Now that the Phillies' lineup has taken a hit with the departure of Jayson Werth, it seems they are considering a move that could substantially bolster an already formidable rotation and an already substantial payroll.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations Monday night, the Phils have expressed some interest in signing Cliff Lee, the free-agent lefthander who helped the team reach the 2009 World Series and then, in a move debated for most of 2010, was traded to Seattle.
Although the source would not reveal any specifics, he confirmed that the Phillies "could be interested" in pursuing Lee, who is weighing a pair of long-term deals from the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers, the team he helped reach the 2010 World Series.
Whether Lee would want to return to Philadelphia is another matter. The pitcher admitted to being surprised when, while he thought a contract extension was being worked out here, the Phils dealt him to the Mariners in a nine-player, four-team deal.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who could not be reached for comment, had to defend that move for most of the 2010 season, as the Phillies reached a third straight National League Championship Series.
The move would appear to be a last-minute long shot for the Phillies, whose 2011 payroll already will exceed $150 million. But their pursuit of a righthanded bat to replace Werth's has so far gone nowhere, so a move in another direction might make sense.
Other reports, including one from the Associated Press, have suggested that the Phils would not be willing to make a contract offer as lengthy as the Yankees or Rangers have made.
New York has offered the 32-year-old pitcher, who has been with four clubs since the 2009 trade deadline, a seven-year deal worth a reported $161 million. Texas has a deal on the table that would lock him up for six years, with an option for a seventh.
Lee, who has not commented on any of the speculation, was expected to make a decision soon.
Lee has said he enjoyed his brief stay in Philadelphia. He went 7-4 in 12 second-half starts for the '09 pennant-winners and was 4-0 in the postseason, including a pair of victories over the Yankees in a World Series that New York won in six games.
Should he decide on a return to Philadelphia, it would give the club an intimidating rotation, with Lee joining 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt.
If that happens, Sports Illustrated reported that the Phils would look to move righthander Joe Blanton.