Friends, Cliff Lee has outlived his usefulness to the Philadelphia Phillies.
That is a harsh thing to say, but it is the honest truth. Where once Lee was one of a dominant foursome of aces that helped lead the team to the best record in baseball, he is now a 36-year-old starter with a bad arm and a huge contract, looking squarely at the crossroads of his professional life.
On Tuesday, general manager Ruben Amaro, as well as Lee, provided an update on his condition. It was not good. Many sad words were said, many concerning words (quotes courtesy of CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury).
"We’re not terribly optimistic, but there’s still a possibility he can come back and throw with a minimal amount of discomfort," Amaro said. "But we’ve tried to do this, rehab him non-surgically twice now, and the next order of progression, I guess, would be to have a surgery if it doesn’t pan out. Or at least that would be the suggestion from the doctors. Again, we’re not to that point yet. We’ll have to see how he does with his throwing progression moving forward."
"If I have surgery, the season is over," Lee said. "So we’re going to try to go out there and throw and see if I can get through it. It’s not a good sign, obviously. It’s not good. If it continues to be a problem then I’m going to have to get it fixed."
Lee is due $25 million this season and is owed a $12.5 million buyout of his 2016 season, which the team will certainly do.
"I’ve got to factor all those things in," he said when asked if he would want to endure surgery and rehab at his age. "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. 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."
None of this should come as a surprise. Last year, Lee suffered the same elbow soreness twice, forcing him to miss most of the season, yet decided to try and let rest take care of things rather than have surgery.
Predictably, it didn't work. It's one of the reasons I had Lee ranked dead last on my list of Phillies trade candidates on their 40-man roster back in December. Here's what I wrote about Lee.
Until he comes back and proves he's healthy, no one is taking a chance on him, certainly not at $25 million this year and $12.5 million in 2016. I can see a scenario where a team might trade for Howard. I cannot see one in which a team trades for Lee. Not until he proves he's healthy.
Which brings us to the here and now. Lee is damaged goods. He's going to try and pitch through the discomfort, which is noble of him. He wants to get out there and compete and that's a good thing.
But even if Lee goes 13-0 and has a 2.00 ERA by the All-Star break, there is not a single general manager on this planet with any sanity whatsoever that would offer anything of significance for Lee. And it's hard to imagine a GM anywhere agreeing to pay half his salary and the buyout next year, even if they didn't have to give up any prospects in return.
Lee is pitching with a ticking time bomb in his left elbow. And even if he has a successful first few months of the season, no one other than the Phillies is going to be left handling the package when it explodes.
If the Phils were competing for a wild card spot this season, things would be different. There would still be a faint glimmer of hope that Lee could pitch through the pain and help the team win enough games to play some meaningful September baseball.
But that isn't happening this year. So, whether he ends up shutting it down, getting surgery, retiring, or gritting his teeth and pitching through it, there is really no way Lee will be a positive asset for the Phillies from this point forward.
It's a sad end to a very good career that is coming to a close far too soon.