Last night, Cliff Lee shocked the baseball world. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that the Phillies and Cliff Lee had agreed to terms on a 5 year 120M contract with a vesting option for a sixth season.
This comes as a bit of a shock to those in the baseball writing community. For the past several weeks, most of us had become lulled into the idea that the Lee sweepstakes was an exclusive two team race between the Yankees and Rangers. Yes, there were other teams that showed interest (Red Sox, Nationals, Angels, and Tigers), but most of those rumors never went past the “kicking the tires” stage.
SI’s Jon Heyman often spoke of a second mystery team lurking (the Red Sox were the first) in the shadows, but most of us didn’t take him seriously. In fact, Heyman’s insistence on a mystery team became a bit of a joke, with Buster Olney, Peter Gammons, and Keith Law poking fun at his expense. In the end, it turns out he was right all along. Interestingly enough, he’s not the reporter who was given the scoop. Jayson Stark first reported suspicions that the Phillies were moving on Lee, and Ken Rosenthal confirmed the report. Still, Heyman’s role in the Phillies surprise signing can not be understated. Heyman’s penchant reporting the involvement of a mystery team (a reputation he received through working closely with super agent Scott Boras) made him the ultimate pawn. His wolf cries came so frequently that no one believed him. This gave the Phillies an opportunity to fly under the radar, and steal Lee out from under the noses of the Rangers and Yankees.
I’ve already discussed how this affects the Phillies yesterday. The Lee signing gives them a rotation that has the potential to be historically good. Do they have some work to do? Absolutely. They need to clear around $20M from their payroll, which won’t be an easy task. So how does this affect the Yankees and Rangers?
Let’s start with the Yankees. The Yankees made it no secret that Cliff Lee was their number one target all along. Despite what I’d said before, the Yankees didn’t need Lee. That said, he would’ve made the Yankees that much stronger, especially with the upgrades the Red Sox have made over the past couple of weeks. Lee would’ve paired up with Sabathia to create a 1-2 punch that few teams (if any) would’ve been able to match. Now, the Yankees are forced to either sign someone off of the scrap heap that is the free agent market, or make a trade. The Yankees have been linked to Zach Greinke trade rumors, but it’s unclear whether the Yankees would be willing to part with the pieces necessary (Jesus Montero) to make the deal happen. Also, there are questions as whether or not he’s mentally fit to pitch in New York.* Joe Blanton, Matt Garza, James Shields, and Derek Lowe may also be available. It’s not exactly awe inspiring, but it’s an upgrade over Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre.
* Typically, I downplay the psychological affect, but in the case of those who have suffered from anxiety (Greinke), depression (Votto), the yips (Willis), or psychotic behavior (Bradley and Dukes), I factor it into the equation. I can certainly see why many would be concerned about Greinke and the big market affect.
What about the Rangers? With Cliff Lee at the front of the rotation, the Rangers rotation would’ve looked a lot better. Without Lee, they’re without a true ace. Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson are nice pitchers, but they’re middle of the rotation starters. If they expect to be serious playoff contenders, the Rangers will probably need to add an ace (or near ace) quality pitcher. Luckily for the Rangers, they have a number of options due to their deep farm system. The most likely is they look to make a trade for one of the pitchers in the Greinke, Garza, Shields, Blanton, Lowe group (or someone else not yet rumored to be on the trading block). Also, I fully expect the Rangers to not only go hard after Adrian Beltre, but also re-open Michael Young trade talks.
Both teams are bringing back roughly the same teams next season. Are they a year older? Sure, but both teams are quality teams capable of winning 90 games. That should be more than enough to get the Rangers the division title and the Yankees the Wild Card. While losing out on Lee has to be incredibly disappointing for both clubs, they shouldn’t panic. There’s plenty of time before the 2011 season starts. The trade market has a habit of transforming throughout the offseason. You never know who will become available come February. Guys like Billingsley, Buehrle, and Nolasco perhaps?