Cliff Lee Reaches a Career Crossroads


Cliff Lee knows it. All of his options are out on the table, and he must choose between calling it a career or a surgery that might extend that career a bit longer. Even he must know that a pitcher rehabbing a torn tendon in the moneymaker that is their pitching arm is likely an exercise in futility.

Lee was placed on the 60-day disabled list earlier this week with a torn flexor tendon in his left arm. This is Lee’s third trip to the disabled list since last May. The official roster move not only opens up a spot on the 40-man roster, but also, for all intents and purposes (barring a miracle) ends the left-hander’s season, and possibly his career.

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Lee has been advised that his best bet for a return to a big league mound is to have surgery to repair the tendon.  It would not be the same as Tommy John surgery, which repairs the ulnar collateral ligament, but it would certainly guarantee that he would be shelved for the duration of the 2015 season.

Instead, however, Lee has opted for rest and rehab – for a third time.  One must assume that he is deciding between going under the knife or riding off into the sunset, retiring from baseball.

This is a big blow to us.” ~ Amaro

So here we are again, an aging veteran from the team’s not-so-long-ago glorious past, and the general manager acting like someone who was trying to hang on to his high school football glory days. If 2012 was a tap on the shoulder, then 2013 was a slap across the face that the Phillies’ run of dominance was over. Everybody knew it was over. Well, almost everybody.

Cliff Lee was his usual dominant self in the 2013 season, mowing down opposing batters with surgical precision. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could have received a nice package of blue chip prospects had he been aggressive, either approaching the All-Star break or after the season. Instead, Amaro decided to reload, even though the rest of the division motored by in the passing lane.

A workhorse is defined as “one who works tirelessly, especially at difficult tasks.” Cliff Lee was most definitely a workhorse. But even a workhorse has a limited shelf life. The risk of serious injury grows exponentially with each passing year. That was the risk taken when a 32-year old pitcher was given a five-year contract. Those types of contracts never end well.

Amaro said this week, “This is a big blow to us.”  Well, yes, when you still owe a player $37.5 million and are likely to receive no return on that investment, it is a big blow. Amaro must have been living in a fantasy land if the Phils’ GM thought that he could land anything of significance in return at this point.

Lee would have to have proven himself to be 100% healthy and producing on the mound like the Lee of old if the Phillies were to receive any real value in a potential mid-season trade. At this point, the Phillies wouldn’t even get a tub of ‘Bazooka Joe’ bubble gum for those damaged goods.

Meanwhile, Lee’s absence leaves the immediate practical problem of creating a huge hole in the club’s starting rotation for 2015. With the Phillies going nowhere fast, now is truly the time to find out what the youngsters are made of as the team prepares for the future.

Hopefully, we will see Cliff Lee on a major league mound again one day. Baseball will be better for it.  What’s more fun than watching him dispatch an opposing team in an hour and a half, then sprint off the field with a sly grin. In the meantime, we Phillies fans will always have memories of 2009!