Five Reasons Why Your Texas Rangers Will Keep Postseason Badass Cliff Lee Next Season
Cliff Lee throws in the outfield on July 11 following his first start with the Rangers.
Photos by Sam Merten
Ever since New York Baseball Digest's Frank Russo posted his "Five Reasons Why the Yankees Will Sign Cliff Lee" on Monday, it has made the rounds, and several of my fellow Texas Rangers fans have expressed their concern that, well, he makes a lot of sense.
To summarize, Russo argues that the Yankees won't be outspent; New York seeks revenge for losing Lee to Texas when they seemingly had a deal in place with Seattle; Lee and Yankees ace CC Sabathia are BFF; the Yanks have a history filled with 27 World Series championships and guys named Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio; and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will learn from settling for mediocre pitchers like Javier Vazquez and realize that he needs to add another frontline pitcher to the team.
All are fair points, but here are five compelling reasons why Lee is just as likely to stay in Arlington. So before Lee takes the mound against two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum tonight in San Francisco, let's do this.
No. 1: Winning the World Series
Guys like Russo can tout the storied success of the Yankees, but the bottom line is that the Rangers are the best team in baseball this year, and if -- which is to say, when -- they take care of the Giants, they'll have the trophy to prove it.
That means something. That means a whole lot. Especially since Lee will be such a huge part of it.
Pretend you're Lee. You've bounced around five organizations. Been traded four times. Heck, even after notching the only two World Series wins for the Phillies last year against the Yankees, you're traded so they can bring in a different ace.
You've just won the World Series at 32 years old, and you're preparing to sign a contract likely over the next five or six years. Are you going to abandon the teammates that you know you can win with to bolt to a team that tries to buy its way to the top every year?
Despite New York's beefy payroll, it doesn't always translate into championships (just one in the last decade), and playing in the American League East against the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays (not to mention an emerging Toronto Blue Jays club) puts Lee in arguably baseball's toughest division.
And while the AL West won't be a cakewalk, there's no sign that Texas is dismantling any time soon. With the organization's depth in the minors, the Rangers only figure to remain among the league's best teams over the next five or six years, especially if they can retain Lee.
So if winning is important to Lee, staying here seems like a wise choice.
No. 2: D/FW > NYC
It's about 340 miles from Arlington to Lee's future home in Little Rock, Arkansas (he lives in Benton, Arkansas now) compared to about 1,200 miles from New York. That translates to a flight of about 45 minutes or so if he stays or one of more than three hours if he goes. Big difference for a guy who appears keen on staying somewhat close to home.
Of course, it also helps that his wife, Kristen, had an awful experience at Yankee Stadium (still not sure why it's not named Yankees Stadium) during the American League Championship Series.
"When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it's hard not to take it personal," she told USA TODAY.
Lee also strikes me as someone who isn't a big media guy and could react like Randy Johnson when he realizes that he can't go anywhere without a camera being jammed in his face.
And, finally, let's not dismiss the idea that Lee has fallen in love with the area -- something Russo himself suggested could happen when he speculated why the Yankees wanted to trade for Lee when they could simply sign him after the season.
"Many believe Lee will be traded, and there is always the possibility he falls in love with his new city," he wrote.
No. 3: "That's the way baseball go."
I'll be the first to admit that I thought Rangers GM Jon Daniels's decision to give Ron Washington the job as manager was strange, especially without even interviewing available candidates like Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella.
When the team initially stunk under Wash and he was busted in spring training this year for having taken cocaine, Daniels really appeared to have egg on his face. But after spending a weekend watching the team for my cover story about the team's bankruptcy and seeing how the rest of the season has played out, I've done a complete 180 in my assessment of the move, and now I get it. He's a players' manager in every sense of the word -- throwing batting practice, hitting ground balls, etc. -- and his enthusiasm for the game is infectious.
How does this relate to Lee? The Old School Brotha has created the kind of clubhouse atmosphere and chemistry that Lee has to admire and would be hard to walk away from, and it's a stark contrast to the rigid, business-like environment the Yankees are known for embracing. Plus, no A-Rod here, which is has to be a major selling point.
No. 4: New York's roster is getting old.
Sure, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are free agents, but they're likely to re-sign with the Yankees. Andy Pettitte's contract is also up, and he could come back too. Jeter's 36. Pettitte's 38. Rivera will be 41 soon. And catcher Jorge Posada is 39. Each player has a World Series ring to fit all four fingers and thumb on one hand, but you see the pattern here: They can't keep this up for much longer.
For Lee, the presence of Jeter and Rivera are most concerning, especially when matched against their counterparts in Texas: 22-year-old All Stars Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz.
Shortstop is arguably the most important defensive position to a pitcher, and Andrus has not only surpassed Jeter in that regard, but he's moving toward his prime while Jeter's is long gone. And there's nothing more frustrating to a pitcher than to see his hard work go down the toilet because of an ineffective closer. Rivera continues to dominate, but for how long? Feliz, on the other hand, is emerging as a top closer after notching 40 saves this year with the Rangers.
No. 5: "We're not going into this with a pea shooter."
Lee's contract is likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 to $26 million per year for five to six years, with New York setting the market price. I doubt Texas will match the Yankees offer, but the team has a new lucrative TV deal to ensure there will be dough to play with, and Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg has assured the fan base that the team will be competitive when bidding for Lee. It's also worth noting that without a state income tax, a difference of a few million bucks a year evens out.
Let's also remember that while the Yankees have deep pockets, the new Steinbrenner regime has implemented a $200 million payroll, so they can't just plop $35 million a year on the table for Lee without blinking. They're already on the hook for around $150 million in contracts next year and that doesn't include deals for Jeter, Rivera or potential replacements for Pettitte, Vazquez and Lance Berkman.
It's believed that they also have a strong interest in signing outfielder Carl Crawford, who's expected to be pursued by the Red Sox. Can New York sign the top two free agents on the market along with their aging stars? Perhaps, but if they have to choose between Crawford and Lee, they may get drawn into beating Boston for Crawford, much like they did when snagging Mark Teixeira.
So rest assured, Rangers fans, that there are just as many good reasons why Lee will stay in Texas. And, if he goes, remember that aside from Sabathia and Johan Santana, the list of baseball's largest contracts handed out to pitchers proves that it's hardly an exact science.
CC Sabathia: seven years, $161 million
Johan Santana: six years, $137.5 million
Barry Zito: seven years, $126 million
Mike Hampton: eight years, $121 million
Kevin Brown: seven years, $105 million
Carlos Zambrano: five years, $91.5 million
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.