Off last night's Yankees game, I wrote about Cliff Lee, and whether the Yankees should try to acquire him now. What a pleasure it is to watch Lee pitch. And I'm always amazed to think that he was a virtual nobody as recently as the 2007 season, wen he went to the minor leagues to try to straighten out his act.
But that raises another question: What is the right price point for Lee this winter, when he'll become a free agent?
Dollar-wise, Lee should do very well. If he doesn't match CC Sabathia's annual average value of $23 million, then he won't make too much lower a salary per season. How about $22 million? Even $20 million would tie him with Roy Halladay for the third-highest paycheck for a starting pitcher, behind Sabathia and Johan Santana.
What intrigues me most about Lee's deal, however, is the years.
Lee turns 32 this August. Which means that, by the time he finishes his first season as an extremely highly compensated player, he'll be 33. Which isn't quite senior-citizen status, but we'd all agree that the game is trending younger, particularly when it comes to pitching. Jamie Moyer, Tim Wakefield and Andy Pettitte are outliers.
I haven't spoken specifically with Yankees officials about this issue with Lee, but I have a general sense of how Brian Cashman thinks. He's very concerned about his team getting too old, which is why Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui now play elsewhere. We spoke just earlier this month about the Yankees' many risky commitments, and this winter, they're going to take on two such more commitments when they re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
That's why I see the Yankees trying to hold a hard line on Lee, with a four-year deal. They'll pay a premium, dollar-wise, to make Lee feel better about the situation. Perhaps even some no-trade protection will be granted, which I'm sure Lee would appreciate, given that he'll very likely be joining his fourth team in two seasons soon.
It's early to look ahead to this winter, but taking a common-sense view now, I don't see which team goes to five years on Lee. The Red Sox? Nope, they're pretty much set with their starting rotation. The Mets? Maybe, but they've justifiably turned conservative when it comes to long-term commitments. If it were a five-year package, the dollars would surely be lower.
The Yankees love Lee, but I don't see them going all out for him like they did with Sabathia. If he finds a crazy deal elsewhere, then the Yankees can see if Andy Pettitte comes back and, if Javier Vazquez continues to pitch better, offer Vazquez arbitration and see if Vazquez accepts it for a lucrative, one-year deal.
There's plenty of more that will happen between now and then, that will determine these variables. But what the heck. Years matter to the Yankees because, to reiterate, they may be able to print money, but they can't print roster spots. They don't want their roster weighed down by bad contracts to players well past their primes.
--As for the Phil Hughes Rules? Let's say that Hughes' lousy start indeed resulted from the extended rest period. But let's say he pitches well during his next two turns throughout the Yankees' starting rotation, leading into the All-Star break. Is it really that big a deal of Hughes had one poor start? There's little doubt that Hughes is better equipped, intellectually, to handle this schedule than Joba Chamberlain was last year with his deal.
--Joe West worked the plate for last night's Mariners-Yankees game, the first time that West officiated the Yankees since he made his imbecilic comments back in April. It probably was good timing, in that regard, that Lee pitched.
--The Mets lost again, and if you were looking for a way to describe the last two days, you'd probably say, "R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi remembered that they were R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi.
--The Marlins have made Edwin Rodriguez their full-time manager for the rest of the season, and I still say this is lose-lose regarding the pursuit of Bobby Valentine. Florida got an inferior manager, and Valentine missed out on a good opportunity to resume his MLB managerial career. The next team that could be a fit for Bobby V.? Maybe the Cubs, after this season.
--And finally, the live chat returns at noon. Will you be this week's Live Chat MVP? There's only one way to find out.