The Philadelphia Phillies have announced that LHP Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with what is being called a left forearm strain. The team’s statement reports that this is the same injury which sent Lee to the disabled list twice in 2014, ending his season in July. This recurrence, which may require surgery, casts doubt upon whether Lee will be able to continue his Major League career.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 16, 2015
The Phillies can call this a left forearm strain all they want. If it were just a strain, retirement would not be entering the picture. The biggest fear surrounding the 36-year old former American League Cy Young winner is that Lee’s flexor tendon is torn, an injury which would require season, and likely career ending surgery. Lee and the Phillies have decided to proceed by placing the pitcher on the disabled list and beginning a rehabilitation procedure that leaves open the possibility of a recovery and return to the mound later this season.
For Lee and the Phillies, this is the only decision that make sense. Lee is 36 years old, and will turn 37 on August 30th. Surgery pushes his potential return to the Phillies close to his 38th birthday. Let’s just say the track record for pitchers coming back from serious arm surgery that late in their career is not good.
Money should not play a role in the decision, as Lee is only under contract through this season. His vesting option for 2016, $27.5 million, is now completely out of reach, as he would have needed to log at least 200 innings to trigger it. For Lee and the Phillies, it is time to focus solely on getting as healthy as possible, and reevaluating later in the summer.