After declining to offer arbitration to left-hander Eric Milton, the Phillies made a move that they believe fills the hole created by Milton's departure.
Veteran right-hander Jon Lieber comes to the Phillies from the Yankees, bringing his career mark of 100-91, 4.20 with him. Lieber, who missed the 2003 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, went 14-8, 4.33 with the Yankees last season, but pitched his best ball late in the season. Lieber chose Philly over returning to the Yankees, who had offered him arbitration, or signing with Cleveland. The difference came when the Phillies guaranteed the third year of Lieber's new contract as opposed to the other offers that were offering two years with either an option or a vesting third season based on Lieber's performance. The deal is worth $21 million plus award bonuses, paying Lieber $5.25 million in 2005, $7.25 million in 2006 and $7.5 million in 2007.
The Phillies signing Lieber was somewhat surprising since they had vowed not to sign any players who would require giving up draft picks as compensation. Because the Yankees offered Lieber arbitration on Tuesday, the Phillies will have to send their first round pick in the June Draft to the Yankees as compensation. The Phillies hope that they'll get a first round pick in return when Placido Polanco, who the Phillies offered arbitration, signs elsewhere. If Polanco does accept the Phillies offer of arbitration, he will automatically be considered signed with the Phillies and the Phillies will have no first round pick.
Lieber started his career with the Pirates, pitching four seasons in Pittsburgh before moving on to pitch for the Cubs for four seasons and spending one season with the Yankees. Lieber's best season was in 2001 when he went 20-6, 3.80 for the Cubs, only to suffer an elbow injury the next season and wind up needing Tommy John surgery.
Last season, Lieber seemed to continue to progress from his arm surgery as the season went on. Over the last two months of the season, Lieber was 7-1, 3.21 with the Yankees and was 1-1, 3.43 in the post-season. "I thought halfway through the season, it was more mentally tiring than physically tiring. There were a lot of ups and downs, but toward the end I started to feel a lot better, and I thought my arm started to catch up with the results," Lieber said at a press conference to introduce him as the newest member of the Phillies.
The addition of Lieber means that the Phillies have crossed the major issues that they faced off of their list before they head to the Winter Meetings in Anaheim. The Phillies kept pitchers Cory Lidle and Rheal Cormier along with back-up catcher Todd Pratt and traded for center fielder Kenny Lofton, who played with Lieber last season in New York. Those moves filled the major holes on the Phillies roster, leaving some potential bullpen and bench moves to be made between now and the start of the season. The addition of Lieber likely means that Ryan Madson will remain in the bullpen and Gavin Floyd will start the season at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The Phillies had considered plugging either Madson or Floyd into the starting rotation for next season.