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Saturday, December 11, 2010

More on Cliff Lee -- The Dynamics of An Auction

When you have a rare good and you want the best price for it, the best thing to have is two people who covet it badly. They'll start bidding for it, and, depending on the egos of the two people, rationality will suppress the superego and yield to an "I must land the trophy at all costs" mentality because "I am who I am, and I am the best." Remember, we seldom read about those who lose the auction. The journalistic landscape is rife with stories about those who won and whether they were happy with the prize or not, or whether they paid too much.

Enter Cliff Lee.

102 career wins.

3, perhaps 4 good to outstanding seasons. A 7-2 post-season record (2-2 in the World Series), with a 2.13 ERA in the post-season (his post-season exploits came down a peg in this past post-season, where he pitched poorly against the Giants, with an ERA of almost 7).

Is he the best pitcher today?

No. There are others who are better, including Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez ( and Yankee fans will argue that CC Sabathia is better, and, of course, there are always up-and-comers such as Ubaldo Jimenez to name one), but, when you're in the rarified air of the top 10, what matters more is who is the best available ace, and that's Cliff Lee, by far.

What's more compelling is that there are at least two teams out there who feel compelled to land the best available ace, the Yankees and to keep up with the arms' race with the Red Sox, who have been much better in developing young pitching and, to a lesser extent, the Rays, who also have done a far better job than the Yankees in developing young arms, and the Rangers, who had Lee last season, have a great lineup, and want him as an ace to lead their staff and to keep them in playoff contention annually for years to come.

And both want Lee badly. The Yankees started the process by offering Lee 6 years and $140 million and then upped the ante to 7 years. The Rangers apparently have offered Lee a variety of options. Remember, Lee is 32, so if he gets a 7-year deal, he'll be on the books until he's 39. If you look at the history of Hall of Fame pitchers, well, most don't fare all that well after 35 or 36. Which means that whoever inks Lee to get a good 4 years out of him will be paying for 7.

And I think that ultimately, Lee will get a 7-year deal for $175 million, or $27 million a year, precisely because there are two bidders who have gotten past the rationality of the auction and into the "I'm the bazillionaire, I'm at Christie's, and I have to have the Picasso because I'm me and I don't like the other guy and, well, I win at everything I do" mentality. That translates into Lee's gettting enough money to buy the biggest farms in both Arkansas and Texas and then having enough left over to buy the payrolls of any of the Marlins, Pirates and Royals.

You can read the lastest about the Lee sweepstakes here.

7 years and $175 million seems about right.

Unless, of course, it gets even crazier.

$30 million a year isn't out of the question.

You cannot always buy excellence -- the list of big-ticket signings has had its share of failures, and more teams fail to win it all with the big-ticket signee than do win it -- but you have to pay for it.

In the case of Cliff Lee, it's just a question of how much.


Blogger Bomber Girl said...

I agree, best available, top pitcher, and the mind reels at the numbers. But he is mentally a lot tougher than some of the other knuckleheads we have paid big bucks for, only to see flop, in the Big Apple.

9:12 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

True, he's a lot better and would fit in well. But the eyes of Texas seem to be upon him. Who knows, perhaps the Yankee fans' mistreatment of his wife is a festering sore that never got lanced and perhaps, in the psyche of Mrs. Lee, is not easily remedied. Then again, depending on the deal and Mr. Lee's professional happiness, it would have to be. Still, the Rangers are a younger team that is not about to lose its "Core Four", and that might be more appealing to Lee. After all, all he needs to do is look at Jayson Werth, who will earn huge bucks in D.C. and then wonder annually in July whether anyone will show up at a game who is not rooting for an out-of-town team after the All-Star break (because his team will be long out of it). That's not as big a risk with the Yankees, but with the BoSox having improved their lineup markedly and the Yankees aging, it's a factor.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Bomber Girl said...

I do believe you have just compared going to work for the Yankees with going to work for the Nationals.


3:50 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

You're right, I did, but I did say "that's not as big a risk." Actually, it's not much of a risk at all, but the Yankees might need a few more bats and pitchers to stay atop the perch. They usually get that help; the Nats usually do not.

Hard to know how good Werth is. He has 684 career hits and did benefit from batting behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He'll be more exposed in DC -- they'll go after him. As for Lee, a long contract could be a burden after he gives 3-4 good years. That's the risk there, and the Yankees more so than anyone else can afford to take that risk.

6:18 PM  

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