It looks like Cliff Lee is ready to "take it to the house."
That was the phrase Lee used toward the end of 2013 when explaining how he wanted to finish his career on a strong note before retiring. Obviously, that didn't happen, as Lee suffered a serious elbow injury midway through 2014 that limited him to just 13 starts that season, and then he didn't pitch at all in 2015.
Lee is now a free agent and remains unsigned as spring training camps open across baseball. "We don't anticipate him playing at this point," his agent, Darek Braunecker, told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal Tuesday.
In December, Jon Heyman reported that 15 teams were interested in Lee, who is/was perceived to be healthy and seeking a one-year deal. Braunecker said a month later on MLB Network Radio that Lee was seeking a "perfect fit." In other words, he wanted to sign with a contending team that gave him a chance to win his first World Series.
That hasn't happened and doesn't look like it's going to happen. How do you commit guaranteed money, probably exceeding $5 million, to a guy who last pitched on a major-league mound 18 months ago?
The end of Lee's career was just yet another example of how quickly it can all fall apart for a pitcher ... any pitcher. Throughout his career, Lee had a fluid, effortless delivery. He looked the type who could pitch into his 40s, especially considering how quickly he worked and how few deep counts he ran.
But as pitches add up, as innings add up, so does the wear and tear on any man's arm.
If Lee's career is indeed over, he finishes 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA in 328 games (324 starts). If you remove his early-career struggles and look only at his final seven seasons, he went 89-55 with a 2.93 ERA in 199 starts, striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings and walking a ridiculously low 1.3.
Lee went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 2009 after the Phillies acquired him from the Indians at the trade deadline. He helped take them to their second consecutive World Series and became a folk hero along the way for his dominance and laid-back demeanor on the field. In that '09 postseason, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
In what turned out to be one of the worst moves Ruben Amaro Jr. ever made as Phillies GM, Lee was traded to the Mariners before the 2010 season for three players who all failed in this organization: Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez. Lee was dominant in Seattle and was traded to the Rangers midway through 2010, helping Texas reach the World Series.
To this day, many feel like the 2010 Phillies could have won it all had Lee been in the rotation along with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.
The next year, he was. The Phillies shocked the baseball world by signing Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract. He was at his best in 2011, going 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA in a historically great rotation.
But then Halladay and the entire Phils offense declined and the next three years were dismal. Lee made 106 starts after signing that five-year deal, going 41-30 with a 2.89 ERA, striking out 739 batters and walking 114 in 747⅔ innings.
Lee is actually still being paid by the Phillies. There was a $12.5 million buyout for 2016 on Lee's contract, which according to my research is the most expensive buyout in major-league history. Ryan Howard, likely in his final season with the Phillies, also has a humongous buyout of $10 million next year. Those are the kinds of contract sweeteners the Phillies will likely be hesitant to award for quite a while.