Friday, November 28, 2014
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Belated thoughts from one beat writer

While making dinner plans last week with a friend who lives in San Jose, Costa Rica, he asked an innocent question.

Belated thoughts from one beat writer

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. introduced Cliff Lee at a press conference last week. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. introduced Cliff Lee at a press conference last week. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)

While making dinner plans last week with a friend who lives in San Jose, Costa Rica, he asked an innocent question.

"Hey, did you see what the Phillies did?"

I had no Internet or phone connections during my week-long vacation in Costa Rica, so there was no possible way.

"They signed Cliff Lee," he said.

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So this is how I found out, about 15 hours after the rest of the world knew. The next day, I found a copy of of alDía, a Costa Rican newspaper, and flipped to the sports section. The headline read: "FILIS GANARON A LOS YANQUIS."

And that's a good way to start dissecting the ramifications of this signing, beyond the basic fact that the Phillies have possibly assembled the greatest rotation of all time.

This signing cuts deeper than that, though. Adding Lee to ensure a payroll above $160 million in 2011 and at even higher levels in 2012 and beyond officially makes the Phillies a big-market franchise.

And yes, I know you'll say this: But Matt, the Phillies play in the sixth largest market in the country. That doesn't mean they've operated like a big-market baseball franchise. There are differences.

Boston is the ninth largest media market in the country. But we describe them, in baseball terms, as one of the elite big-market franchises because they spend -- and spend freely.

On Dec. 15, when Lee was formally signed and re-introduced, the Phillies became a big-market franchise. They, as the Costa Rican newspaper made sure to point out, beat the Yankees for Lee.

The Phillies broke their guidelines of going beyond three years to a pitcher. They moved the payroll to lengths never before dreamed in Philadelphia.

In 2001, the Phillies' payroll was $41.66 million, ranking 24th in the majors, according to USA Today's salary database. That same season, the Yankees' payroll was $112.29 million -- the first time any team crossed the $100-million mark. Boston's was $109.68 million. Los Angeles was $109.11 million.

In 2007, the Phillies' payroll was $89.43 million, ranking 13th in the majors. They made the postseason for the first time since 1993 that year.

And yes, I know you'll say this: But Matt, the Phillies had the fourth largest payroll in 2010, behind just New York, Boston and Chicago. They were already a big-market team before now. To that, I'll say this: If the Yankees or Red Sox had the chance last off-season to hold both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, would they have done it?

Now, Ruben Amaro Jr. has corrected that mistake, and with the blessing of ownership, has proven the Phillies are indeed in the pantheon of the Yankees and Red Sox. They are an elite big-market team. They have sold out 123 consecutive regular-season games at Citizens Bank Park. They are reaching revenue totals they could have never dreamed of.

Lee turning down more than $20 million extra from the Yankees is a fantastic Philadelphia story. But the more shocking and important story is the revolution of how the Phillies organization is run has taken the biggest step yet.

***

Yes, there are actual on-field ramifications to discuss too. We'll tackle some of them here this week and next. Among those topics:

-- How does a 10-man pitching staff sound? OK, fine, 11.

-- Why staying inside for the lefthanded reliever wouldn't be the worst thing ever.

-- Which Phillies free-agent-to-be has had a wonderful off-season? (Hint: He is a reliever and represented by Scott Boras.)

-- The Cole Hamels question: When to sign?

***

Because we're in the giving spirit: There will be a Phillies chat with yours truly on Tuesday at 2 p.m. here at The Phillies Zone. Come one, come all. Bring your Christmas lists.

***

Just 56 days until pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla.

Matt Gelb Inquirer Staff Writer
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The place for up-to-the-minute Phillies coverage from The Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb and columnist Bob Brookover.

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