When the Philadelphia Phillies gathered around during a rain delay Wednesday on the opening day of practice, a few reporters approached Cliff Lee and asked him if the team has improved enough. Lee took a long breath before answering.
“I hope so,” Lee said, before talking about how good A.J. Burnett was and how that had to add depth to the pitching staff and various other obligatory nods to management. The “I hope so” response was not as telling as the long breath, though. Hope so is not as convincing as know so, and the body language along with the words told it all.
Lee has said numerous times that his No. 1 priority is to “play for a winner” and it was one of the reason why he consented to be shopped around to specific teams only at last year’s July 31 trade deadline.
He came close and it was widely reported that the only holdup in being shipped to the Boston Red Sox was that team would not part with shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts. The Phillies would not budge on getting Bogaerts and the Red Sox would not budge on giving him up, so the deal was allowed to fizzle out. It turned out to be a good move for the Red Sox, who won a World Series with him and, unlike their major competition in the AL, have a shortstop of the future.
If things go south fast this season, both the Phillies and Lee might be again inclined to part ways. That’s because things have gone south for the two seasons before that, and another season in that direction means gambles the Phillies have made on older players have not worked out.
So Phillies’ fans should enjoy Lee’s consistency for now, because they might only have that for a few more months.