A true mystery team signing also happened in December of 2010. Nine years ago, all signs pointed to Cliff Lee signing with the Yankees. Several other teams were involved in rumors. The Phillies were not. And then, bang, news broke that Philly signed him.
We saw it when the Angels came out of nowhere to get Albert Pujols and then later that same offseason as the Tigers signed Prince Fielder. The Padres last offseason turned out to be the mystery team on Manny Machado ( ), though before he signed there was reporting connecting the two.
“It was one of those things, it was such a burst of energy and excitement,” Howard said. “You’re like, we just got this guy and it just upped our chances to win even more. As a team now in the offseason, you’re like, I can’t wait for spring training. To be able to get there and get this guy on the bump and start playing behind this guy? It’s something that definitely helps the team in that way.”
Former Phillies slugger Ryan Howard was glued to the TV in December 2010 when it seemed likely Lee, who was a Phillie for half a season in 2009 before getting traded, was set to head to the Bronx. But the Phillies turned out to be a “Mystery Team” in the Lee bidding, inking the lefty to a five-year, 0 million deal in a twist that surprised pretty much everyone, including Howard. SAN DIEGO — Veterans of following the free-agent rumor mill — especially here at the annual MLB Winter Meetings — know that at some point we’re bound to hear about a “mystery team” and its supposed involvement with a major free agent. Sometimes it’s simply an agent attempting to push up the price on a coveted All-Star, other times it actually is a team stealthily sitting in the weeds ready to pounce.
As two supposed mystery teams entered the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes for a brief moment earlier this week, I wanted to get the perspective of what it’s like to be a player on a team that does successful under-the-radar bidding.
That burst of excitement is fun to imagine. Now let’s hope for some more big offseason moves — and maybe even a Lee-sized surprise.
“I remember I was watching TV and looking at the ticker at the bottom of the screen,” said Howard, who was attending the Winter Meetings in San Diego this week. “You kept seeing Cliff Lee to the Yankees. Then it went Cliff Lee to the Yankees, question mark. Then it moved again and it said Cliff Lee to the Phillies, question mark. And I was like, ‘what?’
While they weren’t one of the mystery teams — they were the favorite — I definitely thought of my conversation with Howard when Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees. Here’s how his new teammates felt:
When landing a big-name new teammate, though, that’s when the excitement hits. Howard said pretty much every player follows the rumor mill, especially in the era of Twitter, though he was more laid back then many players. He seemed to try and safeguard himself against getting his hopes up prematurely. “It was question mark, question mark, question mark. Then it was like Cliff Lee to the Phillies. I called my man Ben Francisco, and I was like ‘Benny Fresh, did you see what I just saw?'”