Free Agent Portfolio: Cliff Lee

This picture reminds me of a LeBron commercial for some reason.

Cliff Lee is the biggest name in free agency this winter, and the Yankees are of course interested in signing him. Here is some information about him followed by pro and con arguments.

Simple Facts

Age: 32

Throws: Left-handed

2010 Stats: 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 185 K's, 18 BB's, .240 BAA.

2010 Best Month: June, 4-1 1.76 ERA

2010 Worst Month: August, 1-4 6.35 ERA

2010 Vs. 2010 Playoff Teams (Regular Season): Vs. TB: 0-3, 4.56 ERA, Vs. MIN: 0-1, 4.15 ERA

Career Stats:

102-61, 1085 K's, 350 BB's, 1.26 WHIP, .260 BAA.

Vs. Boston: 2-4, 4.06 ERA

Vs. TB: 6-5, 2.87 ERA

At Yankee Stadium: 2-0, 2.40 ERA

In Pitches 1-15: 6.18 ERA

In Pitches 106-120: 5.44 ERA

Why the Yankees Shouldn't Sign Cliff Lee, by Duggan (Taken from his 10/14 piece) -

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, 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. 

Why the Yankees Should Sign Cliff Lee, by Travis -

I'll try to make this short. Cliff Lee is no-doubt the best pitcher on the free agent market. You can't argue that. He would give the Yankees the best 1-2 starting duo in baseball. Not only is he the best available pitcher, but he's one of the best in baseball. The only pitchers with higher WARs over the last three years are Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Tim Lincecum.

- He should age well as he relies more on command than stuff. His fastball averages just 91 MPH, so when his stuff inevitably declines, he'll still be a successful pitcher. Quick aside: his FB velocity has actually increased every year since 2006.

- For comparison, two of the best pitchers of the past decade, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, changed teams in their early 30's and continued their dominant ways, pitching at least as good as they had previously. Cliff Lee will be 32 next year, younger than either RJ or Schilling when they changed uniforms.

- Lee has been a phenomenal postseason pitcher, racking up a 2.13 ERA in 76 innings with 80 strikeouts against eight walks.

- What if Andy Pettitte decides to retire in January? Now that we know Joba's staying in the bullpen, it would leave the rotation as Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett and... and what if injuries happen? It's a scary scenario.

- What if CC opts out of his contract after 2011, as is his right? Another scary scenario.

- Left-handed pitchers tend to fare better in Yankee Stadium. In its two years of business, LHP have a .754 OPS Against while RHP have suffered an .803 OPS Against. (FYI, those are the career OPS's of Mark Loretta and Torii Hunter, respectively. That's a big difference.)

- Lee is especially effective against the running game, even before 2008 (the first year of Lee as a dominant pitcher). In his nine seasons, there have been 2129 ‘stolen base opportunities' against him. Guess how many players tried to steal?... 69 (1 in 31). For comparison, Andy Pettitte, known for his great pickoff move, sees an attempted steal once out of every 18 opportunities (and the 2010 Yankees pitching staff overall saw an attempt once in every 14 opportunities). With Jorge Posada turning 40 in August and the defensively challenged Jesus Montero coming up behind him, Lee would be a great asset in stopping the running game.

- Against the Yankees' division rivals, he's been almost universally superb since his ‘resurrection' in 2008. 1.45 ERA vs. TOR (31 ip), 2.73 ERA vs. TB (52.2 ip including the playoffs), 2.63 ERA vs. BOS (24 ip), and a 2.31 ERA vs. NYY (66.1 ip including the playoffs). The only AL East team he hasn't shut down is, ironically, Baltimore (6.14 ERA in 22 ip). So not only would we acquire a pitcher who's shut us down time after time, but he would be doing it for us against our rivals.

- More disturbingly, what if a rival team signs him? Not only would we have to face him countless times over the next several years, but the desire for a frontline pitcher could cause a drastic move like trading Jesus Montero and other top prospects. And that was the whole reason many of us wanted the Montero-for-Lee deal to fall through in June: If we were a bit more patient, we could have both players. That time has (hopefully) come. And really, could you stomach seeing him in a Boston uniform facing us 3-5 times a year?

- As for the money, Jeter is likely to take a pay cut while Javier Vazquez' and Nick Johnson's salaries are coming off the books (not to mention Kerry Wood's and Lance Berkman's). That will free up at least $20 million (not counting Andy's potential retirement). Would five years, $100 million do the trick? I'd reluctantly do six years, but that's pushing it.

So much for keeping it short.

There you have it: Every stat (non-sabr, that is) and two opinions about Cliff Lee. Should the Yankees sign him? Vote.

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