I’m going to take a break from the “Looking Back at What Was” series for a day and talk about what most baseball fans are talking about today: the brilliance that was Cliff Lee last night. Look, I get it, it’s hard to watch Lee in a Rangers uni mowing down Yankees as if they were butter in a blender and not wonder what might have been.
See, as I’m sure you’re well aware of, Clifton Phifer Lee was a member of the Cleveland Indians, from 2002 up until July 2009. But the Cliff Lee that Indians fans watched was more of the solid middle-of the rotation guy, not the absolute beast and monster that pitched last night (as I somewhat predicted).
This was, of course, until 2007.
In 2007, Lee bottomed out. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, he only pitched in 20 games (16 starts). He had a 6.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.52. He had to accept a demotion to Buffalo and was left off the postseason roster.
Lee took it as an insult, a slap in the face. I love that about the guy, even though I would have made the same decision to leave him off the postseason roster. Cliff Lee sucked in 2007. I wouldn’t have trusted him as a long reliever, let alone as a big game starter.
Of course, after all this, Cliff Lee turned into an ace. Three trades and many top prospects later, Cliff Lee finds himself leading a Rangers team deep into the postseason for the first time.
I get why the Indians traded Cliff Lee. They needed to speed up the rebuilding process. They weren’t going to win in 2010, even with Lee and Victor Martinez. I just think they sold him incredibly low. Sure, Carlos Carrasco has promise, and Jason Knapp is an exciting prospect, but Jason Donald and (especially) Lou Marson appear to be nothing more than backups. I need more than promise, excitement, and two backups for a Cy Young winner like Cliff Lee. I need at least one impact major-league ready talent (Carrasco doesn’t count as he wasn’t ML-ready) in addition to a guy with promise like Carrasco and a prospect like Knapp.
The Indians created the Cliff Lee monster. During his troubled 07 campaign, he must have developed the mental toughness he was lacking before. That and he finally mastered his command. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Still, it would have been a little more helpful for Indians fans if he had “found it” in 2007, in time to pick up the pieces of CC Sabathia’s ALCS choke job. It’s unfair to play “what if,” but you’d have to like the Indians chances for a World Series championship in 2007 if they had the post-2007 Cliff Lee on the squad.
Such is life. Enjoy your payday, Cliff. You’ve earned it.