Mood Music - Maggot Brain by Funkadelic
I may be jumping the gun getting into this type of "offseaony talk" while the playoff battle is still being pitched, but a match up with the Texas Rangers in the upcoming ALCS has led to renewed chatter about soon to be free agent Cliff Lee. From the beginning, I have been fully against signing him (probably putting me in the extreme minority), and I'd like to flesh out why.
I originally posted on this topic a few weeks ago about some of the financial concerns about adding not only the dollar amount, but the years of commitment required in Cliff Lee's estimated free agent price. I still have those same concerns, but I think that there are several other solid points that should be noted:
To whatever degree you are inclined to believe my trepidation about the overall financial situation of the Yankees, I think we can all agree on the following: If the Yankees sign Cliff Lee, he will be worth every penny of his contract in the first few years (hopefully leading the team to a World Series ring or two) and then the deep pockets of the Yankees will deal with the contract when he's a 37 year old being paid like an ace.
My question, however, is this: How much more likely are the Yankees to win the World Series in the next few years if Cliff Lee is added, and does that justify the potential long term cost?
More words and a very interesting table can be found after the jump.
A gift from the Table Fairy: Below can be found a list of the World Series winners, their regular season win totals, and how that win total ranked across baseball.
If there was any doubt that, in the Wild Card era, the playoffs in baseball are a total crap-shoot, this should have removed it. Going by win-loss record over a 162 game sample gives a much better indication of which teams were actually better, and from this it is pretty clear that winning the World Series is much more about getting lucky and getting hot at the right time than it is about actually being the best team.
With that said, which of the following situations is better in terms of winning the maximum number of championships: Making the playoffs five times as a relatively average playoff contender OR making the playoffs three times as the playoff favorite and missing the playoffs twice? Given the established randomness of the playoffs, I would contend that the former option is much better.
By merely maintaining the status quo, the Yankees are already close to a lock for making the playoffs in the next few seasons (or as close to a lock as you can be, assuming 2/3 of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays trio makes it every year). As such, I have to really question the marginal gain in adding Cliff Lee (especially when Cliff Lee in and of himself does not guarantee a playoff spot). If we are already likely to make the playoffs and if the playoffs are a celebration of small sample size randomness, is it worth putting another major dent in the Yankees future finances? Again, I would contend that it is not.
If another starting pitcher is needed for the 2011 season, I think there are plenty of cheaper and more cost effective ways for the Yankees to maintain a high probability of reaching the playoffs. Firstly, Joba Chamberlain needs to be given a full year of starting. One truncated season of mediocre results (4.56 xFIP, 1.8 WAR) in the AL East at the age of 23 is nowhere near conclusive proof that Joba can't/won't/shouldn't start.
In addition to Joba, Ivan Nova has shown flashes of brilliance, and in the pile of Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren, I have to think we have some potential 2012/2013 starters and 2011 bullpen contributors. In addition, I would have to guess that this off season, the Yankees start moving their glut of catching depth.
Personally, if I were Brian Cashman, I would already be trying to build a package centered around Austin Romine to acquire a starting pitcher. Romine is likely to attract a lot of suitors in the National League due to his sterling defensive reputation, and I don't think his trade value will ever be higher than it is now. I have never been of the opinion that Romine will hit enough to take away playing time from guys like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez, and in my view, he represents a redundancy of Francisco Cervelli.
Another year of league average hitting at AA (99 wRC+) will only diminish his value as a prospect, and as the Yankees have a surplus of catching prospects, I think they would be advised to flip Romine as quickly as possible.
In addition to acquiring a starter via trade, I think there are also cheaper, "reclamation" type free agents available at a much more manageable price: Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly, Ben Sheets, or Brandon Webb will all be free agents this off season, and if I'm Brian Cashman, I look at each and every one of them before I think about Cliff Lee.
To summarize, for those of you who managed to stay with me to the end: The Yankees are all about winning the World Series. Winning the World Series is all about making the playoffs. There are cheaper ways for the Yankees to make the playoffs in the short term that do not jeopardize their ability to continue to field a playoff team in the long term.