When Brian Cashman met with Cliff Lee and his wife yesterday in Arkansas, no official offer was made. This was more a get-to-know-you kind of meeting, but it’s obvious that the Yankees will have a contract proposal for Lee coming soon. Lee is looking for a deal comparable to what his buddy, CC Sabathia, got a few years back and that was seven years for $161 million.
Now, putting the actual dollars aside for a second (and you’d need a forklift to do that), how concerned should the Yankees be about making yet another long-term commitment to a pitcher?
Anyone who has followed baseball for a while knows that there are plenty of cases where longterm deals with pitchers have blown up big time (Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Barry Zito, among others). This terrific piece by the folks at ESPN, however, breaks down the recent history of all the starters who have signed contracts of four or more years since 1990-91.
Of those 52 players, the article says, how many made 30 starts a season and had an ERA+ of 120 or better over the life of the deal (given the money involved, I don’t think those are unreasonable expectations to have for Lee should he come to the Yankees)? Only five of the 52. That’s just nine percent.
To be fair, not all those deals were created equal (and some were just insane to begin with). Jeff Suppan? Chan Ho Park? Yeeesh. Not exactly Cliff Lee. It’s also worth noting that Lee has a pretty good injury history. He has had abdominal muscle issues in the past, but nothing serious with his arm and shoulder. He also is generally recognized as having excellent mechanics that should help keep him healthy.
Ultimately, we know the Yankees are going to offer him a big contract. Of course they will. And knowing the win-now universe in which the Yankees choose to live, it’s understandable. Will it work out in the end? Looking at the numbers and knowing that the Yankees would have Lee AND Sabathia and A.J. Burnett on their roster playing out big deals, the numbers don’t support it.
That doesn’t mean paying Lee is the wrong move. It just means the Yankees have to know that adding yet another long-term pitching contract to the team – while possibly helping in the short-run – also raises the odds against them.
* That’s an AP shot of Cliff Lee after Cashman mentioned how much the Yankees might be willing to offer from this year’s playoffs.