Book it: Cliff Lee is going to be a Yankee

As we continue to wait on Cliff Lee, my confidence that he’s coming to the Yankees was emboldened by Jon Heyman’s and Tom Verducci’s latest columns for SI.com. Heyman writes (emphasis mine):

“In the race for free agent left-hander Cliff Lee, people familiar with the talks indicate that the New York Yankees have a big advantage over the Texas Rangers in terms of total guaranteed dollars offered and also have one more guaranteed year currently on the table.

Heyman also reiterates Lee’s apparent love of the Rangers and the proximity to his home in Arkansas. However, the most important nugget in the article is the fact that the Rangers’ initial offer was apparently for five years and $100 million — the first time I’ve seen an actual dollar figure attached to a Texas offer.

While we don’t know the exact dollars being bandied about by the two teams, we do know this: the Yankees have offered seven years and a total package that is believed to be worth in the neighborhood of CC Sabathia‘s $161 million. The Rangers are at six years and an undisclosed dollar figure. However, if their initial offer to Lee was at $20 million a year, how much further are the Rangers actually willing to go? Six years at the same dollar figure would only get them to $120 million, and there’s just no way Lee leaves $40 million on the table, no matter how much he may have enjoyed his time in Texas. Oh, and the idea that Texas’ lack of state income tax enables the Rangers to comfortably offer less money? Doesn’t matter. Per Heyman:

“The idea that the money can be made up via decreased taxes in Texas doesn’t appear to have much merit. Beyond the fact that Lee is an Arkansas resident, he’d only be responsible for New York taxes for the 81 home dates each year. Over the course of a seven-year contract, the tax differential would be expected to be no more than $1 to $2 million.”

Texas would have to up the AAV of their offer to $23M just to even get in the same ballpark as the Yankees, and at $138 million they’d still be over $20 million short. And for those thinking that if Lee really wanted to be on the Yankees he’d have already accepted their offer, I would relax. He also hasn’t accepted Texas’ offer yet, either. He obviously enjoyed his time in Texas and this is probably the biggest decision he’ll ever have to make in his life. The man’s allowed to take a few days to think about it, and I doubt he’d want to insult Texas by immediately leaping at the Yankees’ offer.

As discussed yesterday, the Yankees don’t have a viable Plan B if they miss out on Lee. However, the Rangers actually do. As Verducci notes:

“If the Rangers don’t re-sign Lee, all might not be lost. Here’s one idea for Plan B: send third baseman Michael Young to Colorado, sign free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre and trade for pitcher Zack Greinke from Kansas City. Would you rather have Young, 34, and Lee, 33, at $39 million a year or Beltre, 31, and Greinke, 27, at $28.5 million a year?

Over the next two years, anyway, the Rangers would have the two younger players and an extra $10.5 million a year. (Of course, they would have lost the prospects traded to Kansas City, too.) And how would you spend the extra money? Go get a closer and put Neftali Feliz in the rotation. Go take your chances with a rotation of Greinke, 27, Feliz, 22, C.J. Wilson, 30, Colby Lewis, 31, and Derek Holland, 24.”

If I’m a Rangers fan I think I’d be pretty satisfied going forward with a rotation of Greinke — who, despite repeatedly being brought up as a Yankee trade target has zero chance of landing in New York — Feliz, Wilson, Lewis and Holland. That’s actually downright terrifying on paper, especially since Colby Lewis is apparently the greatest pitcher of our generation. Additionally, not having $23 million a year tied up in a pitcher through his age 38 season will prove immensely helpful as the team looks to improve itself in the years to come.

The only way I’d feel good about missing out on Lee is if the Yankees were willing to give Joba Chamberlain another go in the rotation, but they have adamantly maintained that they will not be doing so. A Yankee rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and two mystery pitchers just does not inspire a ton of confidence, and the Yankees would have to trade for a frontline starter and hope that one of the promising trio of Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos or Andrew Brackman works out at the Big League level — while we’d all love to see pitchers from the farm system contribute to the team, there’s just too much uncertainty in that plan. Especially since the AL East isn’t exactly getting any easier. At the current moment, almost every team in the division has a better rotation than the Yankees do — I’d take Boston’s, Tampa Bay’s and Toronto’s rotations over the Yankees’ incomplete fivesome, and I might even give Baltimore the edge too given their exciting trio of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman.

Even if Texas does the unexpected and offers Lee a seventh year, at this point I think Brian Cashman has resolved himself to doing whatever it takes to get Lee — especially since it’s sounding more and more like getting Lee also means getting Andy Pettitte back — and would tack on an eighth year. Quite simply, the Yankees have no choice but to do whatever it takes to get Lee.

And ultimately, it seems highly unlikely that Lee doesn’t take the Yankees offer unless he’s willing to leave at least $20 million on the table. Would you leave $20 million on the table, even if you were absolutely in love with the most recent place you worked and it was close to your home? Of course not — you’d take the extra $20 million and buy a private plane so you could go home whenever you wanted and use the remaining $19 million to do whatever you damn pleased. Unless Cliff Lee is the first athlete in the history of the world in which it’s not all about the money for him, I can’t envision a scenario in which he doesn’t sign with the Yankees.

ETA, 1:14pm: Here’s a thought-provoking piece from Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein on the dangers of locking up the 32-year-old Lee long-term.

5 thoughts on “Book it: Cliff Lee is going to be a Yankee

  1. The Rangers have plan A and B and they plan on doing both. Don't be so naive and think that it's going to be Lee and that's it. Lee is just a part of the Rangers plan. Rangers are out to improve and "retaining" Lee is just keeping up with what happened last year. The improvement comes in the form of Greinke and Beltre. The ownership group isn't just Greenburg and Ryan, they are not the real money. The real money is Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, deep deep oil rich pockets. Who do you think catapulted the sell of the team when they were in bankruptcy? It was their pockets that got it done. Word is, the Lee deal will partly coming out of their own pocket. Rangers offseason will be Lee, Greinke and Beltre.

  2. Hi Miguel,

    Wow, that would be a pretty happy outcome for the Rangers, wouldn't it? Sure anything's possible, but I haven't read anything anywhere that indicates the Rangers expect to pursue both Lee and Greinke. More power to 'em if they do.

  3. Anonymous

    And ultimately, it seems highly unlikely that Lee doesn't take the Yankees offer unless he's willing to leave at least $20 million on the table. Would you leave $20 million on the table, even if you were absolutely in love with the most recent place you worked and it was close to your home? Of course not — you'd take the extra $20 million and buy a private plane so you could go home whenever you wanted and use the remaining $19 million to do whatever you damn pleased.

  4. Anonymous

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    The wait is over. In a surprising development that leaves two top American League teams empty-handed, Cliff Lee has agreed to sign a five-year, $120MM deal with the Phillies. The contract includes a $27.5MM vesting option for 2016 with a $12.5MM buyout, plus partial no-trade clause.

    you'd take the extra $20 huh?

  5. If I was afraid of being wrong I wouldn't have written this piece in the first place. What's the point of blogging about baseball without predictions and speculation?

    That being said, given that not a soul was talking about the Phillies when this post was written, the fact that it was in reference to Lee leaving $20 million on the table to play for the Rangers over the Yankees and that Lee wound up surprising the heck out of everyone and choosing to go to Philly for what appears to be $13M — not $20M — less than what the Yankees offered, I still stand by what I wrote.

    Obviously Lee has shown that his comfort level is just as if not more important than money — a personality trait I was unaware of — and so it's also possible he could've taken less money to go back to the Rangers, and if that had been the case I'd have no problem having been wrong about that, either.

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