December 11, 2010
Cliff Lee: The Winner Finishes Second
During my four days in Orlando, it was hard to spend more than five minutes in the media room, lobby, or any of the hotel-based eateries without hearing the name Cliff Lee, often coupled with “Rangers,”, “Yankees,” or my favorite phrase of the winter rumors, “mystery team.” Now 48 hours removed and under the threat of a winter storm warning, Lee still hasn't signed, and the offers continue to ascend towards the heavens, with five years becoming six, six becoming seven, and dollars remaining at well over $20 million per annum.
Meanwhile, we continue to wait, with Rangers fans hoping to keep the hero that led their team to their first World Series, and Yankee fans wishing to prove that their team's financial might can bring them the biggest free agent name once again. At this point, I'd recommend that both fans start rooting for the other side, as the 'winning' the Cliff Lee sweepstakes has all the makings of a classic Pyrrhic victory.
The age aspect of any deal is easy to see, as no matter the length, Lee will be well into the downside of his career during the latter part of the contract. The bigger risk is simply Lee himself. It's easy to forget that this is a pitcher just three years removed from pitching his way back to the minor leagues, with the Indians trading him away as much of over the risk of him declining as to his potential price tag.
And there is simply Lee the pitcher. Even the great version of Lee is succeeding mostly on nearly super-natural command. While his pure stuff is far too good to be classified solely as a finesse arm, it's hardly the arsenal of a power pitcher, and to be the Cy Young-level pitcher, he can afford no degradation in his ability to not only throw strikes, but to place his pitches nearly perfectly in the zone. When that's not happening, Lee falls from elite to very hittable, with game one of last year's World Series serving as our most recent exhibit. The chances of Lee being the pitcher he's been over the last few seasons two years from now are slim, four years from now, tiny, and six years from now? Unfathomable.
It's turned into an ugly game of chicken, with Lee's agent Darek Braunecker watching with delight as both teams accelerate towards each other with little care for self-damage. The Yankees can certainly afford the mistake more than Texas, but at this point, either team swerving, even if in a simple act of self-preservation, is making the smarter move.