- The latest news on Cliff Lee wasn't really news, in a way, because nothing has been new regarding the lefthander's $120 million arm in the last 10 months.
Lee has had a sore elbow since last May, when the pain was enough to cause him trouble when he turned a door knob. He's had a sore elbow since grabbing at it during his last regular-season start in Washington on the last night of July, hours after baseball's trade deadline.
He's rested it. He's rehabbed it. Twice. The pain was there again the day after his first Grapefruit League start this spring, 12 days ago.
But the Phillies sent out a release and held a news conference, following a 16-4 defeat to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday, to announce an update on the pitcher and his ailing left arm.
It's still in pain. He's still not able to pitch. He won't be having surgery.
And so, he will begin the 2015 season where he spent the majority of the 2014 season: on the disabled list.
Lee, who turns 37 in August and is entering the final season of a 5-year, $120 million deal, has decided to delay the inevitable. He's delaying surgery. And he's delaying retirement, too. He'll begin the season on the 60-day DL.
Despite the recommendations of all doctors involved - including Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti, and renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews - Lee has elected to once again treat his left limb with rehab and rest rather than undergo surgery.
Lee said yesterday afternoon that he doesn't expect to pick up a baseball for at least 2 months. His hope is to return to the Phillies' rotation at some point this summer.
"At this point, the rehab is 6 to 8 months," Lee said of what surgery would entail. "So I still have time to have surgery if I choose to, if the rehab doesn't seem like it's going to work. That still remains an option and that's part of the reason why we chose this route, because the options are still open. That definitely played into it."
The best-case scenario for Lee and the Phillies: He reboots his throwing program in mid-May and is ready to pitch in a major league game sometime in July.
Another, more likely, scenario for Lee and the Phillies: If the ailment is still there in May, he undergoes surgery with the idea of trying to be ready for spring training of 2016.
The reality for Lee and the Phillies: The team owes him $37.5 million ($25 for this season, plus a $12.5 million buyout for 2016) and the pitcher would have to go fishing for work on the free-agent market this winter coming off surgery and with his 38th birthday approaching in the summer of 2016.
So surgery probably wasn't appealing to Lee. And neither was retirement, since it'd come at a very steep price (the aforementioned $37.5 million).
And so, more rehabbing and resting and hoping for the best.
"I think after speaking with Cliff and his representatives and discussing it mutually, I think we've come to the thought process that we're going to try to rehab him again and see if that works out," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in opening yesterday's news conference. "Obviously it has failed twice, but we're going to try it again so that we can see if Cliff can pitch for us again. We'd love to have him back on the mound as soon as possible but the injury's not allowing him to do that, so we'll kind of go from there."
After first being diagnosed with a Grade 1/2 elbow strain last May, Lee was back on a major league mound in 2 months. But he would make just three more starts (and 13 total in 2014) before shutting it down again.
He didn't reboot his throwing program until Dec. 1, a span of 4 months without throwing. Yesterday, Lee said he was "going to try and give myself a little more time without doing anything with my arm" this time around, but that's impossible if he still wants to make a decision again on surgery in time to be ready by next spring training.
So it was worth asking whether he even has any intentions of pitching at all in 2016, and beyond.
"I don't know," Lee said. "I'll have to cross that bridge when I get there. At this point I'm going to try to get myself back to pitching this year. I'm not looking past that."
The Phillies, meanwhile, will trudge forward in a season where everyone from the oddsmakers in Vegas to the saber-number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus has predicted they will finish with the worst record in baseball.
The front office will try to piece together a rotation, while also fielding phone calls for teams interested in trading for Cole Hamels prior to the deadline. Some young pitcher (or three) will try to follow the paths of J.A. Happ, Vance Worley and David Buchanan before them, and graduate from the minors to the major leagues to jump into an open place (or three) in the rotation.
Really, nothing has changed since Lee first felt the pain 10 months ago, when it resurfaced late last summer, and then again less than 2 weeks ago.
Lee hadn't even played catch in the last 2 days. He knew this wasn't going to have a pleasant ending.
"I kind of knew when I first felt it that it wasn't good," Lee said of the most recent signs of pain on March 6. "I was pretty honest and upfront with them, but you've still got to go through the process to find out for sure and see if it'll kind of work itself out, and it didn't really work that way. Once I realized that was for sure what was going on, it's tough.
"Part of you wants to just stay in there and keep throwing until something snaps and it's completely done, and the other part of you wants to make sure you do the smart thing for your body physically and for the team and for everything involved. It's definitely frustrating when you know your body is not allowing you to do it."
Lee spoke those words inside the cafeteria/news conference room at Bright House Field in front of about a dozen people. It was almost hard to believe that it was the same room that Lee, after returning to the Phillies in 2011, sat on a dais with Hamels, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton, before a packed crowd of reporters, to answer questions during a live, televised news conference in anticipation of a season that featured a rotation of aces.
The Phillies won 102 games that year. But they haven't won a playoff series since Lee rejoined the team as a free agent.
"We didn't win any World Series," Lee said yesterday. "That's what I came here for. Obviously, that's what we wanted, but there's 30 teams every year trying to do that. It's hard to pick a spot and for sure it's going to happen. You've got to make it happen. It takes 25 guys doing it. We fought as hard as we could. We got close a couple times. We got beat by the Cardinals in whatever year that was [2011 NLDS]. They ended up putting us out and winning it. That was probably the best team I thought we had over those few years, but you never know. You never know what's going to happen until you play the games."