Cliff Lee's agent said on Tuesday that Lee isn't expected to pitch in 2016. While it wasn't an official retirement, it would mean a second consecutive season of not pitching so it certainly sounds like this may be the end.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a nice tribute to Lee:
Yet Lee had so much more going for him. It was Cliff Lee who really got me thinking about player and pitcher watchability. There are certain things that can make a pitcher more or less of a pleasure to watch, and Lee didn’t just get hitters out -- he got them out quickly, efficiently, without messing around. He got them out in droves, and if you ever looked away, you could miss a whole half-inning. The pace of a typical Cliff Lee start just didn’t feel like the pace of almost any other given pitcher.
The Lee model, as near as I can tell:
1. throw strikes
2. all the time
3. and make them good
Lee didn’t invent it himself, but few pitchers are able to follow the blueprint.
Lee had one of the more interesting -- remarkable? -- careers of recent vintage. He reached the majors for good at 25, won 18 games at 26, and then was back in the minors at age 28. That was 2007, when he went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA. That was also the season the Indians reached Game 7 of the ALCS. If they'd had good Cliff Lee that year or even mediocre Cliff Lee, who knows what might have happened. The next year he won the Cy Young Award, which certainly made him one of the least likely Cy Young winners.
That kicked off a bizarre stretch of trades mixed with dominance. The Indians traded him to the Phillies in 2009 (netting Carlos Carrasco) and Lee helped the Phillies reach the World Series. The Phillies then decided you can have too much pitching. On Dec. 16, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays and traded Lee to the Mariners. That turned out to be an awful trade for the Phillies, as Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Tyson Gillies proved a poor return.
Lee and the Mariners made the cover of ESPN The Magazine but were an embarrassing disaster, and Lee was traded to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and helped them reach the World Series. He then signed as a free agent with the Phillies where he teamed with Halladay and Cole Hamels, although the 102-win team of 2011 saw its season end in playoff disappointment. In 2012, Halladay got hurt. Then Lee, the pitcher with the seemingly perfect mechanics, got hurt. Then Hamels was traded. That trio had only one winning season together.
As Jeff pointed out in his piece, Lee's stretch from ages 29 to 34 was one of the best in history. He ranks sixth in FanGraphs WAR and 14th in Baseball-Reference WAR. That peak isn't enough to make him a Hall of Famer, even when his terrific postseason record is factored in (7-3, 2.52 ERA in 11 starts). But his career is a reminder of the height a pitcher can reach with impeccable command and the guts to throw his fastball for strikes, and a reminder of how pitchers (see Jake Arrieta) can often remake themselves in the middle of their careers.