Cliff Lee made a lot of people sad this year.
If the Phillies were going to have any prayer of competing for a playoff spot in 2014, it was with the understanding that the starting rotation would have to be a strength. Cole Hamels certainly did his part, but the man who was supposed to be Cole's co-ace, Cliff Lee, could not.
His body, now aged 36 years, failed him.
After starting the season 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 68 innings, Lee complained of soreness in his left elbow. He said he initially felt the soreness after throwing a career-high 128 pitches in a complete game, 11-hit shutout of the Braves on April 16.
Lee was diagnosed with a left flexor pronator strain, and spent two months on the disabled list. He finally returned just before the trade deadline on July 21 and made three more starts as part of the team's obvious attempt to try and convince other clubs that he was healthy enough to acquire.
But after his third start back on July 31, disaster struck again.
And Cliff Lee takes himself out of the game after he gestures toward his elbow. Which is why teams were scared off: concerns re: elbow.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 31, 2014
Cliff Lee: "My last 5-6 pitches, I felt at any moment something could snap. And thats the end of it. I obviously didn’t want that to happen"— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) August 1, 2014
Lee looked as if he might cry in the dugout. Incredible emotion from a man who never shows it.— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) August 1, 2014
Lee has managed to avoid surgery so far, and Ruben Amaro says Cliff will be around next year, in the starting rotation, throwing baseballs at people. But how effective will he be?
Will he return as the old Cliff Lee? Or will he simply BE an OLD Cliff Lee?
It's easy to forget that before his injury, Lee still had a healthy of dose of awesome in that left arm of his this season. His start against the Dodgers in Los Angeles back in April was one of the best of his career (I wrote about it here).
Lee finished the season 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA, a 2.96 FIP and an bWAR of 0.8, one year after posting a bWAR of 7.3. That's a loss of seven wins last year.
And the Phils are still on the hook for $37.5 million for Lee next season ($25 million salary for 2015 and a $12.5 million buyout of his contract, which the Phillies are almost certain to do), so they sure hope to either squeeze a little more blood out of that rock, or see enough out of him to trade him at the deadline to a contender next year.
But confidence in Lee's ability to return and pitch effectively should probably not be high at this point.
With that being said, let's get to the interview. Cliff, as you know, loves doing interviews.
If I had traded you midseason, would the team have done better or worse?
Come on, Cliff. Can you play along a little bit here?
Get away from my locker.
OK, OK, let's try a different question. All my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, release you, or keep you?
Either way. It's cool.
You don't have an opinion on this one way or the other?
Look, I signed to pitch in Philadelphia, so this is where I want to pitch. I have a limited no-trade clause. So, if you find someone willing to hang their hat on a 36-year-old pitcher with a million innings on a failing left elbow, then by all means, go ahead.
As long as it's not to the Yankees.
Do you think you will be part of the next great Phillies team?
We're going to be great next year.
Why do you say that?
Because I'm awesome. I'd put money on us being better next season.
I'll bet you would. OK, next question. Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the best time of your life.
I got to play in a World Series with you all, and got to experience the playoffs again in 2011. The last few years have kinda sucked, though. Winning is better. Let's do more of that.
You know, the fact you got hurt last year really destroyed our chances of actually doing that. Losing your contributions probably cost us about 5-7 wins.
*Lee glares at the interviewer... signaling we're moving onto our last question*
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, how do you rate on the "it's my fault we're in this freaking mess and finished in last place" scale?
Honestly? A 9. You were counting on me for an fWAR season in the 3-5 range. Instead, you got lots of David Buchanan. Don't get me wrong, David had a nice season and did well, but he's not a #2 starter. You missed my ability to stop losing streaks and form a dynamic duo with Cole.
So yeah, I helped us suck big-time. Thanks for asking.
I certainly hope not, Cliff.