Let us coin a new word in baseball venacular. When a team swoops in and signs a free agent out of nowhere, the manner they did so will be called doing it "cliffily".
Well, it was not exactly out of nowhere. There were some mumblings about the Philadelphia Phillies courting him but it certainly came as a major surprise that they were successful and the veteran southpaw rejoined his former mates to embellish what is arguably the strongest rotation the Majors has seen in years. Lee eschewed more generous offers from both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees to return to the Senior Circuit and start alongside Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
By assembling this talented quartet while letting Jayson Werth leave, Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro did something I have long contended is the proper manner to build a squad. And I do not mean focusing on pitching.
You see, there are these intuitive beliefs that if you play in a hitter’s park, you should focus on good hitters and if you play in a pitcher’s park, concentrate on acquiring good pitchers. But should not it be just the opposite? Granted, you do play half your games on the road thus need to build a team that can win anywhere, but it does make sense to tailor a team to your home digs.
My contention is you lose some of the “value” of a good pitcher in a pitcher’s park. If you strike guys out and keep the ball on the ground, who cares how far the fences are from home plate or how thin the air is or if the wind generally blows out during the warm summer months.
And good power hitters do not need any help, the balls they hit will go out anywhere.
If I am building a team in PETCO Park, I let the park turn average pitching into above average and look to spend my money on better hitters. And if I am doing the same at Coors Field, I let the park make my average hitter better and aim to acquire better pitchers.
Of course, there is the difficulty of convincing a good hitter to call San Diego or Seattle home as their numbers will be depressed, decreasing their bargaining power, not to mention where their stats stack up historically. And similarly, what good pitcher is going to want to go to Colorado or Texas and see their numbers inflate and wallets deflate?
And of course, I am not a Major League GM so I d not really know the intricacies of building a baseball team and all that is involved. But, if I was playing in a fantasy simulation league with a park at either extreme, I would definitely construct my team using the counter-intuitive route.
But let us go back to reality for a minute. The Phillies had a couple of things going for them in their pursuit to add a top-tier pitcher in a hitter’s park past his comfort with the city, his teammates, and the organization. This is almost certainly Lee’s final contract so he does not have to worry about negotiating with an ERA higher than his skills dictate. And historically, while he will probably go down as a very good pitcher, he is not costing himself a Hall of Fame induction assuming his ERA is a smidge higher because he works half his games in Citizen’s Bank Park.
As a baseball fan, I am happy to see a player choose the team where they most want to play and not be concerned about how it impacts their numbers or how the MLBPA will react because they apparently left some money on the table. Of course, that which Lee puts in his bank account should keep him and his family fed for generations to come.
Which begs the question, why do they get meal money?