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Thursday, December 09, 2010

From Glue to Glue Horse: Yankees Offer Lee a 7th Year

Cliff Lee is 32. He's had 2, 3 very good if not great seasons and is a clutch post-season pitcher. The Yankees offered him a 6-year, $140 million deal, only to up the ante today by offering a seventh year. That projects as a 7-year, $165 million deal. Which means that Lee will be getting big checks through his 39th birthday. On the one hand, lefties can tend to last longer than righties. On the other hand, long-term deals for pitchers haven't always panned out. The Mets didn't get great value out of giving four-year deals to aging pitchers Tommy Glavine and Billy Wagner, and their long-term deal with Johan Santana snagged when their ace got hurt. The Giants bombed on the Barry Zito deal, only to have the magical powers of Albus Dumbledore instilled in GM Brian Sabean, who used wizardry to pull off one of the most likely World Series championship seasons in recent memory. So. . .

Is this a wise deal? I like Cliff Lee a great deal, and he electrified the hometown crowds in Philadelphia and Texas. He is one of the best pitchers in the game. That's not the issue; the issue is whether he'll pitch well as he approaches 40. Then again, Lee could keep holding out for more money, because the Yankees need to improve and make a splash, as the rival Red Sox emptied a pool's full of water by trading for Adrian Gonzalez (and then inking him to an extension in Ryan Howard's stratosphere) and signing Carl Crawford. If it were a chess match for off-season, hot-stove match-ups, the BoSox have the Yankees in check. And perhaps the best the Yankees can hope for is a draw.

Pat Gillick, recently elected into the Hall of Fame, cautioned against signing pitchers to long-term deals, as pitchers tend to get hurt and lose their stuff. An article in USA Today today also pointed out that a majority of the teams that make a splash signing this big-ticket deals don't win the World Series, and there's a message in that. Still, a rotation starting with CC Sabathia (a close friend of Lee's), Lee and Phil Hughes is formidable.

Will the Rangers counter? Will they offer more money or more years? Is this a case of two teams having to have a player so badly that they'll keep bidding unti the other cries "uncle?" The Rangers went so far with Lee leading their rotation that they realize that gems like Lee don't come around so often. They have a good thing in Arlington and want to keep it going. The Yankees are the dynasty franchise, and they realize that Andy Pettite cannot pitch forever and that they need another marquis name to win the World Series for the second time in three years. And what the Yankees covet, they usually get. So, an interesting dynamic exists -- and the question really is "who will fold?"

Then again, some of these long-term deals are very risky. Zito has failed (miserably) to live up to expectations in San Francisco (the Giants won the WS without him). Werth benefitted from a Phillies' lineup that enabled him to get a lot of pitches to hit because a) the lefty-laden lineup saw a lot of lefty pitchers (and Werth hits lefties better than righties) and b) he batted behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He might not fare so well in DC batting behind Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse or Justin Maxwell (if you just asked "who?", you got my point). Crawford, though, might benefit from being an action-packed BoSox lineup -- he should see better pitches than he did in Tampa Bay's sometimes anemic lineup.

Baseball owners seem optimistic that good times are ahead. They're throwing the big bucks around, and that's good for the players and for the optimism of some groups of fans who need it given that the days are shorter and the weather is getting colder.


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