The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes
Which Team Is Going To Be Lucky Enough To Sign Lee?
All I can say is wow. Cliff Lee dominated the powerful New York Yankees lineup in Game 3 of the ALCS in such a fashion, that all I can say is wow.
Cliff Lee has been so utterly dominant, especially in this postseason, that it's difficult to remember back a few years ago when he was just a very average pitcher.
Cliff Lee turned into a full-time starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians at the start of the 2004 season. From 2004 to 2007, which was his last poor season, Lee posted a 4.76 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and a ERA+ of only 92. In other words, he just wasn't very good.
During those years, Lee was pretty much a fly ball pitcher. In 2007, he had his worst statistical year ever and was eventually sent down to the minor leagues by Cleveland. Later on he was brought back up in September when the rosters expanded and the Indians relegated him to bullpen duty.
When the 2007 season was over, Lee was not very happy with himself or the way he performed. He worked hard that off-season with a pitching coach he knew to help him improve. Well, improve he did.
In 2008, Lee transformed himself from a fly ball pitcher into a ground ball pitcher and posted such great stats that he won the Cy Young award that year.
From 2008 until the end of the 2010 season, Lee has posted an ERA of 2.98 with a WHIP of 1.12 and an ERA+ of 142. Quite a difference. His walk rate also went down and his strikeout rate also went up.
Even with as great as his regular season pitching has been from 2008-2010, it is his postseason pitching of 2009 and 2010 that is truly extraordinary.
Lee has pitched in eight total postseason games in 2009-2010 and given up nine total runs. That is barely more than one run per game. Simply incredible.
Cliff Lee is a free agent after this season. The big question is where will he end up?
Of course, the first teams you think of automatically are the Yankees and Red Sox.
When the Yankees want a player bad enough, they spare no expense in getting that player. C.C. Sabathia didn't really want to play for an East Coast team when he was a free agent but the Yankees wanted him badly. Sure enough, they threw enough money at him to make his hesitation about playing on the East Coast go away.
Cliff Lee shutting down the Yankees the way he did tonight will just make them want to sign him more. Firstly, because they want a pitcher that dominant in their rotation and secondly, because they don't want to have to worry about facing him anymore.
After the Red Sox see the way Cliff Lee shut down the Yankees lineup tonight, they are surely going to kick the tires on signing him too just so they can have their own personal "Yankees stopper."
There is no question that the Texas Rangers will do everything in their power to bring him back. With the way he has performed for them, they would be foolish not to.
Surely many teams will kick the tires on the possibility of signing Lee. With the contract he will be able to demand, though, not many teams will be able to afford him.
The one team I think that should really try and go after him is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs fancy themselves as a team with playoff aspirations. Any team with playoff aspirations needs to have a bona fide ace pitcher to anchor the staff. The Cubs do not have one. Carlos Zambrano sometimes has the ability but has proven he is unable to carry that responsibility full-time. Cliff Lee would provide the Cubs exactly what they need to help get them into the playoffs, and then give them the shut-down pitcher they need once in the playoffs. They could afford Lee if they really wanted to get him.
Where will Lee go and how much money will he get? I would put the estimates at a 4-6 year deal worth anywhere from $100 to $150 million. The way he has been pitching, he would be worth every penny.