Phillies Sign Cliff Lee

The wait is over. In a surprising development that leaves two top American League teams empty-handed, Cliff Lee has signed a five-year, $120MM deal with the Phillies, the team announced today. The contract includes a $27.5MM vesting option for 2016 with a $12.5MM buyout, plus partial no-trade clause

MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan first reported the deal, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reported on the terms and vesting option (on Twitter). Agent Darek Braunecker represents the left-hander.

After months of rumors that suggested he'd sign with the highest bidder, Lee turned down tens of millions in guaranteed money to sign in Philadelphia. Crasnick hears the Yankees offered a deal that guaranteed Lee $132MM over six years, plus a $16MM player option for a seventh year (Twitter link).  At $148MM guaranteed, that was the highest bid.  The Rangers offered $138MM over six years, and their proposal included a vesting option that could have brought the value of the deal to $161MM, according to Yahoo's Tim Brown (Twitter links).  That offer included huge deferrals, tweets SI's Jon Heyman.

Almost exactly a year after they traded Lee for Roy Halladay, the lefty is back in Philadelphia. Like Halladay, who signed an extension that delayed his free agency, Lee opted to play for the Phillies instead of looking for the biggest contract possible. The Phils could have a historically good rotation if Lee, Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels stay healthy.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. proves once again that he has a knack for acquiring ace pitchers. He has traded for Lee, Halladay and Oswalt and signed Lee since becoming the team's GM after its 2008 World Series title.

Another Philadelphia pitcher, Joe Blanton, is on the trading block, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). Amaro could deal Blanton, who earns $17MM through 2012, and/or left fielder Raul Ibanez, who will earn $11.5MM in 2011 before his contract expires.

The Rangers get the Phillies' 33rd overall pick, plus a supplementary first round selection in next year's draft, but they lose out on their primary offseason target. Though the Rangers have been linked to Zack Greinke and other possible trade targets, this is undeniably a blow for the team, which is in the midst of its first offseason under new ownership.

But it's the Yankees who might be the biggest losers of all. They miss out on a pitcher they coveted just days after the division rival Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Now that Crawford and Jayson Werth have signed, the Yankees will try to convince Andy Pettitte to return and determine whether to make a run at Greinke.

Their projected rotation still includes Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre, so it's fair to expect GM Brian Cashman to acquire an arm. The next best free agent starter available is Carl Pavano, but it would be a shock to see the Yankees express interest in him.

It appeared for most of the offseason that the Yankees or Rangers would sign Lee, but rumblings of a mystery team persisted until it became apparent that the Phillies were also bidding on the left-hander. The Red Sox, Nationals and Angels were among the other teams to show some interest in Lee.

Phillies fans are surely thrilled to have Lee back in Philadelphia, but the MLB Players Association won't necessarily like his decision to leave so much money on the table instead of setting a precedent for other pitchers. However, this offseason has seen two free agents (Werth and Crawford) sign nine-figure contracts, so players are doing well in general.

Lee becomes the sixth pitcher in baseball history to sign for more than $100MM. He signed for more than Kevin Brown, the first pitcher to sign a $100MM deal, but less than C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana, Barry Zito or Mike Hampton. Bargain or not, Lee's new contract is the 23rd most lucrative in baseball history.



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