I want Cliff Lee, but if he wants Texas, so be it

Good e-migo Maury Brown tweeted this not that long ago, and he’s right:

After lat night, if the Yankees add an eighth year to their offer, this will be more about losing to the Rangers than getting Cliff Lee.

The Yankees are in bed with over $618 million of committments through 2018, just ahead of Evil Empire II who are now on the hook for almost the same amount over the same period of time:

The Red Sox have $594.75 million in salary commitments through 2018, not quite $19 million less than the Yankees’ $613.28 million. The Yankees’ committed dollars are just a little more than 3% greater than those of the Red Sox.

This should not be “CLIFF LEE AT ANY COST”. It just shouldn’t, but it feels like it’s turning into just that. Sure, if Lee stays in Texas, it’s possible Pettitte decides to hang ’em up, too. That would leave two gaping holes in the rotation. Cashman could very easily* try to trade the entire farm system for Zack Greinke or lefties Johan Santana or Francisco Liriano. We’ll address that if it comes to that, to be sure.

* It would be easy to try, not easy to execute; just wanted to make that clear.

My colleague Larry, in discussing the success of the RedSox over the last week, puts it quite well and we can adapt the rational thought for Cliff Lee:

As a Yankees fan, all I can say is congratulations. There’s no way I can feel bitter about the Sox’s success in this week’s winter meetings. The Sox did what the Yankees usually do (and may still do, before this post-season is over): they parlayed their money advantage into the signing of a couple of terrific ballplayers. IIATMS, that’s the way the game is played.

If the Yanks are outbid, they’re outbid. It would be among the rarest events in the baseball world, but it can happen. We’ll have to lick our wounds and just go out and play like mad this Spring and Summer.  World Series titles are not awarded in December. There are games to play.   That’s what every other team has said after a Yankees spending spree. Now it’s our turn, IF Cliff Lee lands in Texas.

If he chooses the Yanks, we’ll hear all about “the Yanks are buying a title” yet again. It is about the money.

And if Lee takes Texas’ tax-advantaged money:

About @Jason_IIATMS

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12 thoughts on “I want Cliff Lee, but if he wants Texas, so be it

  1. THANK-YOU, Jason. ANYONE who outbids the Yankees is more than likely making a very ill-advised decision. Basing that statement on all of the ill-advised free agent grabs we've made in the past.

    My fear all along has been that we would sell the farm to buy Lee, only to have him turn into Pavano/Burnett. (he has had back issues, and Burnett was, before we signed him, unhittable when he faced the Yankees or Red Sox.) Just me exercising my paranoia. But the bidding here is starting to look like an Ebay auction between two bored, rich neighbors – the kind of auction where they end up paying a 20% premium over the new price, just so their "friend" doesn't win the auction.

  2. I think that, regardless of the merits or lack thereof of a particular contract, one thing that's probably true after this offseason is that the Yankees payroll won't be holding at $210 million. With more teams increasing their spending across the board, my guess is the Yankees will follow the market and increase their payroll too.

  3. If Lee turns down or get a better offer than the alleged 7 years/23.5 million per the Yankees should let him walk. He’s barely worth that offer, anything more is stupid. I’m OK even if this means missing the playoffs for a year (which it doesn’t).

  4. I'll be contrarian and say that Lee is well worth 7 years/$23 million. Anything more might make me nervous, depending on how much more. Of course, it depends on how you do your valuation. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron has been valuing free agents at $5 million per WAR. With those numbers, a 7 WAR guy like Cliff Lee is worth a heck of a lot of money. I'll try to post on this later.

    • I won't argue that Mr. Lee could be a 7 WAR guy – or that he isn't worth big bucks next year. And the year after. But the odds are long that he'll be even a 1 WAR guy 6 years down the road. He is older than CC, he has more of an injury history – I'd almost rather take Greinke and his hypothetical head case problems. Not that he is available, but Lee gets older every day this drags on.

      Sadly, I find myself agreeing with Craig Calcaterra on this one (you've linked to his take on the Daily Blog Circuit.) Is that bad? Should I be embarrassed?

      • Agreed. There is no way to reasonably evaluate his worth by the end of a 5 6 or 7 year deal. Its so unlikely he'll be worth what they're signing for at his current value. This is just taking account normal decline from age (most mild case scenario). He's also a pitcher. All pitchers are prone to injury and severe drop-off in effectiveness, and Lee shouldn't be held above this considering he has no track record before 2008. This is such a desperate move that would majorly hamper the Yankees by 2015.

      • There's no good way to evaluate where he'll be 6 years down the road, but 1 WAR is a stretch. Even if he does drop off a table at 36, 37, there's a decent chance that he'll be worth 2-3 WAR in the later years, maybe 1.5 WAR in the last year. That's not worth $23M/year in either case, but you're getting some of that value front-loaded (hopefully).

    • I'm a little less worried than most. Lee doesn't have too much mileage on his arm and I thinkhe could be an elite starter for another 3 or 4 years without much trouble, at which point I'm fine eating the back end of the deal to varying degrees. That's even more true now that we're probably looking at an overall rise in league payrolls, which gives the Yankees more breathing room with their budget in the long term.

  5. I agree with Larry here… Sure looks like teams are flush with cash, and you can't look at 2015 salaries with 2010 dollars.

    The marginal value of Lee to the Yanks at this point is greater than to anyone else, period. The 5-7 WAR he's likely to deliver over the next 3 years is the difference between a wild card exit and a championship every one of those years.

    Given Yankee resources, and all the money coming off the books for the Yanks over the next few years, they can easily swallow the $23 in years 5-7 for a #3 or 4 starter. The yanks success in those years are going to be dependent on the farm system and that die has already been cast.

  6. I actually am hoping he signs with Texas so the Yanks can refocus on developing their young players to augment the creaky overpaid veterans they are already committed to.

  7. Kurt, signing Lee would not distract the Yankees from developing players in their minor league system. But the consensus is that none of the Yankees' minor league starting pitching talent is major league ready. Moreover, if the Yanks cannot sign Lee, they may look to trade some of this young talent for an established starting pitcher.

    I'm with you. The Yankees have to get younger. But signing Lee will actually allow the Yanks to retain their top minor leaguers, and may buy the time needed to let these players develop in the minors.