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Lee's always been an incredible bargain, but payday's coming soon

NEW YORK -- Every trade or signing that's involved underrated pitching star Cliff Lee looks like an incredible bargain so far. But pretty soon it will be Lee's turn.

The Phillies will surely try to lock up Lee this winter, and he has a chance to become the game's fourth $100 million pitcher, joining CC Sabathia (whom he outdueled in a 6-1 Game 1 victory Wednesday night), Johan Santana and Barry Zito, who got $161 million, $137.5 million and $126 million, respectively.

The undervaluing of Lee, who makes $5.75 million this year (or just under half Oliver Perez's salary), began right at the beginning, as he originally came to Cleveland in a package of three great prospects, with Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips, all of whom turned out to be major league stars, for veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon.

That may be the best trade for prospects in a quarter century. But another great trade was yet to come.

First came the great signing in 2006. Lee inked a long-term deal ($15 million for four years) that gave him security, and he looked very wise to do so after he was sent to the minors to work out some kinks when he was hurt two years ago. But now that he's won a Cy Young Award, blown through the National League playoffs with a 0.74 ERA and dominated a stacked Yankees lineup in his World Series debut, he looks like the biggest bargain in baseball once again.

This summer, when several teams were looking for pitching but prospects were at a premium, the Phillies landed Lee for four solid-to-good minor leaguers in what might be the trade of the year. The Indians received pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, plus catcher Lou Marson and infielder Jason Donald, all decent prospects with potential but no one in the category of Dominic Brown, Michael Taylor or Kyle Drabek, who are considered Philly's three best prospects. Knapp, the best of that package, needed microfracture shoulder surgery soon after going to Cleveland, and one scout said he sees the others as major league contributors but something short of stars. "A steal for Philly," was that one scout's opinion, though to be fair, it's tough to judge trades for prospects when they are made.

Though, Lee's already made Philly's side of it worth it. Lee has been underappreciated for years, but that should change now that he has shown his stuff on the big stage.

Perhaps it's that he throws only 92 mph and relies on control and a varied repertoire. The Phillies' scouting staff, including Charlie Kerfeld, Howie Freiling, Jim Fregosi Jr. and Gordon Lakey, were all enamored with Lee at the trading deadline ("He mixes four pitches," Freiling says about why they loved Lee). And with the Blues Jays requesting J.A. Happ plus Drabek and Brown, it was a no-brainer trade for Phillies rookie GM Ruben Amaro, who pounced quickly, leaving the Jays in the lurch and giving the Phillies the upper hand in the NL.

Finally, it looks like Lee's primed for a major payday this winter. The Indians passed last winter, knowing their small-market dollars wouldn't do the trick. But Philly knows what it has in Lee, and more to the point, it has the loot after two straight World Series appearances.

Before Lee became a one-man postseason dynamo, it was presumed he'd shoot to be in the range of A.J. Burnett's $82.5-million, five-year deal. Coincidentally, the Burnett deal was negotiated by Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, who had another deal close to that waiting in Atlanta if Burnett didn't want to go to New York (turns out he did). Burnett's contract is considered a coup for the player and was seen as a potential measuring stick for Lee and John Lackey. But according to a friend of Lee's, "Cliff's always been worth more." (So is free agent Lackey, who could also join the $100 million club this winter.)

As for who makes a fair comp, the friend said in mid-gem Wednesday night, "Looks like the comp is on the mound the next inning." That was a not-so-subtle hint at CC Sabathia's $161 million deal, a record for a pitcher. Over the last two years, Lee is 37-17 and Sabathia is 36-18, with Lee's record coming mostly in Cleveland and Sabathia's mostly out of Cleveland. Lee's ERA is just under 3 during that time period while Sabathia's is just over 3.

So Lee has actually outpitched CC over two years, not just one game.

However, even if Lee is viewed as comparable to Sabathia (and the numbers indicate he is), there are a couple differences that favor Sabathia. CC was only 28 when he signed the richest pitching deal, whereas Lee is 31. Also, Sabathia was a free agent, whereas the Phillies hold a bargain $9 million option for 2010, which is as good as exercised already.

Two agents (not Lee's guy) offered their take on Lee's value during his brilliant, 122-pitch Game 1 mastery that included 10 strikeouts, no walks, an unearned run and some eye-catching plays.

Agent No. 1: "His option is obviously a bargain ... But the question is, what will the market bear for him? He is a few years older than CC but is elite and a proven big-game winner. He's still not seen as the overwhelming force with the infinitely high ceiling, so I would put him behind Johan and CC and I would guess $18 to $20 million a year for five years."

Agent No. 2: "He will get less than Zito or he will have to wait. He will get five ... $15 to $17 million."

The contract that gave him peace of mind when he struggled so unexpectedly in 2007 contains that option, which delays free agency until after 2010 and could prevent him from getting well into nine figures. The guess here is that Philly adds $91 million over five years, making it an even $100 million over six. Whatever they give him, with Lee's obvious drive and repertoire, it will probably turn out to be another bargain in a career of them.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is claiming his wife Jamie had an affair with the driver, with expenses-paid trips to Israel and other points thrown in.

Former Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt -- Frank fired her earlier this month -- said in divorce papers she'll need nearly $500,000 a month if she's out of the Dodgers, and $332,000 if she's in.

"It's a real mess," one MLB power said.

There is a lot of ugliness here, but lawyers say the key claim by Frank McCourt could be that Jamie signed a post-nuptial agreement giving control of the team to him. No surprise, she doesn't' quite see it that way. She's apparently going to claim she didn't' know what she was signing. With her being a lawyer, it seems like a tough case. But other lawyers still seem to think she has a shot.

If Frank McCourt wins the case, it appears he might have a chance to keep the team. But if the team is split into two, it's going to be tough for either of them to wrest control (though she is said by Los Angelenos in high places to have more good relationships with the well-healed of L.A.)

If she wins her case, the team will be considered community property, and we may have a repeat of the San Diego situation, where club owner John Moores was forced to sell the Padres since the wife he was divorcing owned half of it.

"We could be headed for Moores-ville," the MLB big said.

Mets ownership is loading up at the top of their hierarchy, talking VP of scouting Sandy Johnson into staying one more year after he had been threatening retirement and now also setting its sights on adding a veteran front-office person to join with Johnson and assistant GM John Ricco below embattled GM Omar Minaya. Johnson has always been like a father to Minaya, but people within the organization insisted Mets ownership's desperation to keep Johnson shows a diminishing confidence in Minaya. While all the rank-and-file scouts were retained with no raises this week, Johnson was said to have been offered basically a "blank check" to stay.

The question isn't anymore whether Minaya retains "full autonomy" but rather if he has any at all. With ownership planning to hire yet another senior level executive, one Mets official said all the front-office plans seem to be "setting the stage" for Minaya's eventual ouster.

Minaya's three-year contract (for $3.5 million) may be keeping him employed for now. But one Mets official said, "No way he lasts the three years."

Longtime GM Pat Gillick, the Phillies consultant known to have the Midas touch (besides being the GM for last year's Phillies championship team, he won two World Series titles in Toronto, won 116 games in Seattle, was the last GM to make the playoffs in Baltimore and has a hand in this Phillies team, as well), is the one who personally ensured that star outfielder Jayson Werth would sign with the Phillies after he was released by the Dodgers. Kevin Towers, the Padres GM at the time, called Werth at home in Springfield, Ill. But Gillick was already there sitting down at the dining table with the Werth family.

Gillick had the inside track anyway. Gillick originally drafted Werth with the Orioles and also had Werth's stepfather, Dennis Werth, as a player when Gillick was with the Yankees' front office in the mid-70s.

"I always thought (Werth) had a lot of potential and that he'd been hampered by a wrist injury," Gillick said. Werth wound up needing two wrist surgeries when the first didn't take.

Gillick also knew that his mother was Kim Schofield, an Olympic runner, his uncle was Dick Schofield, the former Angels shortstop, and grandfather was Dick Schofield Sr., the former Cardinals shortstop.

"He has good genes," Gillick said.

• There were no big umpiring incidents in Game 1, and the one controversial call was discussed in a huddle before the umpires got it right. They correctly called a double play when Jimmy Rollins caught Robinson Cano's soft liner on the ground and threw to first to double up Hideki Matsui (the play became confusing when Rollins acted like he might let the ball drop, then touched second for a fake force). MLB made sure to put together a top group, and MLB sources say all six ranked in the top half of umpires, a claim that couldn't be made in previous series, when several bad calls were made. "These are among the best senior umpires," MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy said. Gerry Davis, Dana DeMuth and Joe West are the senior guys on the staff, and DuPuy called Mike Everitt "one of the best young umpires" in the game. He also had high praise for Brian Gorman and Jeff Nelson.

• One reason A-Rod didn't act upset when he was removed for a pinch runner in the ALCS against the Angels, according to a friend, is that A-Rod "likes [Joe] Girardi." Rodriguez didn't complain publicly when Joe Torre batted him eighth, but privately he didn't take that nearly as well.

• Sabathia looks like he's almost assured of going in Game 4 and then again 7 (if necessary), but the Yankees may yet want to see how A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte come out of Games 2 and 3 before committing to them for Games 5 and 6.

Jeff Moorad, the ex-Diamondbacks owner who's taking over the Padres, and his former partner in Arizona, Ken Kendrick, are in a dispute (though not as messy as the McCourts' mess). Kendrick apparently was upset that Moorad kept secret from him for months his talks to buy the Padres, and also that Moorad has set what he sees as a high price for his D-backs shares.

• Though the Nationals have expressed interest in Bobby Valentine, they are believed to want to keep their managerial salary under $1 million. It's getting harder to imagine that they will replace interim Jim Riggleman.

Paul O'Neill's prediction of Yankees in four doesn't look too good now.

• But Rollins' prediction of Phillies in five is still in play.

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