If one of Jon Heyman’s recent Tweets is to be believed, the Yankees are willing to go seven years with Cliff Lee.
Anyhow, none of this is especially surprising, given the Yankees’ resources, preference for “asymmetrical warfare,” and previous willingness to go seven years with a pitcher (CC Sabathia). On the last point, though, the most obvious distinction is that Sabathia was 28 when he signed his seven-year pact, whereas Lee would be be 32. Suffice it to say, that’s a substantial — and concerning — divide. In fact, if Lee signs within the next week or so then the difference in age plus start date of the contracts will come to more than 1,400 days, or much more than half of the seven-year deal. In other words, you can’t really compare the two in terms of risk and likely decline.
The Yankees, though, are no stranger to these kinds of “Faustian” contracts, but the colossus in the Bronx has the resources to absorb the back ends. The Yanks’ main competition for Lee’s services, the Rangers, perhaps do not (new revenue streams notwithstanding).
If the rumored parameters come to pass, then they outstrip expectations by quite a bit. But that’s not why the Rangers should take a pass. Laying aside the wisdom of locking up a pitcher from age 32 until age 39, there’s the possibility that Cliff Lee won’t quite be CLIFF LEE if he spends half of the rest of his career in Arlington, even on an adjusted basis. Lee’s time with Texas provides a very limited sample, but his ERA, HR rate and HR/FB rate all spiked significantly, despite the fact that his BABIP remained in line with career norms. That’s not surprising when you jump from Safeco to the Ballpark, but given that Lee’s fly-ball rates have been tracking back upward in recent seasons perhaps those numbers should give Nolan Ryan pause.
Mostly, though, it’s the issue of whether a franchise not blessed with the Yankees’ coffers should dole out such a contract. The Rangers should pat themselves on the back for driving up the price, consider installing Neftali Feliz in the rotation and then spend some filthy lucre elsewhere. It’s already rumored that they’re shopping Michael Young. Young could fetch something meaningful in return, and there’s a nifty third-base upgrade still on the market who’s going to command less than Lee …
Regardless of whether the Rangers opt to spend big on the market; dole out extensions to the like of Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Nelson Cruz; or save up for next winter, Lee at seven years should not be a serious consideration.