Cliff Lee? Really?

by on December 11, 2010   28 Comments

Even though I’m the Braves writer here, I have to speak up.  This Cliff Lee stuff is getting out of control.

Does a guy who can throw a baseball really merit $161 million dollars?  Well, of course not.  But that’s not my argument… that’s a different article altogether.  The baseball market these days involves high dollar contracts… like really high dollar contracts, and that’s just the way it is.  The question is – in today’s baseball market and age, does Cliff Lee really deserve a 7 year $161 million dollar deal?  Heck no.

Over the past few weeks teams, particularly the Rangers and Yankees, have obsessed about signing Cliff Lee.  Both teams have sent team officials to Lee’s home in Arkansas, to lure him to their organizations.  Now, this sort of practice is extremely typical in baseball… well, in most sports actually.  But, Cliff Lee?  Really?  Cliff Lee is good, and obviously won the A.L Cy Young Award in 2008, but 7 years?

Here’s my 2 cents – I think Cliff Lee is a really good pitcher.  But, I don’t think his stuff merits the kind of deal that the Yankees and Rangers are offering him.  He’s got 6 good pitches, all with good control.  But, he doesn’t have that one incredible pitch.  Plus, his age.  Cliff Lee is 32… in seven years, he’ll be 39.  Not to mention, he supposedly turned down a 6 year offer, because it wasn’t good enough (the audacity!).  And we all know that pitchers are more prone to getting hurt, and in general, pitchers are physically and mentally more susceptible to bad things happening.  His fastball tops out around 92, and in 7 years, or even 5 years, he’ll be lucky to hit 90.  Last season, Lee went 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA.  Wow.

I can’t understand the obsession that both these teams have for Lee, especially when the Royals are entertaining getting rid of Zack Greinke.

Author: Josh Brown
Categories: Major League Baseball (MLB)
Tags: , , ,


  1. Is it awful? Yes.

    Is it going to change? Probably not any time soon.

    The market dictates the price in these situations and Cliff Lee is far ahead of any other SP unless you believe Brandon Webb is headed for a hell of a comeback.

    I wonder if Evan Longoria feels silly.

    Comment by Mac
    December 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm

  2. I was the first one to say Evan Longoria is a moron while all around said some BS about financial security. It’s like taking the $2,000 offer from the bank on Deal or No Deal when the only briefcases left are $10mm, $20mm or $1.

    Cliff Lee doesn’t deserve $140+ plus and 7 years, same as Jayson Werth. These GMs are nuts! The Nationals GM more than Texas or the Yankees, but Cliff Lee, while very good, and very good in the post-season, and the best available on the market, is not in the top 10 pitchers in baseball, IMO.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 11, 2010 at 6:16 pm

  3. So you are saying you can name 10 better pitchers then Cliff Lee?

    I have a hard time believing it is about the money…what the hell is the difference between 140 million and 150 million?

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  4. Piece of cake, I’ll go division by division with pitchers I’d take over Cliff Lee at 7-years, $140mm, in some cases you could get 2-3 of these guys for that price. There are probably a half dozen teams that Cliff Lee would be a #3 and a couple he’d be a #4 – AL East – Sabathia, Price, Lester, Buchholz, AL Central – Verlander, Greinke, Duensing, Liriano, AL West – King Felix, Weaver, Cahill, NL East – Halladay, Oswalt, Hudson, Hanson, Strasburg, J. Johnson, NL Central – Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter NL West – Lincecum, Cain, Bumgardner, Latos, Kershaw, Jiminez.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 13, 2010 at 8:07 am

  5. Wuerfel – 10 awesome points for throwing Huddy and Hanson in there.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 13, 2010 at 9:27 am

  6. I don’t know that I agree with all those names, and the numbers don’t really back that up.

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

  7. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer any 2 of those guys for the price of Lee.

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

  8. Duensing?

    Skeptical hippo is skeptical.

    Comment by Mac
    December 14, 2010 at 1:03 am

  9. Haha. I appreciate your skepticism, Mac. As I did with Carl Crawford vs. Matt Diaz. Here are the 162-game averages for Lee ($18mm+) and three guys you could get for less than the price of Lee combined – Duensing ($417k), Hudson ($9mm) for Mr. Brown, and I’ll toss in Wainwright ($5mm) for you Cards fans. Pick who is who.

    10-3, 3.02 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 5.5 K/9, 8.6 H/9, 0.8 HR/9
    16-9, 3.85 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 9.1 H/9, 1.0 HR/9
    16-9, 3.42 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, 8.4 H/9, 0.7 HR/9
    15-8, 2.97 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 8.3 H/9, 0.7 HR/9

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 14, 2010 at 9:00 am

  10. Whoops. Just read the final number was 5-years, $120mm with a vesting option for a 6th year upwards of $135mm. What a joke.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

  11. Wuerfel – You’re my hero.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 14, 2010 at 11:20 am

  12. I know Duensing has some good stuff, but the guy has all of like 20 career starts under his belt. I guess I just want a little more before saying Lee would be “behind” him in a rotation.

    Gotta give propr to the Rangers here as well. Lee’s agent offered a 7 year deal that would have “sealed it” for the Rangers and they turned it down. Good on them to let him go and to continue to kill the league with value.

    Comment by Mac
    December 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm

  13. Yeah, I was stretching with Duensing in terms of who I would take (with unlimited budget), but if you make me a MLB GM with a non-NY/PHI/BOS budget, no question you take a $417k Duensing over a $20mm Lee when Duensing actually has better numbers. Clearly, Lee is a more established ML pitcher, and veteran leadership has it’s merits, but not at that price (and age, at 32 and going through 37 on that contract in the non-steroid/HGH era where people actually break down in their 30s like the human body usually does).

    Anyone else on that list you think I am out of bounds for mentioning? Very few, I think. They just played $20mm for a #3 pitcher, $5mm a year more than what both Halladay and Oswalt are making and they have way better career numbers.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 14, 2010 at 4:20 pm

  14. I think a lot of the guys you mentioned are so far unproven. I don’t think you can (fairly) call guys like Jimenez, Kershaw, Straburg, Bumgardner etc. better pitchers. Not at this time in their careers.

    Certainly they are better options for the price. But for what you know you are going to get, someone who has control, can paint the corners and pitch in big games…the guys I mentioned and others don’t top Lee.

    I’d prefer Lee to a top $ guy like Sabathia.

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 14, 2010 at 8:33 pm

  15. You would prefer Lee over Sabathia?! Weiler, that’s crazy talk. Are you okay? Does your TV work? Strasburg’s change-up alone owns Lee’s repertoire.

    The Braves #5 starter (Kris Medlen… actually he’s on the DL ’till Julyish) could pitch Lee under the water. Fact.

    I’ve also had a few brown ales from a local brewery this evening.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

  16. First off, love Kris Medlen.

    Andy: If I’m choosing today with everything the way it is I’m taking Kershaw and Jiminez for sure over Lee. Even if they all had equal contracts I would take those 2 over Lee. Value-wise you have to add Baumgarner and even the injured Strasburg.

    Comment by Mac
    December 15, 2010 at 2:21 am

  17. Brown – love me some brown ales.

    Weiler – Jiminez throws 100+ mph with deception and never gives up half the HRs as Lee despite playing in a park filled with helium. Bumgarner and Kershaw and ten years younger with way better stuff (and Bumgarner more than proved himself in the playoffs last year, shutting down Texas in the World Series). And Strasburg? Yeah, he had surgery, and healthy is always better than hurt, but when he is healthy Cliff Lee will be asking him for his autograph Michael Vick style.

    The problem is at 32-years old you can’t afford to pay a player for what he has done – you have to have a little foresight about what you expect him to do. Look at the Reds locking down Jay Bruce at a discount early in his career or the Rays bolting down Evan Longoria to the turf at the Trop for pennies on the dollar when you know he could have gotten $20mm a year if he gutted it out to free agency.

    The last time a GM gave a huge contract to a player based on a good contract year and a great post-season was Carlos Beltran. Go ask Omar Minaya how that worked out.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 15, 2010 at 10:15 am

  18. Cliff Lee didn’t get this contract based on a “good contract year and a good postseason,” though. He got this contract based on three consecutive incredible seasons where he combined to make 93 starts and throw over 667 innings, pitching 17 complete games, posting a 2.98 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, and an incredible 1.3 BB/9. He’s not a one hit wonder, getting a big deal out of nowhere because of one season.

    Comment by Matt Pennington
    December 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

  19. Lee has a career 5.06 ERA against the Braves.

    Hitters post a .400 batting avg against Lee when the count is 3-0.

    Chipper has a lifetime .407 batting avg when the count is 3-0.

    Hitters have a .550 avg against Lee when Phil Cuzzi is umping first.

    It’s on like Donkey Kong.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 15, 2010 at 11:13 am

  20. My point was only age aside. Lee has been the better pitcher so far in his career. That isn’t to say those guys will never measure up to Lee, but you just can’t know that.

    With Lee, you get a pitcher who has been a top 10 in the game over the least few seasons. Most others on the list haven’t been consistent enough, or around long enough. It’s no knock against them. In 2 seasons I will probably concede that Lee is not a top 10 pitcher…and I would certainly as a GM be more willing to tie up pitchers with a ton of potential to long term deals then sink that much money into what eventually will turn into a late 30’s pitcher.

    (and I love the fact we can argue about this in December when there is a couple feet of snow outside my window).

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

  21. First of all, this is awesome. And Josh Brown is my new best friend. That post was hysterical.

    I’m just going to have to put up an article on my top 10 pitchers in baseball. I’m not sure how you can say Lee is in the top ten when he is a #3 starter on his own team. Yeah, okay, he finished 7th in the Cy Young voting last year, so he is, at least, #7 as of last year, according to the writers, anyway. And I know he won a Cy Young two years ago, but saying you’d take Lee over Sabathia at the same price? Sabathia’s numbers are better than Lee’s across the board with 30+ more innings per year. Sabathia one has one Cy Young, like Lee, but has finished in the top 5 three other times and even gotten on the board in the MVP balloting three times. Oh yeah, he is three years younger than Lee, too.

    And pardon me if I’m in the “what have you done for me lately” crowd, but I tend to remember the Lee getting smashed in game one of the World Series and going 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA down the stretch for the Rangers more than his dominance in Cleveland and Seattle.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm

  22. I think the pin stripes may have clouded my judgement on Sabathia. When he was traded to Milwakee he pitched like a robot. Down the stretch there he was the MVP, the reason the Brewers made the playoffs,

    Comment by Andy Weiler
    December 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

  23. I honestly don’t see how you can say that Cliff Lee isn’t in the top 10 pitchers in baseball at this very moment. Because he’s the “number three” on his own team? If Halladay, Sabathia, and Lincecum were on the same team, would one of them not be a top 10 guy because they’re on the same team? That reasoning just makes no sense.

    Using Cy Young voting isn’t always the best, either. The BBWAA isn’t the end all, be all. For instance, they still put value on pitchers wins! Come on, that’s the most ridiculous stat to judge a pitcher by.

    A lot of the stats people are judging Lee by are his entire career stats, but he didn’t become the pitcher he is today until a few years ago. The early years of his career skew his overall stats. And it’s not like he just had a lucky year or anything, he’s put up dominant numbers for three straight seasons.

    Sure, value-wise, certain guys would be better buys. I’d take Clayton Kershaw and his contract over Lee and his, but that’s only because a lot of those guys are on their first contracts, or contracts that were signed before they entered the majors. Eventually, their contracts will become just as obscene as Lee’s, and there will be a whole new group of young arms with cheap contracts to take their place as better values.

    Comment by Matt Pennington
    December 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

  24. 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA isn’t dominant, in my opinion. It’s good, but not dominant.

    I hope, just for the sake of this article and this comment thread, that Lee has a bad year and the Braves own Phillie pitching.

    I also think we should all have our own TV show on MLB-TV. Sort of like a weekly round-table discussion, perhaps a u-shaped bar setting, over some beers, highly opinionated. It would be called The Warning Track (tagline – for the fans, by the fans). I think the network needs it, they have too many Prime 9 specials.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

  25. Look at adjusted ERA, which takes into account the ballpark the pitcher pitches in. Over the last three seasons, Cliff Lee has an ERA+ of 142. In the same time frame, CC Sabathia has an ERA+ of…you guessed it…142. Zack Greinke has an ERA+ of 133. Lincecum is 151 and Halladay are at 158, respectively.

    While Lee isn’t a top five pitcher in baseball, I honestly don’t see how, at this very moment, you can say he’s not a top 10 starter. Forget about five years down the road when he’s at the end of his contract. Right now, he’s a top 10 pitcher.

    He was dominant with Seattle, he did struggle late with Texas. But then again, didn’t he go through some injuries last year too? In addition to making 4-7 less starts than most other starters, he still compiled 220 innings and walked just 18. 18 walks. Yowza.

    Comment by Matt Pennington
    December 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

  26. I’m more telegenic than Dan Plesac.


    Comment by Mac
    December 17, 2010 at 10:54 pm

  27. Maybe we could do a little Blog Talk Radio and yell at each other for a while. I’m game.

    Posted my top-10 pitchers in baseball list. I’m sure you guys can’t wait to jump on it. Feel free. Can’t wait.

    Comment by Jason Wuerfel
    December 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm

  28. We could record it over SKYPE, then host it on a server, download a link here on fivetoolsprospects, then upload it to iTunes as a podcast.

    Comment by Josh Brown
    December 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

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