Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee and the LaBron Factor

Want to know who to blame for the loss of Cliff Lee? LaBron James. That's right. Lee just followed James's example when the pitching ace signed with the Philadelphia Phillies: Surround yourself with the players that give you the best opportunity to win a championship.

He knew the Yankees, thought to be Lee's primary suitor, weren't the answer. There's an excellent chance the Bronx Bombers won't even make the playoffs next year. The Boston Red Sox are clearly the best team in the American League East right now and that would be true even if the Yanks had signed Lee. Could the Yanks sneak in as a wild card? Don't know. That's how they made it in last year, but their starting lineup is aging dangerously (you could really see Derek Jeter's fall off in the last half of last year) and they could finish behind Tampa Bay again this coming season.

In fact, the Rangers have a better shot at another playoff run this year than the Yanks. Recall the Rangers would have won the West last year even without Lee and they should be favored to repeat, although the Angels and even Oakland are poised to give them better competition. What Lee did for the Rangers was give them the two playoff series wins that got them into the World Series, although most observers (and I'm betting Lee is one of them) considered the playoff win over Tampa Bay a fluke. And Lee was not going to give the Rangers an edge over the BoSox this coming season.

The Phillies are an entirely different matter. I'm trying to recall if baseball has ever witnessed a four-man starting rotation to match Lee, Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt. I certainly can't recall one. Lee isn't even the No. 1 starter in that group. The Phils finished last year with the best record in the majors (97-65) and the addition of Lee easily pushes them over the century mark.

I know it's early, but right now it's shaping up to be a Boston Red Sox/Philadelphia Phillies World Series next year and if pitching really does make the difference in a post-season series than you must give Philadelphia the edge. Philadelphia was the only team that offered Lee a realistic shot at a championship and, like LaBron with Miami, he took it. He just made his decision in a far more classier style than James did.

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