Cliff Lee's return to the Phillies was (and still is) huge news in the Philadelphia area, but it also affected the fortunes of the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, along with the rest of Major League Baseball. Here's a sample of the national reaction to Lee's deal with the Phillies:
*ESPN.com's Jayson Stark looks back and realizes the Phillies were there all along in the Lee talk:
To get this deal done, the Phillies had to station themselves strategically just off to the side of Lee's massive stage so that no one ever noticed them -- but amazingly, they were always there.
And then, when crunch time arrived, they were still right there -- positioned, exactly how they'd planned it, so that if Lee REALLY wanted to come back to Philadelphia, and if he REALLY was having a tough time convincing himself to go pitch in Texas or New York, and if he REALLY was willing to leave enough money and years on the table, that they might be just the alternative he was looking for.
*The Phillies may have always been in on Lee to some degree, SI.com's Jon Heyman writes, but Ruben Amaro Jr. did his work behind the scenes until the deal was nearly done:
The Phillies weren't even known to be in the hunt for Lee until earlier Monday, when they were revealed to be the "mystery team" that was pursuing him along with the Yankees and Rangers.
But just hours later the Yankees and Rangers both received telephone calls telling them they were out of the running.
Lee is said to have absolutely loved his brief time with the Phillies in 2009, when he won two World Series games against the Yankees. People close to Lee say he envisions himself as No. 2 in a rotation with Halladay at the top, Oswalt pitching third and Hamels fourth. Now they may well have the best No. 1 pitcher in baseball, the best No. 2, the best No. 3 and the best No. 4.
*The Yankees, their fans and the New York media cannot quite believe they lost out on Lee, writes the New York Post's George A. King III:
The Phillies? Really?
When Lee hit the free-agent market in early November, the Yankees were the prohibitive favorites to land him. They had a need, and obviously the money. The Rangers cast themselves as the underdog.
The Phillies? They spent the Winter Meetings this month shooting down talk they were in on Lee.
*ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor compares Lee spurning the Yankees to LeBron James' rejection of the Knicks, but the Yankees actually had a chance at signing Lee. They just never saw the Phillies coming:
But out of left field Monday night, the City of Brotherly Love broke up the near-certain pinstriped brotherhood of Sabathia and Lee. Philadelphia pulled another Rocky Balboa and threw one of the most improbable punches in the history of the great American sport known as free agency.
The Yankees never saw it coming, and if it makes them feel any better, the Texas Rangers never saw it coming, either. The Phillies reacquired Lee and threw him into a rotation that now has its own Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.
*Maybe it wasn't about the money after all, writes the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica, but simply the fact Lee wanted to pitch in Philadelphia:
But it all came down to the famous words of a famous old comedian: All things considered, Lee would rather be in Philadelphia.
"He didn't want to pitch in New York," is the way one Yankee official put it Monday night after getting the word from Lee's agent that the Yankees were out. The Yankees are supposed to be relieved, as if the team had jumped out of the way of a Lee fastball because he didn't want their money.
*The Texas Rangers did all they could do to try and keep Lee in Texas, but ultimately it wasn't where he wanted to be, writes ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett:
The Texas Rangers sure put up a good fight in the quest to sign Cliff Lee.
And in the end, none of it mattered. Lee didn't find anything on the Rangers' "menu" of offers more appetizing than the last-minute feast cooked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. Even the New York Yankees' attempt to bury the free-agent left-handed pitcher in stockpiles of cash and a seven-year deal weren't enough to keep him from heading to Philadelphia, no longer the "mystery team" in this offseason saga.
*Lee returned to the Phillies exactly a year after he was traded to Seattle, long enough for the Phillies to realize exactly how much they wanted him, writes ESPN's Buster Olney:
It took a year, but the Phillies realized just exactly how much Lee wanted to pitch for them; if you had to assign a number to it, the figure would be about $34 million. That's the difference between what Lee would've guaranteed himself if he had taken the Yankees' offer of six guaranteed years at $138 million, plus an additional $16 million in a player option for 2017, and what he will get from the Phillies for the next five years.
*Adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt evokes comparisons of the 1997 Braves, writes SI.com's Joe Lemire:
Lee now joins reigning NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay as well as Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to form a formidable first four spots of the rotation, an accomplished group whose only post-strike era comparison for talent could be the 1997 Braves with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle. The Phillies, already favorites in the NL East, now enjoy a prohibitive advantage on paper over the Braves and everyone else in the division even without power-hitting outfielder Jayson Werth, who joined the Nationals. That's what a full year of those four starters can do for a club.
*With Lee again a Phillie, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asks if the Braves are already playing for the wild card:
The Phillies rocked the ol' world Monday night, coming from far off the pace to land the biggest prize of this free-agent class. Lee was supposed to be bound for the Bronx, where every big-ticket ballplayer eventually lands, or back to Texas, scene of his most recent success. Instead he's going to the Phillies, which not so long ago shipped him to Seattle because they couldn't afford both Halladay and Lee.
Now they've got Halladay and Lee. And Cole Hamels. And Roy Oswalt.
*Even though the Phillies are set up to win a World Series or two in the next couple seasons, former Phillies and current Mets beat writer Andy Martino can see how Lee might regret his decision down the road:
This Phils team has a one-year window before it sees sweeping change. Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have potentially expiring deals, and could follow Werth out of town in 11 months. Halladay, Hamels and Victorino might follow in the ensuing years. And Cliff Lee might be stuck chasing the ghosts of an elusive memory, and wishing he had just taken the money.