Cliff Lee aftermath: Yankees fans should leap for joy

Note: This updates an earlier post on the Cliff Lee deal that focused more on Lee’s decision. This one examines the non-deal from the Yankees’ perspective.

This morning’s response from Yankees fans to Cliff Lee’s decision to sign with the Phillies ran the gamut from grief to anger, spite to despair. Let’s be clear: the 2011 rotation sans Cliff Lee has a lot of question marks. There’s no doubt the team would have been stronger this season with Lee than without him.

But, for several reasons, Yankees fans should be ecstatic with the outcome of the negotiations.

First, there’s Lee’s age and health. Yes, as I argued earlier today, he’s a control pitcher – and although he can hit the low and even mid-90s now, he’s well-suited to pitch into his later years. But counting on any pitcher — even one as good as Lee — to remain effective into his late-30s with the number of innings he racks up is a wild card. Add Lee’s relatively short track record of dominance and his back flare-ups and you’re talking about a real gamble.

But here’s why the non-signing is even more important: it underscores the team’s new business philosophy. Prior to learning the details of the three offers Lee received, conventional wisdom was that the Yankees blew him away with money, and Lee left a ton on the table in order to sign with his preferred team.

Now we know that’s simply not true.

Let’s look at the final reported offers for each of the three contenders:

Team

Guaranteed Years

Option

Total Value

AAV

Phillies

5

1 (vesting)

6 years/$135 million

$22.5 million

Rangers

6

1 (vesting)

7 years/$161 million

$23 million

Yankees

6

1 (player)

7 years/$148 million

$21.1 million

As we can plainly see, the Yankees came in second on total value and third on average annual value. Although it’s certainly possible that Lee wouldn’t have signed with the Yankees for any price, we’ll never know. What we do know is that the Yankees didn’t come close to the best deal.

The Cliff Lee saga isn’t a story about the Yankees getting rebuffed by a player who rejected their big money. After all these years, we’ve simply been trained to assume that’s what happened. This is actually a story about the Yankees setting a value on a player they wanted and sticking to that number, even if it meant losing to another team.

That’s the sign of a team that finally gets it. Every contract, big or small, should be based on value. Sometimes sticking to your game plan stings. I’m sure some in the Yankees’ front office argued that another $10 or $20 million would be a small price to convince Cliff Lee to take his talents to the Bronx. I, for one, am impressed by the team’s discipline. It’s a new way of doing business, and it bodes well for the future.

By day, David Meadvin is president of Inkwell Strategies, a professional speechwriting firm based in Washington, DC.

4 thoughts on “Cliff Lee aftermath: Yankees fans should leap for joy

  1. David in Cal

    Yes, this non-deal seems to show that the Yanks "get it" — that deals must be based on value. However, the Derek Jeter deal sure wasn't based on value or even on competitive bids from other clubs. So, I'm not certain that the Yanks get it.

  2. Dave, my California doppelganger, I get what you're saying about Jeter — except I have to respectfully disagree. The Yanks knew they had to bring him back, and they stood fairly firm from their initial offer. They bent a bit to close the deal, but given where Jeter started — in the 5 year, $100 million range — I think that negotiation was a good example of exactly what I'm talking about.Will Jeter be, on paper, a $15 million player for the next three seasons? probably not. But under the circumstances, I think the Yanks showed more than reasonable foresight and restraint on that deal.

  3. Well, you have to remember that a lot of that money isn't for Lee, a finesse pitcher who's had 2 great seasons and a bunch of ordinary ones. A lot of it was for the hype that comes with 4 good postseason starts against the Yankees. And a lot of it was for Kristin Lee, who's starting to make Anna Benson and Brenda Warner look sensible.

  4. Craig K

    This piece is quick and excellent. I may have been the only fan from the get go that wanted nothing to do with Cliff and certainly not on the side of despair that we didn't accomplish that.

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