6:02pm: ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke extensively with Lee, Amaro and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan about the injury. Lee said he will play comfortably with the injury for as long as he can, but it no longer makes sense to play past the point of severe discomfort “where something bad can potentially happen.” Lee threw lightly today and said he felt “normal,” but he was also able to do that the day after initially reporting the discomfort.
Lee admitted that he’s debated retirement in the wake of this news. “I’ve got a family at home and I’ve been away from them for a long time, so that is part of the equation,” said Lee. “If I were to have the surgery, am I going to go through all that to try to pitch again, or am I going to shut it down? That’s a decision that I’ll have to make once that time comes, if that times comes.” Unsurprisingly, Stark did add, on Twitter, that he can’t envision Lee foregoing the remaining $37.5MM that he is owed.
12:25pm: After a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Cliff Lee will attempt to pitch through a torn flexor tendon for the Phillies, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News (links to Twitter). A surgical option (not Tommy John) would be the next step if Lee experiences discomfort.
Amaro says that the team is “not terribly optimistic” that such a surgical result can be avoided. If he goes under the knife, Lee would be expected to miss six to eight months. Obviously that would mean a lost season, which would presumably also bring an end to his contract with the Phillies. Lee is under control for 2016 through a vesting/club option, but it would not be triggered if he misses the year and the club would be unlikely to pick it up at $27.5MM (against a $12.5MM buyout).
At this point, it is difficult to foresee a way for the Phillies to recover any value for the veteran lefty. A deal this spring is all but unimaginable, of course. And looking ahead to the trade deadline or beyond, the risk may be too great to support a market. Even if Lee can somehow perform at his historical standards and a 200-inning pace — the best case scenario — the vesting clause (it hits at 200 innings pitched) would loom as a potentially massive obligation. Regardless of trades scenarios, it is unfortunate to see as great a player as Lee struggle to stay on the field at this stage of his career.