After much procrastination, former Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee has decided to return to the Philadelphia Phillies, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, with Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeting that the deal is for five years and approximately $100 million and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweeting that it's more than $100 million with an "easily reachable" vesting option for a sixth year. (Update: Crasnick says the contract is worth $120 million over five years and the sixth-year option is for $27.5 million.)
Turns out the Rangers actually were the high bidders in total dollars, although the Phillies will pay him the most per season at an average of $24 million, making him the second-highest-paid pitcher of all time in terms of total value (CC Sabathia, $161 million) and average annual value (Roger Clemens, $28 million). The New York Yankees' offer has been reported at $154 million ($22.57 million avg.) and Texas' at $161 million ($23 million avg.), both of which were guaranteed six-year contracts with options for a seventh year. Texas receives the Phillies' first-round pick (No. 33) in next year's draft and a supplemental first rounder as compensation.
Once the Washington Nationals dropped out of the bidding war, the Rangers and Yanks looked to be the only legitimate suitors, but Crasnick said the Phillies submitted a "spirited late bid" for the 32-year-old southpaw, and there were several other reports saying he was headed back to Philly. His addition makes them instant World Series favorites with a rotation featuring Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
As we mentioned last week, inking Lee to a pricey long-term contract could have affected the Rangers' ability to retain C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus long term, and we discussed the risk of keeping Lee, but adding a starting pitcher one way or another is a must for a club with only one upper-tier starter. And since Wilson's only spent one full year in the rotation, it's unknown if he can put together another all-star caliber campaign.
With Lee a goner, the team's Plan B could include landing 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke or Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Matt Garza in a trade, but Crasnick says the Rangers don't have the players to acquire Greinke (something we talked about with Baseball America's John Manuel). A deal for the Kansas City Royals ace could be reached quickly if Texas decided to part with 22-year-old Andrus, but that appears very unlikely.
Meanwhile, the Rangers re-signed catcher Matt Treanor to back up recently acquired Yorvit Torrealba, and there's word that Texas is pursuing free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. Beltre's name first came up when the Rangers and Rockies were rumored to be involved in trade talks for Michael Young, which fizzled when general manager Jon Daniels said Young would remain with the club. Young's contract ($16 million per year for the next three seasons) is a major stumbling block in any future negotiations.
"That's a tough contract to trade," Manuel tells Unfair Park.
Beltre's status one of baseball's best defensive players at the hot corner would force Young to switch positions for the third time. Despite Young's 2008 Gold Glove at shortstop, he's never been more than an adequate defender, so moving him to designated hitter to replace free-agent Vladimir Guerrero is an option. Tim Dierkes of MLBtraderumors.com says it wouldn't be an easy transition.
"It's such a painful move to say, 'He has no defensive value at all, and this is what we've got to do with him,'" he says. "[Because] he reacted so poorly to being moved from shortstop, I don't think you can go down that road unless they really love what they've got as an alternative."
We addressed Young's potential move to DH with Daniels during the interview for our cover story about the club's offseason plans, and he told us "no" when asked if it was a consideration.
"Not at this point," he added, leaving the door open for a future move, which could be soon if losing Lee causes the Rangers to spend their dough instead on Beltre in an attempt to make an offseason splash.
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So, is Daniels happy with Young's defense?
"Yeah," he said.
Beltre's no longer a target of the Red Sox, who moved Kevin Youkilis to third base after the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez and spent $142 million on Carl Crawford, but he's drawn plenty of interest from other teams, including the Angels and A's, who just signed former World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
After struggling through his worst season with the Mariners in 2009, Beltre bounced back this year with Boston to hit .321 with 28 homers, 49 doubles and 102 RBI. He turns 32 in April, and following his breakout 2004 season with the Dodgers, Beltre had a rough tenure in Seattle after signing a five-year, $65 million contract, posting just a .266 BA and averaging 21 home runs with 79 RBI.