PHILADELPHIA — Cliff Lee chose comfort and familiarity over more money.
Welcome back to the City of Brotherly Love, Cliff. They already love you here.
Lee and the Phillies finalized a $120 million, five-year contract on Wednesday that brings the star pitcher back to Philadelphia.
“It’s plenty of money,” Lee said. “When you hit a certain point, enough’s enough. It’s just a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family’s the most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win. At this point, it’s about trying to win championships. That’s really the No. 1 thing for me. I think this team gives me the best chance to do that. That’s really it.”
Lee spurned more lucrative offers from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to return to the Phillies, who traded him away a year ago after he helped them reach the 2009 World Series.
He could have had $150 million and a spot on the biggest stage in baseball playing for the most successful team — the Yankees, winners of 27 World Series.
Instead, Lee chose the red pinstripes over the famous dark blue ones and left $30 million behind.
“It feels great to land back here in Philadelphia,” Lee said at a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I never wanted to leave this place in the first place.”
The deal was reached late Monday night, and Lee arrived in Philadelphia late Tuesday. He had to flip-flop name plates with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. when he sat down in the wrong seat at his news conference, and soon thereafter took off his dark blue suit jacket and put on his No. 33 jersey.
The two-time All-Star and 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner helped the Rangers reach their first World Series this year. He chose to rejoin the Phillies and combine with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to form a dynamic starting rotation.
“That was the main thing, getting a chance to be part of that rotation with this team and what they’ve kind of established in the NL East, being the leader there,” Lee said. It was kind of a no-brainer.” The 32-year-old Lee will earn a modest $11 million salary next season. Including an option for 2016, the deal could be worth $135 million for six seasons.
Lee was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 combined starts last season between the Seattle Mariners and Texas. He led the Rangers to their first postseason series victory with a pair of wins against Tampa Bay in the first round, and pitched a two-hitter against the Yankees in the ALCS. But Lee lost twice to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
This is the fourth time Lee changes uniforms in the last 17 months. He was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle to Texas. He finally was able to pick his destination, and the Phillies were first in his heart all along.
“I never held any grudges for being traded,” Lee said. “From the day I got here, I knew it was something special. I didn’t know I would have an opportunity to come back.”
Lee said the way Yankees fans treated his wife and the wives of his Rangers teammates during the postseason had no impact on his decision. He denied reports that someone had spit on or poured a drink on his wife, Kristen.
“No one came up to my wife and spit on her. Nobody poured anything on her,” Lee said. “You go to any stadium, the opposing team stands and starts cheering, especially in the postseason, fans are going to say things to them, they’re going to do things, that’s part of it. That story was way overblown and was false and had zero to do with the whole thing. Hopefully we can put that behind us because it was a non-issue.
“There wasn’t anything that scared me away from New York. I wasn’t scared to play there. It was just I wanted to have all my options in front of me. Once the Phillies were there, it was relatively close to everything, it was a no-brainer for me.”
The passionate fans in Philly, known for their sometimes boorish behavior, left a positive impression on Lee during his brief stint here in ’09.
“The intensity that you can feel when you get in the game, it has an elevated feel to it. Compared to everywhere else, it’s completely different,” Lee said. “I don’t know what the fans do to create that much more volume and excitement in the stadium, but it’s definitely something extra here. They get excited. They are passionate fans. They understand what’s going on. They don’t need a TelePrompTer to tell them to get up and cheer.”
A fourth-round selection by the Montreal Expos in the 2000 amateur draft, Lee is 102-61 in his major league career with a 3.85 ERA in 222 games. He’s 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA and three complete games in 10 postseason starts with 80 strikeouts in 76 innings.
The addition of Lee gives Philadelphia a dream rotation. The Phillies’ top four starters have three Cy Young Awards, 13 All-Star game appearances, two NLCS MVP awards, one World Series MVP award, one perfect game and one postseason no-hitter on their resumes.
The Phillies have won four straight NL East titles and reached the World Series twice in that span, winning it in 2008.
“He was extraordinary for us,” Amaro said. “We’re happy to have him back.”