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The Horrors of Cliff Lee in Pinstripes

Mood Music - Money by Pink Floyd

The following link is going to be very important to everything I say from here on out, so go ahead and open it up and take a quick look at what is says.

The New York Yankees Payroll according to Cot's Baseball Contracts

Thanks for playing.

Cliff Lee is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Yankees are expected to be major players in outbidding the competition to acquire him.  I have said again and again that I'm against this for financial reasons, which I will try and lay out a little more thoroughly here:

The 2010 Yankees player payroll was over $213MM this year, the highest in franchise history.  And, already, going into 2011, the Yankees have $144MM locked into a grand total of nine players, and those nine players do not include Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, or Andy Pettitte.

For the sake of extrapolation, let's assume that the Yankees resign all 3 of these players (which, I know is what the organization would like to do) at somewhat expected rates:

Derek Jeter - 3 years, $45MM
Mariano Rivera - 3 years, $45MM
Andy Pettitte - 1 year, $10MM

While I'm not certain about how many years Jeter and Rivera are going to want, I expect them both to be paid in the $15MM/year range.  If my guesses come true, Jeter and Pettitte would be taking a paycut, with Rivera continuing at the same salary, so I don't think I'm being overly generous to the players.  Now, let's add a 5 year, $110MM contract for Cliff Lee into the mix (which is my guess as to what it would take to land him) and see where the Yankees stand financially.  The very ugly results of this experiment are after the jump:

In 2011, the Yankees would have $206MM committed to 13 players.  So, around half of the roster would make more than the entirety of the 2009 payroll.  Without going to around a $230-$240MM payroll, which I doubt the brass has any intention of doing, the Yankees would already be extremely handicapped as far as making additional roster moves.  If there are any injuries during the season (and believe me, there will be) the Yankees will have just about no resources to go out and find solutions.

And after the 2011 season, the contracts of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada will all be up as well.

Scarier still, in 2014, the Yankees would owe over $95MM to 4 players (a 39 year old A-Rod, a 34 year old Tex, a 34 year old CC, and a 36 year old Cliff Lee)  In 2015, they would owe over $91MM to those 4 players, who would all be a year older.  Paying nearly $100MM to 4 players who are all 34 and older (and pushing 40 in A-Rod's and Lee's cases) just isn't a winning strategy.  It would absolutely cripple the Yankees ability to compete. 

Getting free agents is a tricky business because you have to win a bidding war to get them, and that almost always leads to signing a deal that will end up hurting the team.  You give A-Rod 275 million dollars, and you bask in the glory of his success when he's in his early 30s, but when he's in his early 40s and still making that kind of money, it's a real problem.  As such, if you want to maintain a World Series caliber team, you can't group your free agent signings so that they are all in the twilight years of the contracts simultaneously.

Cliff Lee would be a significant upgrade over any other option, but I believe that the Yankees can win the World Series with a rotation of the combination of Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Hughes, Chamberlain, and Nova.  And with the advancements of guys in the system like Manuel Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, and D.J. Mitchell, who knows where we can find a contributor in the next few years?  Adding another high priced free agent just blocks all of these guys from contributing for a fraction of the cost.

The Yankees have already somewhat mortgaged the future for their ability to win now, and if we sign Cliff Lee, we might be front runners to win the World Series in 2011, but we will also be a .500 team in 2014 and 2015.  Book it.