Winners and Losers: Cliff Lee Edition

Lee's unexpected return to Philly has a big impact on the game.

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Sep 16, 2011  |  Updated 3:28 PM CDT
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It's a shame that ESPN blew their whole athlete-decides-where-he's-going-to-sign-as-a-free-agent budget on LeBron James.

It would have been far better to wait for Cliff Lee to reveal that he was taking his talents to Broad Street. There was actual intrigue to the process and a surprise ending that left quite a few more people happy than the 18 Miami Heat fans that existed before James decided to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

There's a similarity, however. The differences between baseball and basketball mean that throwing Lee into a rotation with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels doesn't have quite the same impact -- no one's calling for the season to be called off just yet -- but it does have a similar historical resonance. That's why one of the big winners of the whole decision is baseball history because we'll now have a group to go against the Braves of the '90s, the Dodgers of the '60s and the Orioles of the '70s for the unofficial crown of best rotation in history.

Those aren't the only winners, however.

The Phillies: Obviously a winner, but for more reasons than just having Lee to go with those other elite arms. They've now established themselves as the National League's pacesetter, much as the Red Sox and Yankees have done in the American League, and they should remain that way as long as the team keeps the same management team in place. That's a pretty remarkable change for a franchise that was a laughingstock for most of its history.

Lee: Again, an obvious choice but this whole free agent chase has lifted him to another level of fame and respect. He's a great pitcher, to be sure, but the attention paid to him over the last month would have you believe he's the result of a demented experiment to meld Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver. Moving back to the National League should mean even better numbers in 2011 and even higher regard from the public.

The Red Sox: Trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford meant this was already going to be a happy holiday season in Boston. But seeing the Yankees fall short of their prize? Hard to imagine Santa bringing anything that could top it.

The Rays: An odd choice, perhaps, but after losing Crawford and several good relievers there's a renewed hope in Tampa. With Lee skipping out on the Yankees, the gap between the teams hasn't been turned into a gusher and a couple of savvy moves could make it non-existent.

People Who Like to Say It Isn't All About the Money: They've picked an odd poster boy in Lee -- who will make $120 million over five years and can earn another $15 million in the sixth year -- but it really comes down to spurning the Yankees. You can already see the Sports Illustrated Spring Training cover story about Lee in February with its intense focus on how he just wanted to go somewhere he liked playing and little mention of the financial realities.

Wherever there are winners, there have to be losers. You can probably guess who is on top of this list.

The Yankees: This was a major miss for the Yankees, who aren't used to not getting the guy they want. Thanks to the botched trade attempt over the summer, Lee has become Moby Dick to Brian Cashman's Ahab, a foreboding omen of what may be coming down the line. There's no obvious backup plan in the Bronx and the team's flaws have been magnified by the failure to get Lee to agree. It will be curious to see what happens next, although it bears mentioning that getting spurned by Greg Maddux in 1992 led to great things for the Yankees.

The Rangers: They will miss Lee, of course, but they won't miss him as much as the Yankees. They still have serious advantages over the other teams in the AL West and they have pitching trade options -- Matt Garza, Zack Greinke -- that don't figure to be available to the Yankees. Losing out on Lee probably hurts the team off the field more as the new ownership group was clearly trying to use last year's success to vault themselves into the baseball stratosphere. It can still happen, it just might take a little longer than they hoped.

The Nationals: That seven-year, $126 million contract for Jayson Werth looks even sillier right now.

The Mets: It's fair to say that whenever you make a list of winners and losers, you'll be just fine putting the Mets in this column. At least Sandy Alderson won't have any immediate pressure to build a contender.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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