Yesterday, the Philadelphia Phillies announced, they were not going to pick up the $27.5 million 2016 option on starter Cliff Lee. As Ryan Lawrence from the Daily News wrote, it is “the least shocking news of the still-early Phillies offseason.” I’m fairly certain, outside of the Phillies fanbase, that there are baseball fans who forgot the team was still paying Lee to not pitch. The move releases the last of “The Four Aces” from the 2011 team.
Lee pitched in 13 games since 2013, going 4-5 in those starts with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.377 WHIP, hardly the effective starter he used to be. Since his last start, Lee’s been ailing from elbow issues, opting to forgo surgery, instead looking to rest and then rehab it. He never made a rehab assignment this past season, and obviously did not pitch the entire season. Chances are this will end the 37-year-old left-hander’s career, not before receiving a $12.5 million buyout from the club.
It was only four seasons ago, but it seemed like ages that the Phillies had undeniably, the deepest and most dangerous rotation in the league. Lee was the huge free-agent signing (five-year, $125 million deal) in the 2010 offseason, plucked away from the Texas Rangers. The Four Aces (Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt) lit up the National League in every pitching category in 2011. Throughout the season, it was Halladay and Lee powering the rotation and sitting atop most of the NL’s individual pitching stats.
With the league’s best record (102-60), the Phillies were ousted in the NLDS by an streaking St. Louis Cardinals team. It’s worth noting that was the Cardinals team that trailed the then NL Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves by 10 1/2 games on August 24.
From that point on, The Four Aces became interchangeable/injured/ineffective and failed to reach the same results. That 2011 team was the last Phillies team to make the playoffs and have a winning record (they went 81-81 in 2012). Oswalt left, becoming a Texas Ranger in 2012, retiring after the 2013 season with the Colorado Rockies. Halladay retired in 2013, following two years of shoulder issues before his arm just give out in a ballgame. Hamels, the youngest, is currently with the Texas Rangers, but closed out his Phillie career with a no hitter against the Chicago Cubs.
For Phillies fans, this is the dark period, nearing the end of the fire sale. The team has dealt nearly everything from the Charlie Manuel era. At some point, things have to turn around, especially with a new look in the front office. Maybe in time, the Phillies can find what the New York Mets have, a pitching staff loaded with A+ stuff. The announcement of Lee’s release from the team is the official close to a pitching staff that could have been so much more.