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Phillies Steal Cliff Lee

Robin Williams may be the funniest man alive, but right now one of the most valuable men alive is none other than Cliff Lee.  This winter, the winter of 2010, was the winter of Cliff Lee. Even before the season was over, you could feel the chill in the air, with the winter coming on strong and two teams getting ready to bear all in a grudge match to get him. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers put it all on the table, each offering the stud left hander multiple deals in an effort to sign him. But in the end, he spurred them both and in doing so, crumpled up the script that everyone in the sports media had written about him and this off season.

The Philadelphia Phillies, with whom Lee had played in 2009 and helped lead to a World Series, swooped in and stole him. Here's how the Phillies did it: sit quietly away while the other two teams made all kinds of noise and comments to the media and the usual braggadocio, and then waltz in and offer him a shorter contract than the one he'd asked for with less guaranteed money...which he accepted.

Phillies Rotation Formidable in 2011

Granted, he now has 120 million reasons to smile, plenty to buy broad form insurance, and he gets to join a rotation that already included the formidable Roy Halladay, he of the two no hitters in 2010 including one in his playoff debut, and Roy Oswalt, only the face of the Astros from pitcher's mound at least. Add to this trio the esteemed number four man, Cole Hamels, himself a guy with a terrific history of playoff pitching (remember 2008?), and on paper this group looks bulletproof even without Joe Blanton, a very good pitcher who might get traded at this point because of the overload of talent in front of him.

The Phillies seemed to surprise everyone with their bold move, a move that only required them to commit to five years and not the seven the Yankees were dangling in front of the lefty. In the end, the money he gets per season is about the same as it would have been, and let's face it: at age 37 these days, no pitcher is washed up. And that's how old he'll be at the end of this contract, so there is no reason to think of it as his last chance for a big pay day.

Lee in the Batter's Box

One thing the Phillies had to offer that the Rangers and Yankees could never match was their location in the senior circuit. In the NL, pitchers get to hit. Lee likes to hit. And make no mistake about it, the Phillies new number two pitcher also likes pitching to pitchers. It tends to be good for the ERA and strikeout totals. He loved his time with the Phillies the first time around and was actually upset when he was traded away last winter. This winter, exactly a year later on December 14, the Phillies brought him back. It seems as if the stakes keep growing bigger for the top teams.

The Phillies spent huge bank to bolster their rotation, the Red Sox reloaded after a third place finish, and so far the Yankees have signed a catcher and not much else. But don't expect them to be done just yet. For now, the first place team winning the offseason after this coup has to be Philadelphia. It is amazing not only that they managed this, but that they were able to keep it quiet almost up to the end when it actually happened. The Phillies are again the clear favorites to get to the World Series with this move.

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