The year is 2017. It is deep into the month of August, and the Yankees are about to take the field for a pivotal game against the Red Sox. The man on the mound for the Yanks will be none other than the former Cy Young caliber pitcher from Arkansas*, Cliff Lee.
The prized free agent catch of the 2010 off season, Lee paid immediate dividends for the Yanks as he averaged 17 wins per season for the first three years of his seven year contract. All was right in Yankee-land.
Then, as the 2014 season kicked off, Lee began to struggle with the velocity on his already average fastball. What was once a decent set-up pitch, at 93 mph, for his devastating off-speed pitches had become little more than a batting practice-quality duck. As a result of this loss of velocity, Lee’s superb off-speed pitches became far easier to lay-off of and batters began to feast on his newly fat fastball.
Suddenly, the Yanks were stuck with a pitcher whom was serviceable at best, and whom they still owed nearly $80 million over the next four seasons.
Yet, nearing 39 years of age, this is the pitcher who is climbing atop the mound at Fenway to take on the Sox in what could be a pivotal game in the divisional race of ‘17…
That is the disaster that the Yankees lucked into dodging this offseason. When Cliff Lee surprised the entire baseball world by slighting the Yanks and the Rangers both in favor of the Phillies, many fans lamented the fact that the Yanks had failed to land the coveted Lee. I may have been the only Yankees fan in the country jumping with joy.
Cliff Lee, to me, represented the next Pavano, the next Randy Johnson, the next Javier Vazquez, the next… Well, you get the point. The Yankees’ track record when it comes to signing "can’t miss" free agent pitchers is miserable. I feared that they were about to complete yet another terrible deal for an over-hyped pitcher. As they upped their offer & extended the deal to seven years I felt genuinely sick to my stomach. I screamed to anyone that would listen, "How in the world will the Stein-sons & Cashman be able to look themselves in the mirror if they give a 7-yr, 140 million dollar contract to a 32-year-old pitcher coming off a miserable World Series & a 12-9 season?"
I understand that Cliff Lee has had a few decent seasons recently, but I also understand that he has put those seasons together as a late-bloomer & not a young stud. To the Yankees fans that are still distraught over losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies, just take a look at his performance in the World Series, because that is what Cliff Lee will look like on a more regular basis once his fastball begins to lose a bit of velocity. That should begin to happen within the next three years. So, keep your chins up. The Yanks are better off without him… Especially in the long run.
* - Thanks for the eagle-eye DesignatedQuitter