Monday, December 29, 2014

Lee: 'I never wanted to leave'

In his opening remarks, Cliff Lee acknowledged what everyone had seemingly known since he left almost a year ago to the day.

Lee: 'I never wanted to leave'

Newly acquired starter Cliff Lee was introduced today at Citizens Bank Park. (Laurence Kesterson/Staff Photographer)
Newly acquired starter Cliff Lee was introduced today at Citizens Bank Park. (Laurence Kesterson/Staff Photographer)

In his opening remarks, Cliff Lee acknowledged what everyone had seemingly known since he left almost a year ago to the day.

"Here I am. I never wanted to leave this place in the first place," Lee said during a jam-packed news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “To get an opportunity to be part of this team and this pitching rotation is going to be historic, I believe. I can’t wait to get to spring training."

Lee signed a 5-year, $120 million deal with an option for a sixth year along with performance bonuses. He turned down more money from both the Rangers and the Yankees.

"It’s plenty of money," Lee said. "When you get a certain point, enough is enough. It's just a matter of where you are comfortable, where your family is comfortable … This is about winning championships and this team gives me the best chance to do that at this point."

Lee said the Phillies “got better after I left,” reciting the moves the team has made since he was dealt to Seattle last December.

“This is a special place,” he said. “With what we’ve got on paper and the personalities that are around and the guys on this team, good things are going to happen.”

Lee disputed reports that an incident with Yankees fans and his wife, Kristin, had an impact on his decision not to go to New York. Lee said there are overzealous fans in every city and he would have had no problem playing for the Yankees.

"Let me clarify that thing," he said. "That was way overblown. No one came up to my wife and spit on her. You go to any stadium, fans start cheering, especially in the postseason, fans are going to say something, they're going to do things like that. That story was way overblown, it was false, and had zero to do with anything. Hopefully we can put that behind us because it was a non‑issue."

Lee said he thought it was between the Rangers and the Yankees, but things changed over the last 4-5 days. "In the back of my mind, I was always hoping it was a possibility," he said.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said Lee and his agent came back to the Phillies and expressed that the Phillies were the team he preferred and “that helped move things forward for us.”

"I think for me to be here kind of says enough," Lee said. "I never held any grudges for being traded. I understand it's a business and things like that happen. But from the moment I got here, from the first day, I knew it was something that was special, something that I enjoyed. You know, I wasn't sure if I was going to get another opportunity to come back or not. The way things played out, I got that opportunity and here I am. When you sit back and evaluate your options, you get a chance to pitch in this rotation, with Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, I mean, that's all I needed to see right there. Give me a real option to do that, that's it. That was the main thing, getting a chance to be part of that rotation with this team and what they've kind of established in the NL East, being the leader there. With this team, it was kind of a no‑brainer for me.

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Amaro was asked if in the back of his mind, he thought there might be a chance to get Lee following his trade.

“Yes, actually," he said. "Fact of the matter is we all know what kind of impact Cliff had for us. He was extraordinary for us. We had an opportunity to do some different things and to acquire one of the best pitchers in baseball and keep him in our system for a long time.  Frankly, did I want to move him? No. But I'm certainly pleased we had the opportunity to get him back."

Amaro called this a “special circumstance” a number of times and said it was “too important to the present and the future of the organization not to move forward.” The Phillies have been reluctant to give pitchers more than a 3-year contract. When they acquired Halladay from Toronto, they gave him a 3-year extension beyond the year he had remaining on his deal with the Blue Jays.

Amaro said he spoke with Halladay before things progressed with Lee.

“We went out of our element a little bit here,” Amaro said. “When you get into this realm of years and dollars it gets a little unwieldy … . We put ourselves in position with the staff that we assembled to add to it in this way could make it really special. With his physical condition, the nature of the marketplace, this was the right thing for us to do … It took a lot of poking, prodding and introspection. At the end of the day, we felt this was the right thing for the organization and the right thing for Cliff and his family.”

Amaro conceded the Phillies might not have been able to sign Lee had Jayson Werth accepted the team’s offer. “I don’t think I would have been smart enough to do both.” He referred to Werth as “our former rightfielder” and said if a choice had to be made between Werth and Lee, he was confident “we made the right one.”

Amaro said he talked about a belief in pitching and defense as priorities.

Lee and Werth are close friends and Lee said they talked about going to the same team in free agency.

“When he found out I was coming here, he wasn’t the happiest person in the world,” Lee said, diplomatically.

Lee said he liked the intensity and the volume of the city. He mentioned the fans not needing a message on the scoreboard to know when to cheer. It also ends a whirlwind in which Lee played for the Indians, Phillies, Mariners and Rangers in the last two seasons.

“It’s a good thing to know that you’re settled and being in one spot for a while,” he said. “I know I’m going to be here for five years and we have to make the right decision about where to stay and stuff. It’s definitely part of the process. I hope this is going to be where I end my career and no more getting traded and getting traded. I enjoyed that too, getting to play with some of the best players in the world … Now I get a chance to come back to the place that I felt was the right fit for us. It’s been a fun ride. I’m looking forward to it. I think we’re going to be able to do some good things.”

As for additional moves and flexibility to improve other part of the team, Amaro said there was “no flex.”

“I’m very comfortable with the club going into spring training,” he said.

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