Cliff Lee deal with Phillies proves we know less than we think we do

Cliff Lee will be back in a Phillies uniform next season, proving the experts wrong yet again. But does his acquistion guarantee a Philadelphia dynasty? History says it's not necessarily so.
Cliff Lee will be back in a Phillies uniform next season, proving the experts wrong yet again. But does his acquistion guarantee a Philadelphia dynasty? History says it's not necessarily so. (David J. Phillip/associated Press)
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By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 11:52 PM

Not so fast. When everybody knows the future, be careful.

Last month, everybody in the Ballpark in Texas as the World Series ended was almost certain they knew what uniforms Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth were going to be wearing after they signed the biggest free agent contracts of the offseason: Yankees, Angels and Red Sox, respectively. And Lee to New York was a lock.

Instead, it's turned out to be the Phillies, Red Sox and Nationals that get to hold the holiday news conferences and toast themselves.

Everybody, as is so often the case in baseball, was dead wrong, just as they (we) were wrong about a Ranger-Giants Series. No one saw it coming. These days, that seems to be the new norm.

In the early hours after Lee's out-of-the-blue signing with the Phillies, everybody in baseball is now full of certainty once again. They (we) know who will be in the '11 World Series and probably win it, too. The Phils with their Four Aces - Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels - have just been anointed.

In the blissful aftermath of seeing Lee turn down an extra $30 million not to become a Yankee, there's widespread holiday cheer. Never before has a $120 million deal - that's $24 million a year for a 32-year-old pitcher who's gone 14-13 and 12-9 the last two years - been hailed as healthy for baseball. Apparently, anything that blocks the Yanks from buying a world title is good for ball.

Besides, the prospect of a World Series between the Phillies and the winter's other big winner, the Red Sox, has the appeal of novelty. Have these ancient franchises ever met in the World Series? Not since 1915. Just a handful of years ago, the Red Sox hadn't won a Series in 86 years and the Phillies had won only one championship in more than a century.

"I almost feel sorry for the Yankees," a general manager said a few days ago. "They have to pay Lee anything he wants because the starting rotation they have now is just awful."

That was the voice of "everyone" - and a very knowledgeable insider. Perhaps Lee saw the same staff disease in the Bronx. CC Sabathia and his 290 pounds have a bad knee. A.J. Burnett flopped to 10-15. Phillip Hughes faded under innings weight. Do you really want to lock yourself into that maelstrom for seven years?

Now, in a matter of hours, the Phils have been transformed. Yesterday, they were a team with an aging everybody-over-30 lineup that had a suspect bullpen and had just lost a key cog in Werth. How were they going to match up against that young Giants pitching rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, with Barry Zito viable, too?

Now (all together), everybody sees a Phils dynasty that will dominate the National League for years and become - in a phrase that has gained instant currency - The New Yankees.

Once again, not so fast.


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