On the same night the Philadelphia Phillies and Cuba right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez came to terms, the club claimed Cliff Lee had a sore neck and was going to miss his next start.
Or did he? The conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one today because it was either Lee who said that or the Phillies who told Lee to say that. Stiff neck sounds like a strange reason to miss a baseball start. Most people who get a stiff neck don’t call in sick.
That’s a hard excuse for the skeptics to swallow right now, especially in light that the Phils’ six-year, $50-million commitment to Gonzalez means that the money is going to have to come from some part of their payroll and Lee’s $25 million-a-year is the biggest part.
Lee can block 21 teams from getting him, but he has said over the last month or so that his number-one priority is to win, either with the Phillies or someone else. It’s not likely Lee would block any winning team given that stated goal.
It’s also no secret that several teams have inquired about Lee’s availability. It’s well within the realm of possibility that one of those clubs could have said, “Hey, if we get him, we’d like to use him Monday. Could you hold him out of the next start?”
That would explain the sudden neck issues. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’ signing gives the Phillies a pitcher who, like Lee, throws the ball consistently in the mid-90mph and a guy the scouts project as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Acquiring him could soften the blow of losing Lee for Phillies fans. Getting two or three top-of-the-line prospects would further ameliorate the fans, few of whom probably believe right now that Lee has a stiff neck.