I haven’t counted, but I’m willing to bet that the player I wrote the most about during the first half of the baseball season was Cliff Lee. Some of the reasoning behind this deduction is obvious because for about seven months after Lee was traded to Seattle on a whirlwind December day in which the Phillies got Roy Halladay, he was the lightning rod we all fired strikes at.
The Phillies would have been better with Cliff Lee, we reasoned, not wrongly. Worse, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. never offered a reason for dealing away Lee that we would accept. Oh sure, we got it, but we didn’t like it.
The constant harping about Lee always got back to a couple of main points. For one, there was the money thing. It wasn’t our money and as a public trust that has sold out 108 straight games in the relatively brand-new park, the team ought to spend, spend, spend. Then, there was the idea of the Phillies going down the stretch with a starting rotation that featured two guys who won Cy Young awards, and another who was MVP of the NLCS and World Series. Would any team want face a team that went Halladay, Lee and Hamels in three straight games of a playoff series?
No. No way.
But a quick perusal of the archives of this little site shows that Lee’s name hasn’t been mentioned since July 29. That date—two days before the annual trading deadline—not only is the anniversary of Lee’s arrival in Philadelphia where he wore the Phillies’ pinstripes for approximately three months covering just 17 starts, including the postseason, but also it’s the date of Roy Oswalt’s arrival to Philly. It kind of makes sense now why Lee hasn’t been mentioned all that much anymore.
In his first seven outings for the Phils, Oswalt is 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. No, Oswalt hasn’t won the Cy Young Award like Lee, but he has won the MVP in the 2005 NLCS with the Astros. Better yet, Oswalt says he pushed through the usual “dead arm” stage of the season that seems to strike high-innings pitchers late in the summer and certainly will see his workload increase the rest of the way. Manager Charlie Manuel hinted as much on Friday afternoon when he alluded to the experience Roys Halladay and Oswalt have with pitching on short rest. If that’s not planting a seed of thought, nothing is.
Regardless, Oswalt’s arrival has made us stash Lee’s name away into the attic of happy memories after he posted the greatest statistical postseason by a Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915, which only makes sense. Still, after pining for Lee into July, some have gone into a full-out sprint in the other direction by wondering if all the carrying on was wrong. Maybe trading Lee away wasn’t such a bad idea after all, went the reasoning, especially when one considers that Lee missed the first month of the season, got traded to Texas, slumped a bit and now is struggling with some back discomfort. Since being traded to the Rangers, Lee has gone 0-3 with an 8.26 ERA during the past month and just got an anti-inflammatory injection for his back this week.
That’s a far cry from what Oswalt has done in his seven starts with the Phillies, or even what Lee did in his first seven outings with the Phillies last year at this time. Lee had a 3.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 48 innings when he first joined the club last year.
So yes, statistically Oswalt has been better. Moreover, because Lee might be injured Oswalt is clearly the more valuable pitcher right now.
See, trading Lee wasn’t such a bad idea after all… right?
Well, yes and no. The yes should be obvious because Oswalt is healthy, happy and pitching well. Before he was traded to Philadelphia there was concern that Oswalt, a quiet and private man from Weir, Mississippi (population 553), might not fit in well in a hardscrabble northeast city. Sometimes, athletes in Philadelphia are judged more by emotion and personality than talent or results. Not exactly the most demonstrative man on the mound and straightforward and soft spoken with the press, it’s understandable if Oswalt was apprehensive.
Yet by all accounts, Oswalt, like Lee, has fit in quite well in Philadelphia. Of course the excitement of a pennant race has something to do with that, but that’s kind of the whole point… right?
“I can tell he’s happy here,” said Brad Lidge, Oswalt’s teammate from their days in Houston. “You can see that extra pep in his step. I think he feels the change in energy and he’s enjoying being part of this as opposed to just another season going by. You can see him thinking about trying to achieve that ultimate goal.
“And he’s throwing great.”
Conversely, the move to get Oswalt before the deadline is an admission that the Phillies needed a pitcher of high caliber. Lee’s contract status might have spooked Amaro into trading him, but that never changed the desire to have three horses at the top of the rotation.
And now that he has them, Manuel hopes they are ready to run for the next month-plus.
“The best part about that is Halladay and Oswalt have pitched on short rest,” Manuel said. “They have that experience and that becomes very big.”
That’s down the road, of course, but for now the best part about Halladay and Oswalt is that they made folks forget about Cliff Lee for a little while. Besides, Oswalt has a no-trade clause and a contract for 2011. Looks like the Phillies are stuck with him.