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Cliff Lee Heading to the Phillies?

Over the past week or two, there have been consistent rumors that Cliff Lee was split on re-signing with the Texas Rangers or joining forces with the New York Yankees. But, in the past few days, there have been increased mutterings of a “third mystery team” involved in the on-going Lee sweepstakes. Teams like the Pirates, Nationals, and Tigers have floated in and out, but today, the Philadelphia Phillies have essentially been exposed as the so-called “mystery team.”

Before New York Mets fans reach for the rope, there are a few hurdles the Phillies would have to jump over before netting the expensive Lee. Considering the Phillies 2011 salary currently stands at almost $150 million, there is little room for Lee’s imminent, mammoth contract. In fact, there is arguably no room for it. When the World Series ended, the Phillies seemingly concluded that re-signing right-fielder Jayson Werth was about as impossible as the Washington Nationals eventually signing him, and that their Jose Contreras contract was about as luxurious as it would get this off-season. However, it’s very possible they’ve played us the fool, and had their sights on Cliff Lee the whole time.

First thing is first, however–the Phillies must find a way to cut some major salary in a relatively short period of time. As much as General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would love to find a taker for Raul Ibanez (who is due $11.5 million in 2011) and/or Brad Lidge (who is due $11.5 million in 2011, and owns a $1.5 buyout in 2012), only a downright stupid franchise would do the Phillies such a favor. Who else could the Phillies move instead? The only other viable candidate to be moved is starting pitcher Joe Blanton.

Blanton will make $17 million over the next two seasons, but could still have value on the open market despite his slightly over-paid salary. The portly right-hander, who will turn 30 come opening day, offers teams a “rubber arm” (he’s averaged 199 IP since 2005) with good control. Even though his 2010 appeared to be dismal–posting a 4.82 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and just 9 wins–he still maintained his glowing control (2.2 BB/IP). There would be between 5-10 teams lined up to take his services from the Phillies, but those teams would have all the leverage in any negotiations since the deal would have a direct impact on whether Lee will don Philadelphia red, white, and blue in 2012.

As an absolutely scared Mets fan, I hope and pray that no team will be intrigued by the helpful services of Joe Blanton, and furthermore, that Cliff Lee does the right thing, and sign a long-term contract with some unheard of Korean team.

Topics: Ben Berkon, Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee, Control, Eastern Division, Jayson Werth, Joe Blanton, Korea, Korean Team, Mets, Mystery Team, Mystery Team Cliff Lee, New York, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies, Raul Ibanez, Rising Apple, Rubber Arm, Ruben Amaro Jr., Washington Nationals

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