slump, all at once, and the season ended before we knew what happened.
The offseason began with the abrupt, yet predictable, departure of Jayson Werth – who decided big money with the Washington Nationals was a better fit for him (and you can’t blame the guy, he isn’t worth the seven-year $126 million contract he got, but it was offered, so he took it). The 2011 season looked grim before it even started with no right-handed bats, questions about the bullpen, and big name players (like Lee, Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez) moving all around the league.
With the Red Sox getting Crawford and Gonzalez, the White Sox getting Adam Dunn, and the Yankees throwing mountains of cash at Cliff Lee, it appeared the Phillies wouldn’t be making any waves in the free agent pool. Then Amaro Jr. cannon-balled in, just like an older version of Hamilton “Ham” Porter, splashing the Yankees, Rangers, and Nationals right out of the water. Amaro Jr. somehow managed to get Cliff Lee to come back to Philly, a feat no one thought was possible. That clever S.O.B. quietly struck up a deal with Lee (while the Yankees and Rangers were in a bidding war) that only cost the team $120 million over five years.
Apparently, Lee loved it here and never wanted to leave in the first place. He enjoyed his time here so much, that he was willing to give us a little bit of a break on the deal – leaving $30 million on the table at New York and Texas. How often do you hear that from a pro athlete about playing in Philadelphia? It’s a real credit to both of these men, and they deserve some recognition for reasons other than their efforts on the field or in the office.
Lee gets commended for showing a love of the game, not the almighty dollar. In sports today, too often players abuse free agency and abuse the system to get the maximum amount of money – often at the cost of success. Lee did the exact opposite. The guy chose less money with a team that could win now, a team that would be much better with his talents, and a team in a city that he and his family truly wanted to live in. It’s not all about the money with this guy, it’s about winning – and that’s a rarity in modern-day professional sports.
And then Ruben. Oh Ruben. Ruben was like a dad who sold a kid’s favorite toy for what he thought was a much better toy. Then realized he underestimated his kid’s feelings for the toy, felt bad, and got the kid a similar toy to help him cope. Finally, just to make sure there were no hard feelings, he went out and recaptured the original toy. So I ask, how happy are we with our new toys?
You have to admit, even though the guy might not have done it on purpose, it sure looks like he knew what he was doing. We went from a Phillies team with Lee, Hamels, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, and Kyle Kendrick, to a team with Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, and then whoever we feel like pitching that fifth day. We can pull fans out of the stands, or give the homeless a shot in return for a warm meal and hot shower – I mean who cares, the rotation is now stacked.
On paper, Amaro Jr. has assembled one of the greatest staffs ever; especially considering that rumors are our fifth starter might be Pedro Martinez. The Phillies now have a three and four pitcher who are better than some teams one and twos – it’s almost like Amaro Jr. turned on “trades” in a video game, and just built the perfect staff…although it’s better because it’s real life.
For the naysayers, I know it’s early, and the baseball season is a long and tough one, and anything can happen – but come on, even Mets fans have to agree, we are now an elite team. Just picture how good this squad will be when the bats come alive? April can’t come quickly enough right now for the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Eagles are tied for the division with the New York Giants, playing them this week, and all anybody could talk about was “The Return of Cliff Lee.” I am just glad he is finally back home, where he belongs.
As for you Ruben Amaro Jr., we officially forgive you, for everything…job well done, sir. Now get Philadelphia another championship!