The Phillies are still bidding for free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee, according to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
The extent of the Phillies’ involvement is not known, but as of 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, the source described them as “not out.”
“If I were in or out, I wouldn’t be commenting at all, on or off the record,” Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said, citing his personal policy on free agents.
The signing of Lee by the Phillies would be the biggest shock in an offseason that already has produced several major surprises.
Phillies assistant GM Scott Proefrock, when asked about Lee in early December, told Sirius XM’s and FOX Sports’ Jim Bowden, “That ship has sailed.”
Another source with knowledge of the Phillies’ budget said then that it would take, “Nothing short of a miracle,” for the team to make the finances work.
But it makes sense that the Phillies would at least try, considering their enduring obsession with Lee.
It also makes sense that Lee might consider the Phillies an ideal alternative if he does not want to pitch in New York or at the Rangers’ hitter-friendly park.
The Phils obtained Lee from the Indians in July 2009 and advanced to the World Series. They then traded Lee to the Mariners that offseason while acquiring ace right-hander Roy Halladay in a separate deal — and received heavy criticism for sending Lee away.
Lee, however, seemingly is out of the team’s current price range.
The Phillies have committed more than $146 million in payroll for next season, according to the website, Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
They also might need to pay Lee a higher annual salary than Halladay and first baseman Ryan Howard, both of whom will earn $20 million in 2011.
Still, hardly anyone thought the Nationals would sign free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth. Few thought the Red Sox would sign free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford.
To obtain elite players, teams sometimes take unexpected paths.
To sign Lee, the Phillies likely would need to find a taker for right-hander Joe Blanton, who is owed $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons. They also might need to dump another contract on top of losing Werth.
Three big contracts expire after next season — those belonging to left fielder Raul Ibanez, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and closer Brad Lidge. Right-hander Roy Oswalt also could depart if either side declines its end of a mutual option.