Does Cliff Lee make the Phillies the NL's best team?
According to multiple sources, the Philadelphia Phillies have injected themselves into the bidding for Cliff Lee and currently have a slight edge over the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees -- the only two other teams still in the mix for the star lefty.
The Yankees especially are "extremely negative" about their chances to land Lee, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman. The Yankees reportedly believe that the Phillies entering the picture late has effectively ended any opportunity they had to land Lee.
The details are of course very shaky right now, but the reasoning for Lee returning to Philly would be very interesting on his end. For the Phillies it's fairly obvious why they'd want him back, but he would almost certainly be turning down more years and money from the Yankees and Rangers.
According to an unnamed Phillies source, the team would not be willing to match the seven-year deal the Yankees offered Lee. However, they might be willing to offer the same $18 million per season the Yankees did.
Over the next three years, Roy Halladay -- who is undeniably a notch or two better than Lee -- is scheduled to make $20 million per season. So paying Lee $17-18 million per season would not be unreasonable.
The key is that the Phils have liked to keep years down. That way, should a player not pan out, they're not left paying his guaranteed contract for another three or four years down the road.
There are always the misses, however, and that brings us to Joe Blanton.
Apparently the Phils have gotten positive feedback regarding Blanton from teams around the league and now feel better about the prospect of trading him. The only caveat is the Phils would likely be asked to eat about half of the remaining $17 million he's owed.
Being able to part ways with his contract, even only half of it, might be enough to convince Ruben Amaro, Jr. that the expense related with Lee would be worth it to have him, Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels all in the same rotation.
Then, with Blanton gone, they have cheap but effective options for the fifth starter in either Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley, and can toss the guy who doesn't make the rotation to the bullpen or, in Worley's case, perhaps to Triple-A ball.
Blanton could be a piece the Phils put together in order to acquire a right-handed outfielder they can stick in the middle of the lineup.
With Lee in the rotation and a mid-level replacement for Jayson Werth out in right field, the Phillies would once again have to be considered the top contenders in the NL. Without Lee they are still in the upper-echelon, but with him the Phils became nearly unhittable in at least four of every five games.
UPDATE: Several sources are now reporting that the deal is done. Numbers are not yet available, but several guys "in the know" have confirmed it. Rejoice, Philly.
UPDATE(2): ESPN's Jerry Crasnick is reporting deal is for five years and will be worth over $100 million with an option for a sixth year.