Lee v. Greinke*

Zach Greinke, on the other hand, has left some doubt to his actual talent level. He’s no doubt an upper-level pitcher, and he’s an ace you can depend on. But how good is he? His 9.4 fWAR from 2009 is 2 fWAR better than anything Lee has done and would place him easily as the best pitcher in baseball, but Lee has had 6.5+ fWAR the last three seasons while Greinke only did it once (around 5 fWAR the other two seasons, which is still excellent). Greinke is clearly awesome, but Lee is dominating and has done it more consistently. Greinke also has good command, but he walks at least one more batter per nine than Lee (1.5 this past season). He does strike out more hitters, but there is little indication that Greinke can replicate the 9.50 K/9 from 2009 (7.40 in 2010). Chances are that Greinke is more of a 5 fWAR pitcher and that Lee is more 6-6.5, making him the better pitcher.

Greinke will also cost you prospects, and he isn’t cheap, making $13.5 million over each of the next two seasons. Jesus Montero is the likely starting point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted one of the better Yankee pitching prospects as well, with decent but unspectacular prospects rounding out the package. The Yankees can afford all of these things, but wouldn’t it be better to just pay Lee an extra $5-7 million and keep those prospects, especially when you can afford the salary?

There’s also that psychological aspect with Greinke. Some doubt his ability to handle the pressure, and if Greinke doesn’t think he can handle it, he can veto the trade to New York, making this discussion moot. If he feels that he’ll be okay, I’d be inclined not to worry about it because he’s had plenty of pressure and reasons for insanity (isn’t pitching for KC enough?) and has not broken down over the past four seasons. This issue will be played up in the media, but I’m not convinced it’s much of an issue anymore. He’s been pitching without problems the last few seasons, and unless Greinke admits he wouldn’t want to handle NY, I would file anything else under “speculation” and ignore it. But it is something to keep in mind.


Lee is clearly the better pitcher right now, but Lee’s potential is maxed out, while we’ve seen Greinke’s potential to be absolutely astronomical. Chances are that Greinke’s HR rate that season was a bit on the fortunate side, but he probably would have eclipsed 8 fWAR with a more normal (for him—8.5%) rate (I realize Lee probably would have reached over 8 fWAR if healthy that first month, but A) you don’t know how that would have affected him and B) I doubt he’ll near a 10 K/BB ration ever again). I don’t think Greinke can strike out 9+ for an entire season again because spikes like that usually don’t last, but it is possible. Once you’ve seen it, you know it can happen and hope to see it again. Even if Greinke never gets 9 fWAR again, 5 is still really good, and the cost-production ratio would be much better with Greinke outperforming his contract versus Lee simply earning his salary.

Greinke’s also younger. No matter what you think about potential and current ability, there is a five-year age difference, and Lee is on the wrong side of 30. He probably won’t be this good again because that walk rate will probably go back up by half a walk or more, and the natural wear-and-tear will probably mean diminished stuff and a greater chance of injury. Lee doesn’t have that many more miles on his arm than Greinke (only about 300 more), but those are more miles. Greinke has been healthy (physically, at least) for a while, and his youth will help him bounce back better than Lee can.

And while Greinke will cost you prospects, he’ll also cost you at least $10 million less over the next two seasons (probably closer to 14-15), and signing Lee will cost the Yankees their first-round pick next summer. Though that pick is at the back end of the first round, it’s still a valuable pick, and the Yankees really shouldn’t just throw them away.

The commitment to Greinke is also less, as his contract will expire after 2 seasons. Lee’s contract will force you to pay him for at least 5 seasons and maybe more, and considering the health risk of any pitcher, there’s considerably less risk on Greinke. And even if Greinke gets hurt, his contract won’t hurt the team’s flexibility.

Final Decision

Unfortunately, the decision isn’t an easy one, but I’m going to go with Greinke. Lee is 32, and while he has less mileage on his arm than a traditional 32-year old, risking 5-7 years on an aging arm just seems suicidal to me. He’ll cost around $20 million per season, and while he’s certainly worth that per season, will he be for years 3-6? History seems to indicate otherwise, especially for pitchers. And yes, the Yankees can afford to take the hit, but when was the last time a $20 million Yankee went down for more than a month? The Yankees have been especially good when it comes to betting on expensive players and their health, and while it could be an indication that the Yankees are good at such things, the Yankees have had a lot of injuries this season and pitchers are naturally risky. Losing a $20 million player hurts any team dearly, even the Yankees. Greinke is less of a risk, though still a big one, but will cost a lot less in salary. The prospects, however, will be prohibitive. Montero and Banuelos (or insert another top Yankee pitching prospect) is a lot to give up, but Montero is essentially a DH (you can find those) and adding Greinke takes away the weakness in the rotation (Nova, etc. can be potential back-ups). It’s a lot to give up, but the price will be about the same (considering prospects and draft picks as well) with Greinke being a smaller commitment.

Of course, this could all be moot if Greinke really doesn’t want to pitch in New York or if the Yankees decide they want both, which I think they could also do (though I severely doubt they will … but you never know).

48 thoughts on “Lee v. Greinke*

  1. The thing I think you're missing is that, even if Lee doesn't quite earn his salary, getting Lee would mean keeping Montero, and Jesus would, presumably, be worth much more than what he earns in his pre-arb years, especially if he catches on a part time basis at least. And of course, budget or no, money isn't really an obstacle for the Yankees. So if the difference is simply whether or not you retain Montero/Banuelos, I'd happily fork over some extra cash to get Lee and keep the prospects.

  2. Brien, I just really worry about Lee and giving a guy 5-7 years on his contract. The Yankees will then have two huge contracts doled out to aging pitchers, and I don't know if the Yankees need to take that much of a risk, though I guess they could theoretically handle it. I guess I just value the flexibility Greinke provides over the 6/120 that Lee is bound to get. As for Montero, it would be hard to give him up, but they were willing to do so for a couple months of Lee. But I don't think it's the same situation as Santana. You had to give up a lot in prospects, then pay him $6+ million more than you'd have to pay Greinke, and you had to take on the risk of the long-term contract. For Greinke, it's the prospects, plus a below-market salary, and the flexibility of a shorter contract.

    But it's possible that I'm valuing the salary and flexibility (though less than I would normally) more than I should be.

    And Taylor, don't be scared of Greinke. He's a nice man.

  3. Oh yeah, they could definitely get hurt. On the other hand, you'll have the Killer B's for back-up, or to trade if need be down the road. Like I said, I pretty much agree with you on the difference between Greinke and Lee, I just think that difference is more than made up by the overall cost of acquiring each player.

    If Greinke were a free agent, I'd much prefer him to Lee.

  4. On the pitching front, what do you guys think about CC's opt out clause? It's not talked about much, but it is there after next year. Do you think he will opt out or does he just finish out the contract? I don't think he gets nearly the amount he is making if he goes into free agency and he seems to have really settled in in NY, so I say he just finishes out the contract, but I'd love to hear others opinions.

  5. It's going to be difficult to choose between the two. Lee's phenomenal but 20MM for more than 5-6 years seems a little unreasonable. If not for Greinke's anxiety issues I think the decision would be a no brainer. Greinke's is just entering his prime while Lee is on the back-end of his.

    I think we should forget about Lee and Greinke and go after King Felix. Could you imagine CC, KFelix and Hughes?

    John I also hope CC stays in NY. He's been worth every penny.

  6. Um, I hate to make an obvious point, but Lee has one huge advantage over Greinke: Lee is available. We don't know if KC would trade Greinke. I can see NYY pursuing both pitchers, to see what will happen, but the idea of pursuing Greinke to the exclusion of Lee is crazy unless and until KC agrees to the trade.

  7. I think Posada plays a role in this that deserves mentioning. Next season I really can’t see him catching more than a game or 2 week (his arm rivaled this year rivaled Piazza’s to say the least), presumbly becoming the primary DH. I’d imagine without the wear and tear of catching, his offensive numbers would be much closer to what he hit in 2009 (though, 2007 would be preferable but implausible), than what he hit this year. 

    This has a direct effect on Montero’s role with club. From what I’ve read his catching skills have left much to be desired (and Austin Romine is still a few years away). So defensively, Montero is not a substantial upgrade over Posada. (I assume the Yankees may pursue a Bengie Molina-type free agent).

    Although Montero’s salary will be very low in the coming years, I just don’t think that’s enough to justify keeping him if we could get Grienke in return. Posada will be making $13mil next year, and  I can’t see Montero hitting much better than Jorge would next season. Thus, Montero would only be seen as the DH for 2012 and beyond. 

    Assuming that the Yankees do get Cliff Lee, if the Yankees can get Grienke as well, they should. Finding a serviceable DH (although Montero probably is better than average) isn’t too hard. 

  8. You better hope you get Greinke or he will wave his no trade clause. Lee is staying in Texas. The Yankees will probably offer him more money than anyone but Texas will come close and his wife is the deciding factor. She loves him in Texas because it is close to their Arkansas home. Texas has a younger, better core of talent. Their minor league talent is a lot better than the Yankees. They will be good for a while. Lee wants to win multiple championships and right now Texas looks better. The Yankees are there every year but watching Jeter and Arod move around was not good to look at. Both their ranges have declined. Jeter used to get to a lot of those balls. The wildcard is his wife. With Texas only a 4 hour drive or 1 hour flight, she is loving him playing there. I would never have thought we had a chance until we beat you. A story came out about how she loved being able to catch a flight and not waste an entire day trying to get to Seattle or Philly. Texas has declared if he leaves it will not be because of money. With no state income tax we can come in a couple of million lower per year and he still makes the same. If he leaves then you guys are giving him stupid money that will come back to haunt you. This is just an educated guess. I would have never thought it possible until the team sold and we got to the World Series.

  9. My only worry about Lee is the same as everyone else – the years, and the probability of recession. In his skills, not the economy. After all, AJ kinda looked good when we signed him – he came off a great year, he owned the Red Sox, and he owned us. Now the Yankees are staring at 3 (?) more years of paying for him.

    At least if we get Lee, AJ will be off the books at the point when (if) Lee becomes non-productive. I have no problem trying for Grienke; we tried to get rid of Montero once – have no problem getting rid of him again. And I'm fine going along with Jason – forget them both, let's steal Felix. ;)

  10. I feel a WS is the only way Lee stays w/ the rangers, but of course we've seen lots of stars leave the yr. after haven't we? ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY aint it? So i feel the odds are in the yankee favor. The one guarantee though is we do get a star pitcher, not positive who, but i think its a lock that we get some one