Pitcher Cliff Lee may finally be calling it quits. The former ace hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, and sat out the 2015 season due to an elbow injury.
In September, the Phillies elected to buy out the last year on Lee’s contract for $12.5 million, rather than pick up the $27.5 team option he was owed for 2016. The left-hander hasn’t found the right fit in free agency and that may be nudging him toward retirement.
Injury concerns were certainly warranted for the 37-year-old after missing all of last season and only making 13 starts in 2014. But when healthy, Lee was still effective on the mound. Pitching 81.1 innings in 2014, Lee posted a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts. The prior season, he started 31 games, threw 222.2 innings and managed a 2.87 ERA with 222 strikeouts. Aside from the durability issues, those numbers didn’t exactly indicate a pitcher in rapid decline.
So why is Lee choosing to hang it up? It boils down to the salary he was seeking. According to reports, Lee was looking for a contract in the $6 million to $8 million range with incentives. In addition, he wanted to sign with a contending team. The Miami Marlins were the team most recently attached to him in rumors, with the Rangers and Orioles also possibly showing interest. But those contract terms probably weren’t agreeable.
Back in December, it was reported that Lee was drawing interest from as many as 15 clubs. However, as the offseason progressed, it became clear that those teams failed to meet Lee’s standards for price and/or fit.
If this is the end for Lee, he had an impressive run. His career spanned 13 seasons for the Phillies, Mariners, Rangers and Indians, during which he compiled a 143-91 record and 3.52 ERA, striking out an average of 7.6 batters per nine innings. Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland, racking up a 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA. He was also named to four All-Star teams.
Additionally, Lee pitched in the World Series twice — once for the Phillies in 2009, and once for the Rangers in 2010. Unfortunately for Lee, he was on the losing end both times.