Phils prez: ‘Wonderful to have Lee back’

The signing of free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract elevates the Phillies’ payroll to a level normally reached only by the Yankees and Red Sox.

David Montgomery, the team’s general partner, president and CEO, is essentially the man who writes the checks for the franchise — bigger checks than he probably ever imagined.

Shortly after a news conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday to re-introduce Lee, Montgomery spoke by telephone with about the breathtaking signing — and the team’s remarkable evolution.

Q: When (general manager) Ruben (Amaro Jr.) first brought this to you, what was your reaction?

A: I probably felt, as I had all along, that this was sort of an unlikely scenario. Before we seriously pursued it, we had to do some things just to test how really likely it was.

The reality is, we had just said goodbye to Jayson (Werth). We didn’t think it was the best thing for our franchise to publicly engage with Cliff and then have fans and our franchise disappointed a second time.

The effort, which began last Friday, was to probe and see if there was any real possibility of it. Upon examination, we decided it was worth continuing discussions. That’s what took place over the weekend and concluded Monday night.

Q: How much of a roller-coaster was the weekend?

A: Ruben called me Sunday night and said, “I think we’re out.” I don’t know how many times they specifically engaged. We sent the first proposal of any sort to them very late in the day Friday, late afternoon. Ruben and (agent) Darek (Braunecker) and Cliff and (his wife) Kristin themselves spoke on Saturday, described some parameters. We did what we thought we could Sunday and it didn’t get us to the finish line.

That’s when Ruben specifically indicated to me that we might be out. As we started to discuss it again on Monday, we realized that both parties had traveled a good way, let’s look at it one more time.

Q: From just a financial perspective, how difficult was this to do?

A: Our job in the front office, in my opinion, is to do things that have impact on today and tomorrow.

We’ve had a wonderful stretch here, with extraordinary fan support. We felt that if we could add Cliff to that equation and do it in a way that was at least feasible for us, we should look past the potential short-term and look long-term and the opportunity to have Roy (Halladay) and Cliff and obviously Roy Oswalt and Cole (Hamels), etc., etc.

It was so appealing, we said, “Hey, we’re going to see what we can do to make this happen.”

Q: Why, then, did you trade Lee last offseason?

A: We were not comfortable that we would be able to get a commitment from Cliff to play with us beyond 2010. As it turns out, today’s events show that perhaps we didn’t ask the right questions or probe it properly. But if you remember, he still did what he told us he wanted to do: Become a free agent, test the market.

We had a situation where we had an opportunity to acquire Roy Halladay for more than one year, for a minimum of four and hopefully five and hopefully beyond. We had Cliff for one more year.

It turns out that when Cliff became a free agent, he compared his time here with others and decided this was the right place for him. A year ago, we didn’t see it that way. We thought we could only count on him being with us for one year.

Q: Your 2011 payroll looks like it will be at least $165 million. Is that fair to say?

A: We obviously have a current number. We’ll look to see what we can do vis-à-vis that. And we also have some decisions to make in the out years.

Again, you’re focusing on today and this as a business decision. For us, this is a franchise decision. We’re thinking about today and tomorrow.

Q: Do you have to make moves for today, to make this easier (financially)?

A: I wouldn’t use the phrase "have to." Doesn’t mean we wouldn’t want to.

Q: Your local TV deal expires after 2015; you could be negotiating a new one soon. How much does adding a pitcher such as Lee help enhance your ability to market the club?

A: The impact of this signing is broad on the organization. It behooves to do anything we can to capture any opportunities that may result from this period of Phillies baseball. That’s sponsorship, that’s broadcast, that’s in-park (advertising). That’s the job. We’re constantly trying to explore ways to present our club to give us the opportunity to increase our ability to keep this group together.

I always look at it in a very simplistic way. The front office is nothing more than the linkage. We’re the linkage between our fans and our players, and our players and our fans.

The reason I say it both ways is because an important element of this decision today is what he felt. He talked about the energy in the ballpark, the volume. He talked about playing in front of sellout crowds. He talked about feeling, in a very tangible way, our fan support.

And I think our fans in turn have shown just tremendous interest in our club and our players — our players as players and our players as people. That makes us feel good in the front office about the job we’re doing to create that link

Q: The Phillies have made a ton of big moves in recent years. But it almost seems like this one is the coup de grace.

A: That’s tough for me to say. It’s wonderful to have Cliff Lee back. It’s special because of his history here. That has created an enormous response from our fans.

But it’s not for me to say (which move stands out most). Roy Halladay saying after all those years in Toronto that Philadelphia was the place he wanted to play. Roy Oswalt this summer waiving his no-trade after all those years with the Houston Astros to come here.

Collectively, we’re very grateful for what we’ve become — whether it’s because of our clubhouse, whether it’s because of Charlie (Manuel), whether it’s because of our coaches, our fans, maybe some little things we do as an organization. We’ve created a climate where very, very, very significant players want to play here. And it’s very rewarding.