Cliff Lee is still around, everybody.
General manager Ruben Amaro said on Wednesday that he's optimistic about Lee's recovery from elbow problems and that he expects him to be in the starting rotation next year. And not only that, he's apparently going to use that balky left arm of his to start throwing things in a couple months.
According to Amaro, Lee was examined by Dr. Michael Ciccotti on Monday and had some follow-up appointments with Dr. James Andrews and Dr. David Altchek, with the apparent conclusion that Lee's 36-year-old elbow is starting to get better.
"He's improved. The plan of care is not going to change," Amaro said. "The plan was to have him start throwing in November. He's not 100 percent ready to throw yet, which we didn't plan on having him be at this point anyway." (quote per MLB.com's Erik Bacharach)
The Phillies hope that Lee will be able to return to a rotation that could be awfully thin in 2015. Provided they don't trade Cole Hamels, the only other pitchers who would be under contract next season are David Buchanan and A.J. Burnett, if A.J. chooses to exercise his player option for next year.
Lee received what scienceticians call a "platelet-rich plasma injection," which I'm assuming is designed to stop his elbow from acting all "old" and everything. The injection takes four to six to take effect.
"Cliff is going to come back for another exam at the very end of the year," Amaro said. "We'll see him one more time at our last homestand, and then he'll continue doing whatever his rehab is up until then. Come back, be examined again, and then we'll go from there."
Even if Lee returns in 2015, it's fair to wonder what kind of pitcher will return. Will he be the 7-rWAR player he was in 2013? Will he be like the sad second incarnation of Roy Halladay, which depressed the heck out of all of us for a good solid year? Or perhaps more likely, something in between?
Lee made just 13 starts this year, going 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA. The Phils will pay him $37.5 million next season, with a base salary of $25 million and the buyout for his 2016 vesting option of $12.5 million. Lee will have to pitch 200 innings next year to trigger the 2016 option at $27.5 million.
For that kind of cash, it'd be super cool if Lee could give the Phils a few starts next season. Good luck with all that plasma, Cliff!