Thursday, December 2, 2010

Would the Rangers be Better Off Without Lee?

If you agree with Ken Rosenthal, the answer is yes. 

“Don’t get me wrong, Lee would be a tremendous asset. But for five years, $120 million or whatever the final price will be ... well, let the Yankees take that gamble. Lee will turn 33 next Aug. 30 — in the first year of his new deal.”
Rosenthal brings up an excellent point.  As good as Cliff Lee’s been over the past three seasons, he’s not a spring chicken anymore.  At some point over the course of his next contract, Lee’s performance will to start to decline.  Will it be in 2011?  Perhaps it will be 2014?  We don’t know.  Sooner rather than later, Father Time is going to step in and take over. 
Based on Lee’s skill set and performance baseline, I think he’ll likely be an ace quality pitcher (or near that) for the next two seasons.  After that, we’re probably looking at him being middle of the rotation starting pitcher.  While that’s certainly not a bad thing, it’s not exactly what the Rangers will have agreed to pay him $22-24M per season to provide.  At that price, they’ll need him to be an ace.  Unfortunately, given Lee’s age, that’s not a reasonable expectation. 
This is what makes re-signing Cliff Lee such a dangerous proposition for the Rangers.  The Rangers are a mid-market club.  As such, it’s foolish for them to commit 20-25% of their payroll (or more) to a single player.  The last time the Rangers did so was during the 2000-2001 offseason when they signed A-Rod and Chan Ho Park to massive contracts totaling more than $300M.  This not only destroyed their payroll flexibility, but also led to a long rebuilding process. 
While I understand the new ownership group’s desire to make a big splash this offseason, the smartest move might be to concede Cliff Lee to the Yankees.  The money saved on Lee could be used to fill other holes they have on their roster.  For instance, the Rangers are in desperate need for a reliable bat at either first base, designated hitter, or both.  With the market glutted with 1B/DH types (Konerko, Lee, Pena, Branyan, Guererro), there some team-friendly short-term deals to be made this winter.  Also, as I mentioned yesterday, not signing Lee could open up the door to trading for Royals ace Zach Greinke. 
While signing Lee would certainly charge up the fan base, there are better ways for a mid-market club to spend $22-24M per season for the next five to seven years.  It’s usually best to avoid temptation (re-signing Lee), and follow the plan that got you to where you are now (patience, player development, and sound decision making).  After all, that plan led them to their first AL pennant in franchise history.

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