Last night the Yankees’ bats were silenced by the Seattle Mariners’ ace, Cliff Lee. The general feeling around baseball is that Cliff Lee won’t be a Mariner once the trading deadline comes and passes on July 31st. And of course, whenever a big name player is the trading block the media feels the need to involve the Yankees. However, while you can never count the Yankees out on a possible big trade, I don’t the Yankees will (or should) acquire Cliff Lee this season. Lee would require too many valuable prospects to acquire and if he isn’t signed to an extension, he will be a free agent at the end of the year anyway. Which leads me to my main point. Should the Yankees pursue Cliff Lee this upcoming offseason? Well, let’s break it down.
Does he have past success to back him up? Cliff Lee began his major league career in 2002 with the Cleveland Indians and it wasn’t until 2008 when he won the CY Young Award that he became the elite class pitcher he is today. Since 2008 Lee has posted an ERA of 2.81 and an outstanding 1.3 BB/9. So far in 2010 Lee has pitched to an ERA 2.45 and a FIP of 2.34. With the Mariners Lee has maintained an other-worldly 0.47 BB/9. He has just 5 walks in 95.2 innings this year! 5 walks! Just for reference, Mariano Rivera who we all know rarely walks anyone has put up 2.1 BB/9 throughout his entire career. In conclusion, Lee seems to have enough success to back up a long term investment in him. Pinpoint control is an attribute that people like to award to everyone these days, but if anyone deserves the honor, it is Cliff Lee.
Can he handle the pressures of New York? Well I’ve always felt this is not an issue with 99% of major leaguers, but just because most people like to ask the question, I’ll discuss it. It’s hard to know what qualifies as a pressure situation, but I’m sure the World Series does so I’ll use that for Lee’s stats in pressure situations. Last year Cliff Lee faced the Yankees twice in the World Series and it is hard to forget how impressive he pitched. In 16 World Series last year Lee had an ERA of 2.81 and just 3 walks. Still, that doesn’t tell the whole story. You had to see him pitch to see how dominant he was. So I guess Lee can handle the on-field pressure cooker. But can he handle the off the field pressures of New York? Well there is no evidence that he cannot, and he also seems to like New York. Yesterday he took the train to Yankee Stadium, but the train passed the Yankee Stadium stop. However, that was no problem for Lee. He calmly got off at the next stop and took the D Train back to Yankee Stadium. When asked about the subway, Lee said:
“I’m not afraid to take the subway.”
When questioned about whether or not he likes New York and Yankee Stadium, Lee said:
“Yeah, I like pitching here, I’ve always enjoyed pitching here. You know there’s going to be a lot of fans. I’ve always enjoyed pitching here. They’re knowledgeable fans that understand the game, and they get into it. As a player, that’s what you like and respect. Obviously, I try to keep them as quiet as possible when I face them on this side.”
I don’t know about you, but I would think Lee would be very comfortable in New York.
The final question, of course Lee has been great these last few years, but can he keep it up? In 2011 Cliff Lee will be 32 years old, so it’s not like he would be considered an aging veteran yet. Still, Lee is on the wrong side of 30 so can we expect his body to hold up? Lee’s injury history consists just of a groin strain in 2007 and an abdominal strain earlier this year. He recovered quickly from both of these injuries so I wouldn’t worry about them. Lee is listed as 6’3″ and 190 lbs so he is not a small guy, but he is not overweight or out of condition by any matter. Obviously anything can happen, but I think Cliff Lee projects to stay healthy for most of his career and since he doesn’t rely on overpowering velocity he could end up lasting a very long time. So to answer the question on whether he can keep up his success, obviously we can’t know for sure but it looks like he is equipped to maintain his success
My take. With 60.85 million coming off the books this offseason in just Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Javier Vazquez the Yankees should have some budget room. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Yankees devote 40 million to re-upping Jeter and Rivera, and giving out any due arbitration raises. Although that number is probably higher than it would be realistically, they would still have 20 million to spend. Perfect for Cliff Lee. A starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and anyone else would be very impressive. So, should the Yankees pursue Cliff Lee this offseason? I say, yes, yes, yes.