Everyone who follows baseball knows that the New York Yankees want free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee, the postseason ace and easily the best starting pitcher available this offseason. The Yankees will likely dig deeeeeeep into their considerable cash reserves to bring Lee to the Bronx. It is not, however, as cut-and-dried that they will be successful in wooing Lee as was thought just a few months ago.
For one thing, Lee is playing his cards right by making sure he leaves the Rangers feeling like they have a legitimate shot to keep him.
"I like this team. It's a very fun team to play on," Lee said. "I expect this team to do some really good things next year. I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it or not. To be honest with you, I would love to be, but so many things can happen. You never know.
"There's a lot to build on," Lee said after taking the loss in the World Series finale. "We did a lot of firsts for this organization. We were the second-best team in the big leagues. We should be proud of that. We're going to use this for motivation and come in next year and try to do better."
The Rangers, obviously, do not have the financial resources to equal the Yankees. They do, however, think they have enough to make Lee an offer he will have to think about.
"We're not going into it with a pea-shooter," owner Chuck Greenberg famously said in New York during the ALCS. The Rangers think they can match or even outdo the Yankees on a chance to win, too.
"You tell me which team has a better chance to win over the next 5-6 years," one Rangers official said confidently during the World Series.
The New York Times took a look at the finances of the Rangers, who are under new ownership, and came away with the conclusion that Texas should have the financial ability to afford both Lee and star center fielder Josh Hamilton, who also needs a new contract.
Team ownership changed in August from Tom Hicks, who weighed down the Rangers with debt that exceeded M.L.B.’s limits, to a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg, who have a cleaner balance sheet because of the bankruptcy and deep-pocketed investors backing them.
Bob Simpson, one of those investors, told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week, “We’re going to go after Cliff Lee — hard, and we have the financial firepower to do that.”
Lee, 32, has been one of baseball's most dominant starting pitchers the past three seasons and earned the CY Young Award in 2008 when he went 22-3 for the Cleveland Indians. His postseason record in the past two season (7-2, 2.13 ERA) is another reason teams like the Yankees and Rangers want to keep him. His only two postseason losses came to San Francisco in the just-concluded World Series.
The biggest question for any team signing Lee will be how many years to commit to a pitcher who, while he does not rely on a blazing fastball, will still be in his late 30s at the conclusion of any long-term contract.
#33 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
Aug 30, 1978