Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently published a piece (subs required) where he posits something that I know many Yankee fans have been ruminating about in recent days, myself included. The money and years in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes have reached a point where the team that loses the bidding will ultimately be better off. He writes:
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. 1-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. 2-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, 3-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.
I’ll address each of his main points in order.
1-I think this is more true for Texas than the Yankees. Bad deals rarely tie the Yankees hands in terms of acquiring players. The biggest problem it gives them is roster inflexibility, as we saw in the out years of the Jason Giambi deal, or in forcing them to make a headache for headache trade, as we saw when they extended Jeff Weaver and later dealt him for Kevin Brown. In either case, the team still had enough elsewhere to make the playoffs. The Rangers, however, can’t afford to have too much payroll tied up in any one player an still be able to compete. That’s why Alex Rodriguez is playing for the Yankees.
2-It’s easy to forget because he won a CY Young award in 2008 and posted 3 terrific years despite playing on two very bad teams, the 2009 Cleveland Indians (65-97) and the 2010 Seattle Mariners (61-101).
3-And this isn’t true of every pitcher who ever lived? Hard throwing AJ Burnett doesn’t get blasted when his control is off? The consistency with which he threw strikes this past year was no doubt superhuman, he walked a mere 18 batter in 212.2 IP. But his career BB/9 rate is 2.2 and a lefthanded fly ball pitcher (1.13/1.04 GB/FB rate the past two seasons) pitching half his games in lefty-friendly Yankee stadium only figures to do better, not worse.