Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lee Sweepstakes Start to Warm Up, Greinke Rumored as Likely Plan B

For a couple of weeks, the Cliff Lee front was eerily quiet.  Now, news is coming in fast and furious.  As George King reports, the Rangers are prepared to offer Lee a five year deal.   While I haven’t seen any reports indicating the average annual salary the Rangers are preparing to offer, I’d have to assume it’s in the $20M+ range.  At this point, any offer less than $20M per season is a complete waste of Lee’s time.  The Yankees have reportedly struck first, and offered him a five year deal in the $115-120M range.  That’s going to be a tough offer for the Rangers to top.  If the Rangers are going to be successful in their attempt to re-sign Lee, it will likely be on the strength of Arlington’s proximity to his home in Arkansas, and the lack of a state tax in Texas. 

While the Rangers are interested in retaining Lee, it doesn’t appear they’re willing to put all of their eggs in his basket.  They’re looking for a quick answer from Lee, and are prepared to look elsewhere if his re-signing doesn’t appear imminent.  This is a pretty smart move.  The Yankees are the odds on favorite to win the Lee sweepstakes, and Greenberg and Ryan won’t want to be left without a chair when the music stops. 

One place the Rangers could look to fill their starting pitching needs is with Royals ace Zach Greinke.  Several reports have him pegged as the Rangers primary Plan B target.  While Greinke isn’t nearly as sexy as Lee, he’d still be a good fit in Arlington.  He has above average command of four pitches, two of which are considered plus pitches per Fangraphs pitch value chart (fastball and slider).  Greinke does a good job with avoiding the long ball.  Since 2007, he’s produced an HR/FB rate of 7.1%, which is significantly below the league norm of 10.5%.  Assuming he can keep that up, his chances of success with the Rangers is pretty solid.  While I’m a little concerned with Greinke’s contact rate jumping from 77.7% to 82.8% between 2009 and 2010, part of that concern is offset by a 6% increase in his groundball rate (40.0% to 46.0%). 

Most importantly, Greinke is only scheduled to make $13.5M in each of the next two seasons, which is 40-50% less than what Lee is projected to make.  The nearly $10M saved by going with Greinke over Lee could be used to sign another important piece to the championship puzzle. 

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Yankees are also kicking the tires on Greinke.  As with Texas, he’s likely to be their Plan B target in the unlikely event they don’t sign Lee.  That said, if Pettitte was to retire (rather than re-sign with the Yankees), it’s possible the Yankees would try to go after both starting pitchers.  Yikes!  Can you imagine facing a rotation of Sabathia, Lee, Greinke, and Hughes in the playoffs (with Burnett out of the bullpen)?  That’s really scary thought...

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