Cliff Lee, The Rangers and Seven Years

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.

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26 Responses to “Cliff Lee, The Rangers and Seven Years”

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  1. Steve says:

    Didn’t Lee’s numbers in Texas spike up b/c his back was hurting in August? Wierd to have no mention of that.

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    • Mat says:

      How can we know that. It’s a possibility certainly, but you can’t entirely discount other factors.

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      • Yashar says:

        I watched the games, and other than the 2-3 starts when he had back problems, his only awful start which definitely inflated his homer numbers was against the Orioles in his first start in Arlington.

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  2. DIVISION says:

    Lee is the gem of the off-season in terms of SP.

    He will get seven years if that’s what it takes to get a deal done, regardless of who inks him. This off-season has shown us that inflation is norm and reasonable contracts are the outlier.

    This is likely Lee’s last payday anyway, so might as well make it a blockbuster that will harken back to the days of Zito…

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  3. phoenix2042 says:

    the problem for the yankees is the lack of a plan B. its basically lee or bust. so they will vastly vastly overpay in years (and dollars) in order to land him. supposedly they talked to the twins about a trade for liriano but were given a prompt “no @$%&-ing way.”

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  4. DIVISION says:

    Would no surpise me to see 8 years when all is said and done.

    Someone will cave and it won’t be Lee.

    Talk about leverage!

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  5. Fred says:

    A non-absurd Hamilton extension is probably their best move at this point.

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  6. B N says:

    On a tangent, this whole discussion lead to an article by Passan which said offhandedly that Kevin Brown was not a bona-fide ace, lumping him in with Hampton and … Zito. (;_ylt=AmS8CcbjHkJeNV3gVgLI_E8RvLYF?slug=jp-leedeservessevenyears120710)

    Ugly. I don’t normally rag on utility-writers like the guys at Yahoo, since I know they have to cover a lot of sports, but that’s still just ugly to read.

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    • Chris says:

      Passan is garbage, he only rights unintelligent drivel to spark controversy which promotes readership. I can’t remember the last article that he wrote that I actually could enjoy or agree with. I don’t even bother reading his articles any more.

      Also notice that there’s no commenting on any Yahoo! writers news articles (blogs, yes) but any AP reported articles there are. Why? They don’t want their writers being blasted every five seconds!

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  7. miffleball says:

    Just a quick question on long term value between werth and lee, since in many ways, their careers have followed similar arcs.
    through his age 28 season, werth averaged 2.2 WAR/year. In the three seasons since, he has averaged 5 WAR/year, good for the 8th, 8th and 10th best outfielder and 5th, 4th and 4th best right fielder in baseball during that time span.
    through his age 29 season, lee averaged 2.0 WAR/year. In the three seasons since, he has averaged just under 7.0 WAR/year, good for 4th, 6th and 1st among starting pitchers, respectively.
    Clearly, the last three seasons demonstrate a significant jump in production in players at the far end of their primes, making the sudden emergence of extraordinary talent highly unexpected. While Lee has clearly been better – both objectively and at his position – than Werth has been, which would justify paying him more, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been an extraordinary pre-emptive outcry over the potential number of years that is essentially starting AFTER a normal player’s prime is over? Will everyone roundly lambast the yankees if lee accepts their offer of 7 years, $165 million – or will that be a great signing because it is cliff lee? Just trying to understand the logic of contract evaluation because I have been unclear why werth’s contract is so bad (and if it is only bad because it is from the nationals and not the phillies, or another contender, I’d like that clarification too).

    For the record, I have no problem with the crawford contract, seeing as since his age 23 season he has topped 4.5 WAR in 5 of 7 years, giving him a much firmer track record with a normal progression on a contract that starts in his prime. And I say this even as I’m surprised that he got that much yearly to begin with, but if the market demanded that number, I’d rather give him the years than either Werth or Lee…

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    • Steve says:

      1. Yes. People will lambast the yankees for giving him 7 years. Absolutely.

      2. THAT SAID. The Yankees are realistically a Cliff Lee away from winning the World Series (not guaranteed, the Sox are going to be good, anything can happen, yada yada short series yada yada). Therefore, they should be willing to pay more for marginal wins. The same cannot be said for the Nationals. At least for the next 2-3 years.

      3. Lee will represent about 10% of the Yankee payroll. That’s a very different situation than Werth, who will take up, what 25% of the Nat’s payroll??

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      • DIVISION says:

        Who said it would stop at 7 years?

        I’ve already posted that 8 years may be what gets the deal signed and delivered.

        If there are several teams offering 7 years for the same amount of money, what makes you think Lee won’t push the envelope and add an extra year as leverage?

        You’re thinking from a pseudo-GM’s POV when you need to be thinking from Lee’s POV on this.

        He’s the commodity and he will decide where he goes and for what price.

        It’s really all about him at this point……….

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    • v-Skippy says:

      I’m guessing the market will say it stops at 7 years as only the Yankees have/will go beyond 6.

      Steve’s points about marginal wins and percentage of payroll nails it. Even if it is a terrible “baseball” contract it could very well be just fine as a “Yankee” contract given their need for marginal wins and ability to absorb payroll.

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  8. Randy says:

    The Angels should go for Lee

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  9. drumzalicious says:

    ive said it multiple times. The Rangers should just let Lee go to the Yankees. For a team just really blossoming they shouldn’t hamper themselves down with such a contract. Especially with him being 32. No guarantee that he ages like Pettitte.

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    • Ray says:

      See, and that’s the thing…even if he DOES age gracefully like Pettitte he won’t be worth the massive contract that’s being discussed. Pettitte put up 5.8 wins in 2005, as a 33 year old. As year 1 of a theoretical 7 year deal, expecting a decline of .5 wins a season, he’d be expected to have delivered 27.3 wins to this point; in actuality he’s at 24.1. Using $5 million per win with 6% inflation this six year stretch, in current dollars, would work out to $136 million, meaning he’d need to earn $25 million–or ~4 wins counting inflation–to ‘earn’ his 7 year contract.

      And that’s aging gracefully like Pettitte, who had already accumulated 42.8 WAR (4.28 per season) in ten rather steady years before his age 33 season, compared with the 29 WAR(4.14 per) in Lee’s up-and-down first 7 seasons (excluding 2 partial season to start his career).

      In the end he’ll get huge money and perhaps a contract that doesn’t expire until he’s 40…I think it’s a HUGE risk for any team to take on, but while the Yankees can absorb some massive mistakes the Rangers can’t.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    I’m kinda surprised that so much attention is being given to Lee, especially with the 7-year contract thing looming.

    Zack Grienke will be in the 2nd year of a 36M/4y contract and his team is open to trading him.

    Rather than give Cliff Lee 130+/7, why not acquire Grienke? Any prospects lost could likely be replaced with ease by a team that can afford to acquire FA’s while prospects develop?

    I would say the same thing NYY, BOS, LAA, and I guess TEX. I guess the natural thnking is that once Lee signs with NYY, TEX trades for Grienke. That might be one of the better things ever to happen to TEX.

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  11. King Bob says:

    I expect better from FanGraphs. The title made it sound like the Rangers signed Cliff Lee for 7 years.

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  12. Duaner (Dirty) Sanchez says:

    Why does everyone want to blow Cliff Lee?

    Yes, he’s had a couple of tremendous, awesome years. But the fact of the matter is that he’s 32 years old and he’s suffered a number of different injuries. I don’t think anyone of them are extremely serious, but if he wasn’t durable in his 20s and early 30s, what makes these teams think that he will be durable in his mid- to late-30s?

    A seven year contract will mean that he is signed at $20 million plus per year…until he’s fucking 39 years old!!!!!!!! Does that sound like a good investment for a pitcher who has been frequently sidelined by nagging injuries as a young man?

    I honestly think that whoever acquires Lee will really, really regret the acquisition in the future.

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    • ToddM says:

      Here’s the thing — name a pitcher that’s had at least two consecutive superior seasons (preferrably three or four) that isn’t over thirty, doesn’t have some kind of health or mental issue in the past or present, and is available for acquisition.

      It’s an f’ing short list, folks. I count zero. And yet, you need some good starters to win a World Series, so there’s a market.

      If you made every team release every starting pitcher in baseball, who gets the biggest contract? I’m thinking Felix Hernandez, as that’s a pitcher I’d be willing to drop eight years and $200 million on. Even so, it’s risky as hell. Pitchers are like that.

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  13. DIVISION says:

    King Felix > Cliff Lee

    Case Closed.

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  14. Cidron says:

    Grienke can be added.. no, he didnt have a “great” year, but given all that was against him, it was above average, while last year, cy young. And, he is expected to maintain above average for some time. Dunno if ’10 was superior by your defination… but, in same category.

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    • ToddM says:

      There’s no way I’d give Greinke that long of a deal. He has some mental issues, and there are a lot of markets he probably won’t be willing to pitch in.

      His career OPSA is 722, and last year’s 696 was only marginally better than that. Top notch starter, yes, but not the very top notch.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I don’t think anyone is saying Grienke is better than Lee.

        I was only saying that he’s … [1] younger, [2] cheaper, and [3] not that inferior. To almost every other team that would be significant.

        If my choices are overpaying for Lee, and really paying for it over the last 4 years of the deal, or acquiring Grienke for far less money, I’ll take the Grienke option.

        The thing that has to factor in is that it is the NYY and the standard rules of smart FO moves do not apply. They can give Lee 170/8 or whatever, and if he starts to get terrible (relative to the money) after 4 years, they handle it. As long as they’ve won a WS or 2 during those early years of the deal, they count it as a success, and why shouldn’t they?

        If I were Texas, I would try driving the price up on Lee, while really trying to acquire Grienke. Lee doesn’t pitch all that well in Texas (even with a Smallish Sample Size), and they likely cannot afford him anyway.

        IMHO, Grienke’s mental stuff could easily be chalked up to youth. 3 Years ago Cliff Lee was demoted to the minor leagues. We’ve forgotten about that quite nicely. I think we can do the same with Grienke’s anxiety and depression.

        At this point, the NYY want Cliff Lee. When the NYY want something, as our grandparents would say “wild horses couldn’t drag them from it”. They will sign Lee no matter what it takes. 150M? 180M?7y? 8y?

        My point was that Grienke was probably a far better efficient option, but let’s not forget what team we’re talking about here. Efficiency is rarely a word they use.

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