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Lee puts 'mystery team' back on top

First thing's first: One of my fellow BBWAA members has taken a fair amount of punishment these past few days, for repeatedly referencing some "mystery team" that's been in the hunt for Cliff Lee.

Well, the Phillies were a mystery, and a well-kept secret. According to Richard Durrett, the Phillies jumped in last week, and yet somehow the news never got out. My half-baked theory? Usually when news of negotiations does escape, it's because a player's agent wants the news to escape. In this case, there wasn't any reason to leak the Phillies' interest, because (I think we'll find out) the Phillies' offer wasn't in the same league as the Yankees' offer. The Yankees, as usual, were bidding against themselves. The Phillies had to sell something else, which in this case was apparently 1) returning to a situation that Lee enjoyed in 2009, and 2) not pitching for the Yankees.

Practically speaking, it's hard to know where to start. Roy Halladay and Lee are pretty obviously among the 10 best starting pitchers on the planet, with Halladay No. 1 and Lee somewhere else, depending on how you weigh his injury this season and his postseason brilliance. You might prefer Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum, and there are others. But nobody can match the one-two punch of Halladay and Lee ... and of course nobody figures to match the three-four punch of Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, either.

It's premature to rank the Phillies' top four starters, for the simple reason that they won't be the Phillies' top four starters -- for analytical purposes -- until sometime next summer. On paper, they've got a chance to match the mid-1990s Braves before Steve Avery got hurt. And those Braves are, for now anyway, in a class of their own.

Practically speaking, the Phillies just reassumed the title, Best Team in the National League. They lost it for a moment, when Jayson Werth took the Nationals' money. But with these four starting pitchers, the Phillies could stick literally anyone in right field and still win something like 95 games. And Domonic Brown is better than most anyone.