Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Case Against Signing Cliff Lee

It is easy to pick on Cliff Lee after he was toasted by the San Francisco Giants yesterday. That hardly seems fair. But regardless of how the rest of the post season goes, Cliff Lee is going to be a big time free agent once the World Series is over. Lee seems to have nice leverage after three dominant seasons and (besides yesterday), great post season heroics. But will it be a good idea for any team to give Cliff Lee what he will be asking for in his free agent negotiations? This observer thinks not.

First of all, Cliff Lee is going to want a Sabathia-like deal and who could blame him. This is Lee's first real crack at free agency and he's going to shoot for the moon. Why else would Lee and his agent react so swiftly to the story that Lee's wife was abused by Yankee fans? Lee and his agent need the Yankees to drive up the price to ensure that Lee gets the best deal possible. The Rangers want to resign him and if their "lifestyle points" don't equal the money he can make elsewhere, it won't cut it. The Rangers will have to come close to matching Lee's market value to keep him.

Let's say that Cliff Lee will command $20 million a year for four years. That seems conservative in light of the Santana and Sabathia deals. But let's use $20 million. Lee would probably earn that in the first two years of his contract. Or at least he would come close to that kind of performance. But if you place any value in PECOTA projections, here is their projections for Lee for the next four years:

  • 2011 - $15.3 million
  • 2012 - $13.1 million
  • 2013 - $12.2 million
  • 2014 - $11.6 million

That does not look like a good value projection based on a contract that pays Lee $20 million a year for the next four years. Cliff Lee will be 33 next year. A four year contract will take him to age 37. When considering signing such a pitcher, the Fan's mind drifts back to Pedro Martinez. Martinez was dominant right up to his 35th year. At age 33, he posted a WAR of 4.8. The following year, he was even better and his WAR went up to 5.4. But Martinez never topped 1.0 again in his career after that. That is the real problem with signing Lee long term at this point in his career. Lee relies on pinpoint control of his fastball and cutter. His curve is great at times, but really, he relies on the accuracy of his fastballs. He has been throwing 91-92 most of the year. Will he be as effective when that drops in the next couple of years to 87-88?

The Fan has already built a case on why Lee would probably not be worth his salary for the next few years, even at face value. But then add to that the loss of draft picks in compensation for signing him as a Type A free agent and the whole thing sours in this Fan's mouth. The Yankees and other bidders should think long and hard about signing Lee (who has a history of back troubles by the way) to a four year, big bucks contract. The Rangers would be better served letting the Yankees or others overbid for Lee's services.

Cliff Lee has been a stud for the last three years. But let Pedro Martinez stick in your memory bank as just one example of why giving big bucks to an aging pitcher isn't a good matter how many times he's beaten you in the post season.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Good reasons not to sign him, but can the Yankees really afford to pass on him? Coming into the postseason, their only reliable starter was Sabathia. Hughes had a good year, but it was an up and down year all the same, and he suffered from fatigue down the homestretch. Pettitte will hang 'em up soon. Burnett is just a huge underachiever. I liked what the Phillies did to bolster their rotation. The Yankees should probably follow that model.