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If there’s a four-man rotation that has ever looked this dominant heading into a new year, I can’t find it. It is almost certainly in the discussion for the greatest four-man rotation of all time.
There is one big asterisk on all this, though: as those great Braves teams show, a ridiculously great rotation is not enough to start planning a parade. The Phillies are certainly contenders, but they’re going to need more than just their Big Four to win it all.
There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues. ...
Assuming the Phillies don't do what they did the last time they acquired another No. 1 starter -- turn around and trade one of their incumbent aces -- they now have a terrifyingly good rotation for the 2011 and 2012 seasons (after which Cole Hamels is a potential free agent) with the addition of Cliff Lee.
The benefit in October is slimmer -- but at least October conversations can already be entertained -- since Roy Oswalt suddenly becomes the seldom-used fourth starter, but the Phillies will prevent a lot of runs over the course of the regular season by replacing their fifth-starter mess with Lee.
As for the apparent size of the contract -- five years and $120 million with a vesting option for a sixth, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick -- Lee is 32 and had some minor back trouble in 2010, but the best free agent on the market almost never signs for just five years, and other than the back problem Lee is about as low-risk a starter as you'll find this side of Roy Halladay. It's actually very good value for the Phillies relative to what Lee-level starters have gotten in free agency, and I like Lee's chances as a plus-plus command guy to retain most of his value even if he loses one or two mph on his fastball. ...
Given his contract situation, Philly could look to move Hamels for a right-handed hitter for the middle of their lineup, as losing Jayson Werth takes away most of the gain from reacquiring Lee and leaves them very left-handed. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Raul Ibanez are all on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to decline/get hurt than to improve. Rollins has been often hurt and in the midst of a four-year free fall, Utley has foght injuries, and Howard and Ibanez are just declining. Domonic Brown is an outstanding prospect, but won't match Werth's production, and Brown is also left-handed. Amaro has put together an enviable rotation, to say the least, but the Phils are oddly unbalanced now and it's strange (but not bad) to see them commit this money to Lee with an old, injury-prone lineup staring them in the face.