It's not officially over for Cliff Lee. All he needs is a miracle, and he could be back throwing on a mound near you before the end of the summer. Even he concedes that is unlikely.
"It's fairly likely it will remain the same," the Phillies lefthander said Monday at Bright House Field after the team placed him on the 60-day disabled list and announced that he will attempt a third rehab of his aching left elbow.
Surgery has been recommended, but that would end Lee's season and tenure with the Phillies. For some reason, the team and the pitcher have opted for the charade that there is a shred of hope that this rehab will be the one that works. Maybe that's just what you do when there is $37.5 million sitting on the table. You hope until all hope is gone.
It seems silly, though, and so did these words from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.: "This is a big blow to us."
It really is not, unless Amaro thought he was going to get a good return on a Lee trade, which was not going to happen unless the lefthander pitched well and remained healthy right up until the all-star break. The Phillies also needed a miracle and perfect health to shock the world and contend for a playoff berth this season, and this news on Lee is a pretty good indication that is not going to happen.
After trying to hang on to the past for too long, Phillies president Pat Gillick conceded in the offseason that it was time to move on. Amaro started the process by trading veterans Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, but discovered it's impossible to move all your high-priced, aging veterans in one offseason. When you're trying to put together a fresh nucleus, there are only three ways to get rid of the old one: trade, release, or injury.
The last two are obviously not good ones, and neither is a trade, unless it brings something valuable in return. But with Lee gone, the Phillies can at least look at some of the younger arms they have in camp and possibly insert at least one of them into the rotation at the start of this season.
It is addition by subtraction, and when the Phillies' future gets brighter, it is not going to include Lee.
Wouldn't you rather see funky 23-year-old lefty Joely Rodriguez than Lee anyway? Wouldn't you rather see Cuban righthander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez thrown into the deep end of the pool than watch Aaron Harang attempt to keep the Phillies in a game for six innings?
If this is a youth movement, then send in the youth.
Let's see Darin Ruf in left field. Maybe he cannot play every day in the big leagues, but it is time to find out. Wouldn't you rather watch Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera than Grady Sizemore? Freddy Galvis is getting a chance at shortstop, and, before the season is over, we will likely see Maikel Franco at first base.
As for Lee, if this is the end, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, then his legacy in Philadelphia is a conflicting one. Not many players can say they were involved in both the best trade and the worst trade ever made by the same general manager.
Amaro was at the height of his popularity in his first season as GM in late 2009 when he acquired Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from Cleveland for Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Carlos Carrasco. Lee was the arm the Phillies needed to make a second straight deep postseason run, and Amaro gave up little in return.
Carrasco is the only one who has gone on to become a quality big-leaguer, but that development did not bear fruit until last season. What Lee did in the 2009 postseason was enough to make the trade worthwhile.
The worst trade of Amaro's tenure followed less than six months later, when the GM sent Lee to Seattle for Tyson Gillies, J.C. Ramirez, and Phillippe Aumont on the same day the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from Toronto. Much has been written and said about this, and none of it has been good for Amaro.
So many images of Lee will remain:
The Game 1 dominance of the Yankees in the 2009 World Series.
His celebrated return as a free agent in December 2010.
The blown 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the 2011 National League division series.
There was a lot more good than bad. It was great fun to watch Lee pitch, especially when he was in a groove and pumping fastball after fastball for strikes. It was fun to watch him hit and run the bases, too.
His most iconic moments might have been his two fielding plays - the nonchalant catch of a pop-up and the behind-the-back grab of a grounder - in that Game 1 win over the Yankees.
They are all everlasting memories, but Cliff Lee's injury is another blunt reminder that it is time to move on, and not just at his position.