SOMETIME around 1 o'clock this afternoon at Nationals Park in Washington, Jayson Werth will face a battery of cameras and microphones and talk about the 7-year, $126 million contract he signed to leave the Phillies as a free agent.
It's possible that, somewhere in the same time frame, Cliff Lee will go through the same drill at Citizens Bank Park, discussing his decision to return to the Phillies, reportedly for less money than he could have gotten from the Yankees or Rangers.
If those breaking news stories align, it will be great theater. From all indications, Werth took as much as $60 million more from a last-place team than he was offered by a contender. Lee took the opposite approach. We can compare that while waiting for Lee to pass his physical and the deal to be formally announced. In the meantime, here's a deeper look at one of the most stunning days in Phillies history.
Question: How much did Cliff Lee leave really leave on the table by coming back to the Phillies?
Answer: The Associated Press reports that Lee has a $120 million, 5-year contract. His year-by-year numbers, according to the AP, are $11 million next season, $21.5 million in 2012 and $25 million in each of the following three seasons. He has an option for 2016 for $27.5 million, with a $12.5 million buyout. For the option to be guaranteed, the AP said, he must pitch 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings combined in 2014 and 2015, and cannot finish the '15 season on the disabled list with a left shoulder or elbow injury.
The offers from other teams are guesstimates. One report had the Yankees guaranteeing $138 million for 6 years. That's an average annual value of $23 million, compared with $24 million from the Phillies.
And even if the Yankees actually offered more, by the time you figure that taxes will eat up a lot of the difference, it's probably not worth playing somewhere where you won't be as happy as you'd be somewhere else. Besides, believe this: Lee wasn't going to New York. Stories about his wife not wanting to live there were dead on.
So the story really isn't so much about the pitcher making a huge sacrifice. It's that the Phillies took a deep breath and met him way more than halfway. They could be on the hook for 6 years if he vests his 2016 option. That's a huge leap into the unknown for a team that had to think long and hard about guaranteeing 4 years for Roy Halladay, including the final year of his Blue Jays contract.
Q.How can they pay Cliff Lee more than Roy Halladay?
A: That's the way the business works. Halladay reupped a year away from free agency. Lee tested the market and was rewarded for it. And, in case you were wondering, it would be a real surprise if Halladay made an issue of this. He's already proved that a chance to win means more to him than the last dollar.
Q.Who's the Opening Day starter?
A: That's easy. Halladay. No question about it. As good as Cliff Lee is, Halladay is better. Cy Young. Perfect game. No-hitter in the postseason. Case closed.
The guess here is that the order after that will be Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. But it almost doesn't matter, does it?
Q. It's said that things that seem too good to be true often are. Is a reality check needed here?
A: Probably. Not to be a gloom-sayer, but all this talk about not losing a series all year and winning 110 games is probably a little over the top. And the hard reality is that long contracts to pitchers rarely work out for the team.
Still, this move is terrific. Bold and breathtaking. If everything breaks right, this could be a historic season. And even if not, the Phillies have built in an impressive margin for error from the natural vicissitudes of the game: minor injuries, bad breaks, prolonged offensive slumps. But it's silly to start planning the parade route just yet. That's why they play 162 games and three rounds of playoffs.
Remember, manager Charlie Manuel worried aloud about complacency several times last season. This kind of move doesn't exactly allow the Phillies to play the old nobody-believed-in-us card.
Q. Any other downside?
A: Well, Ruben Amaro Jr. talked at the winter meetings about getting younger and developing players who eventually mght step in as the current nucleus gets older. This makes that a little more difficult, because it locks in another huge contract for an older player for a lot of years. And it costs them their first-round draft choice next June.
That doesn't mean they shouldn't have done it. It just means that nothing comes without some sort of catch.
Q.Will they trade somebody else to help reduce the payroll?
A: They'll try. Early speculation had Joe Blanton ($17 million over the next 2 years) going to the Red Sox. But Boston already has Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Blanton would be pretty expensive depth. And, at a certain point, if you have to eat a lot of the salary and aren't saving that much, does it really make sense to trade him at all? Same with Raul Ibanez ($11.5 million next year).
Q. Is this a tacit acknowledgement from the Phillies that they made a mistake by trading Lee in the first place?
A: It's not that simple. They couldn't have offered him a year ago what he signed for now. He was still a year away from free agency. And, from all indications, he wasn't willing to sign for what Halladay got, a 3-year extension worth $60 million. So this probably had to play out. Halladay apparently didn't feel the need to test his market value. Lee apparently did. Again, give the Phillies credit for keeping their eye on the prize.
And, no, an argument can't be made that they would have won the World Series if they'd had Lee all year. They weren't upset by the Giants in the National League Championship Series because they didn't pitch well enough.
They lost because they didn't hit. Period.
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