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Jayson Stark thinks the Phillies might be the “mystery team” interested in Cliff Lee

Dec 13, 2010, 4:28 PM EDT

Rangers' Lee throws against the Giants during Game 1 of Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco

We’ve had great fun today with Jon Heyman’s mystery team, but the nagging thought remains: what if there actually is a mystery team?

To be clear: even if a new team interested in Cliff Lee’s services emerges beyond the Yankees and the Rangers, Heyman is not vindicated.  His peddling of “mystery team” reports appears to be nothing more than the non-critical passing along of what an agent tells him.  There is no attempt to analyze this new information. To use his vast experience in the hot stove game to contextualize it for readers. He’s a mouthpiece as he currently presents this kind of information, not an information source of any value.

Not so other reporters, such as Jayson Stark. He writes today that he put some thought to who might actually be a suitor for Cliff Lee other than the Yankees and the Rangers. His answer — which he notes is merely his own educated speculation, not a scoop of any kind — is the Phillies.

On the one hand, you can’t discount Stark when he’s talking about the Phillies because he knows them more than just about any major reporter knows a team. When I mentioned to him on Twitter that the Phillies interest in Lee wouldn’t make sense in light of the fact that they traded him away a year ago, his response was “that was then; this is now.” If things truly have changed in the Phillies’ front office, Stark would know before most of us would.

But I still have a really hard time seeing the Phillies as serious players for Lee. The reason they traded Lee a year ago is because they didn’t want to pay him anything approaching a market rate for the contract extension Lee and the Phillies briefly negotiated. Why then, a year later, would they go into nine-figure land with him? Especially when they already have the strongest rotation in the National League by a hefty margin? In between the “that was then” and the “this is now” would have to be a sea change in the Phillies’ organizational strategy, the likes of which are not apparent by any other move that they’ve made.

As such, if the Phillies are in on Cliff Lee, my guess is that it’s not as a serious player. Perhaps they inquired. Perhaps they submitted a low offer for some reason.  Either of those things would give Lee’s agent enough cover to where his whispers of a “mystery team” would have a sheen of honesty to them.  But only a sheen. Because it would be a supreme long shot to expect Lee to sign to a big below-market offer in Philly given what we’ve seen from his negotiating tactics.

Thus, if Lee’s agent is actually peddling Philly as a “mystery team” to credulous reporters, he’s being a bit too cute in my view.  And if credulous reporters run with it without taking the time to at least do what Stark does and try to think through it a bit, they are too.

  1. yankeesfanlen - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Does J-K123 allow Jonny and Hair to comment HERE?

    • Jonny 5 - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:46 PM

      Woo hoo!! I can post.

      Imagine this

      Cliff Lee: ” I loved Philly so much, I want to go there for a 3 year 60 million dollar contract, Screw the Yankees, screw the Rangers, screw all the extra money.”

      Can’t can you? Because that’s what it would take. Give or take a million or so, maybe a 4th year, but it isn’t sweet enough I don’t think. I’d say it’s more of a “I’m sorry for what we did gesture” You know, help the guy out some, let him know he is wanted, and you never really wanted to let him go in the first place. Sure, it could be them. But I doubt they really think it could happen.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:48 PM

        Are you sure about that? Craig DOES mention the Yankees up ther…oh, I am so conflicted…. Woe is me….

  2. seeingwhatsticks - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    Didn’t the Giants pretty well prove they have the best rotation in baseball, whether you’re talking 1-3, 1-4, or 1-5?

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:39 PM

      On paper? No. In real life? Definitely. More important? Good question. I’ll answer with another question: Which pitching staff would you rather have for the full 2011 season, Phillies or Giants?

      • seeingwhatsticks - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:41 PM

        I’d take the Giants for 2011, and keep them for 2012, 2013, 2014…

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:44 PM

        I’d still have to take the Phillies’ rotation, which I think would give my team the best chance to win, but marginally. The Giants rotation is pretty damn awesome (on paper) too.

  3. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    No. Way.

  4. lordd99 - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Why does Heyman need to be vindicated? Has he been proven wrong? I guess basically you’re asking him to reveal his confidential sources.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:54 PM

      No, I would never ask a reporter to do that. I do think, however, that he owes it to readers to be something more than a conduit for an agent’s negotiating points.

      Think about it: the only way the “mystery team” thing exists is because an agent (a) told him there was one; and (b) wouldn’t tell him who it was. If Heyman doesn’t ask, he’s not doing the basic job as a reporter. If the agent doesn’t tell, Heyman has a decision to make: deal with the information critically given the extreme lack of detail provided, or merely parrot it. He chooses the latter, invariably. In doing so he is either an unwitting or an active accomplice of PR. That is not a reporter’s job.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:58 PM

        Hey, Craig, have Buster Olney and Peter Gammons been banned from Heyman’s Tweetville yet?

      • Adam - Dec 13, 2010 at 6:13 PM

        He could at least state “and the agent says there’s a mystery team” rather than just state that there is one. That would temper it a little.

      • lordd99 - Dec 14, 2010 at 12:58 AM

        I agree with everything you said. I just thought your original comment went a bit too far dismissing Heyman, even if a third team did show up. I just think Heyman deserves the benefit of the doubt here, or at least some, especially with tonight’s news that Lee signed with the Phillies for less money and years than either the Yankees or the Rangers offered. There was a legitimate third team. We don’t know if the only place he received this information was from the Lee’s agent. He may have had some other verification to at least strongly believe there was a legit third-team option. Considering that Heyman was the only person pounding the “mystery team” drum, I did find it interesting that Heyman didn’t break the story. If Heyman was in the agents back pocket, he certainly didn’t repay him all too well!

        Anway, it did turn out interesting with Lee not accepting the most money, or wanting to pitch at home.

        Keep up the good work. Love the column, going back to your blog days.

  5. Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    So…what would that make the price of the bag of balls Rube got from Seattle for Cliffy in the first place?

    • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 13, 2010 at 5:01 PM

      By the Rube from Seattle, you couldn’t possibly mean Jack Z? After last off season, the bloggers all said he was genuis. And believe everything blogger write.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 5:05 PM

        Rube was a reference to Ruben Amaro.

  6. Old Gator - Dec 13, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    Hey! What happened to Heyman? You let him get up and walk away before I had a chance to kick him too?

    • Utley's Hair - Dec 13, 2010 at 5:46 PM

      Hey, Gator, are you waking up after the early bird specials now?

  7. rick1922 - Dec 13, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    Stark is on crack Holiday only got three years at 20 million with an opt for 20 million on a fourth year the PHILLIES would never give a pitcher 6 or 7 years that is why they traded Lee in the first place.They would never give that stiff more then Holiday.THERE IS NO THIRD TEAM not the Phillies anyway. LEE is asking for way to much money any body that gives him a contract like that will be SORRY.

  8. anythingbutyanks - Dec 13, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    Cubs? Their 1-2 right now is Zambrano-Dempster. Throw in the fact that they excel at throwing way too much money and length-of-contract at players (see: Soriano, Alfonso) in hopes that 2-3 years worth of past excellence (or above-mediocrity) is an indicator of sustained performance no matter what evidence exists to the contrary. Now that is with an ownership group of the past, but…I think it is possible. Would Lee go to Chicago? I would be shocked if he did, but that doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t possibly the “mystery” team.

  9. macjacmccoy - Dec 14, 2010 at 6:09 AM

    Thats not true that the Phillies didnt want to pay him the money he wanted .When Cliff Lee was traded away Amaro was worried that he would leave in free agency. So he decided to take the sure thing in Halladay. It wasnt that he didnt want to pay Lee the money he just didnt want to take the risk of him leaving and the Phillies be stuck with out an ace at the top of the rotation. So now that that’s not an issue and hes already a free agent the Phillies can throw there hat in the ring.

    Your also not taking into consideration the impact of the Phillies fans in the Philadelphia area. When Lee was traded the Phillies had an max on the amount of money they could spend and still make money and they were at that threshold. They knew they could only pay 1 guy that type of money n bc Lee wasnt guranteed to come back they decide to trade for Halladay. But then the season started and Phillies merchandise sales went through the roof . Then they started to sell out games and once it got on a roll it didnt stop to the tune of 100+ straight sell outs. With public interest rising so did corporate interest. Which also increased the money they made from advertising.

    Subsequently because this drastic rise in revenue occured so did the alloted amount of money they could spend on players. They had no way to predict that all this would happen at the time when they traded Cliff Lee. But they do now which makes it possible for them to give him the money he deserves.

    But maybe your right they quite possibly could have changed the way they decided to do bussiness. They have always been accused of being cheap and never had to much success. Maybe they finally realised after the way the fans have responded to the team the last few years if they spend the money and make there team better it will also result in making there bottom line better.

    I think for once everyone should give Phillys fans credit where credits do. If it wasnt for them supporting there like they have they would have never been able to pull off a signing like this.

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