Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Cliff Lee: too much of a good thing

The dangers of bringing in Cliff Lee.

Cliff Lee: too much of a good thing

Several teams are on a mission to land free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Several teams are on a mission to land free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I know this is probably a little bit counter-intuitive, but that's the mood I'm in today. And when the subject turns to Cliff Lee, and whether or not the Phillies should be involved in trying to reacquire the free-agent pitcher, what that means is that I really believe it would be a mistake -- because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Yes, it would be a rotation for the ages if you brought in Lee to join with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. None of us has ever seen anything like it, and it would give the Phillies the undisputed best pitching rotation in the game. That is obviously a huge positive -- and if the money is there, well, why not?

But here is the question I ask: which one is the fourth starter in the post-season?

Maybe an injury takes care of the question. Maybe it becomes a non-issue that way. But these are elite people in their profession, and these are hyper-competitive people. And on the day that Lee was re-signed by the Phillies, all four of them would share a simultaneous thought: which one of us gets shoved aside, at least partly, at the most important point in the season?

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Creative tension can be a good thing, and competition within a pitching staff can be healthy, but this would be unprecedented. There is a chance that the fourth starter would not get to pitch at all in the first round of the playoffs, and only one time in both the League Championship Series and the World Series. The difference is that never in the history of the game would a fourth starter carry the pedigree that is carried by either Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt or Lee.

From the distance where you sit, many of you are probably saying, "So what?" But these are human beings, and proud professionals, and at least part of the attraction that the Phillies hold for players today is that with this clubhouse, and this manager, you are going to be treated like a grown-up professional. Given that, how do you spend the summer with the unstated reality that these elite guys are auditioning for their position in the post-season rotation?

What if Halladay were the one who looked the most gassed as October approached? There is no way on earth that Charlie Manuel would be able to call him into the office and tell him that he's the fourth starter. The same with Lee, who will have signed the longest, biggest-money deal if he were to return. All of which would leave Oswalt and Hamels locked into a competition for which neither of them ever would have signed up if given the chance -- oh, and Hamels, when all is said and done, is the guy who is going to be here longer than any of them.

It just seems like the money could be spent in other ways -- ways that better balanced the roster. I'd spend it on Jayson Werth if I were Ruben Amaro Jr.. If they're not willing to go that way, I wouldn't spend it. I'd bank the cash and use it for in-season moves, specifically in-season bullpen moves. The bullpen remains the great unknowable in baseball, and a nimble GM with a checkbook in June and July always has the best chance of being the smartest guy in the room.

 

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
About this blog
Rich Hofmann arrived at the Daily News in 1980 for a job whose status was officially designated as "full-time, temporary." A senior at Penn at the time, he was hired to fill in on the copy desk during a staff illness. The notion of him covering the Eagles or being a columnist did not exist in anyone's imagination. It was supposed to be six weeks and out, but he never left. It is only one of the reasons why so many people have concerns about him as a potential house guest. Rich has blogged the postseasons of the Flyers and Eagles. E-mail Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com Reach Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com.

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
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