Let’s make the case for claiming Cliff Lee on waivers and assuming the remaining $95 million
First, let’s look at it as a baseball transaction. Would Cliff Lee elevate your favorite team? Is he still one of the 10 best pitchers in the game? One of the 20 best?
He appears to still have very good stuff. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 4.96, the National League’s second-best. He’s averaging 8.55 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranks him 14th inthe NL. His WHIP is still solid, 16th overall. He has also had a very nice run, compiling a 2.75 ERA in July.
He had four very good starts and one clunker. Judging by those numbers, Cliff Lee seems good enough to upgrade most rotations. If you can get past the money, he’d be a guy you’d pick up in a heartbeat.
He’s 33 years old, and even though he works hard, he’s probably not going to have the same quality of stuff he had at 28. He’ll make $25 million a year in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He has a vesting option for $27.5 million in 2016. If he doesn’t qualify for the option, he’ll get a $12.5-million buyout.
Given that he’s 33, he’ll still be making huge money after his 35th birthday, and that’s a very risky proposition. On the other hand, very few of these huge deals make sense from a logical or a business standpoint.
That’s why one Los Angeles columnist has been taunting the Dodgers to try and acquire Cliff Lee. The club’s new ownership has said it has the resources to make a deal even if it means taking on additonal salary.
Lee wouldn’t just be additional salary. It would be a huge amount of salary. The Dodgers could do the deal and send a message to fans that this is their gift to them as a symbol of a new era.
But there’s no way the deal makes sense unless ownership is willing to tell the baseball operations staff, “This one’s on us.” In other words, do the deal, but still allow general manager Ned Colletti to make the other moves he needs to make to put a team on the field.
To even put a waiver claim in on Lee would be a huge risk. The Phillies have so many other needs that they might just say, “He’s yours, and thanks.” If the Phillies pull him back, that would be an indication they’d want a boatload of prospects to make the deal work.
Still, if a team’s one and only goal is to win a championship in 2012, Lee could get a huge get. He could roll out 10 quality starts down the stretch and put a team over the hump. He’s certainly good enough to win Game 7 of the World Series.
If he were to do that, he’d probably be worth the remaining $87.5 million, or whatever the number ends up being. If a team falls short of winning the World Series and is left with an aging pitcher in decline, it’s a decision that could haunt an organization for years.
Because the amount of the money is so large, only a few organizations can even consider it. The Yankees and Red Sox appear not to be taking on additional money. The Rangers have the money, but may not be willing to spend it on a 33-year-old pitcher. Finally, there’s the Dodgers.