Thank you, Cliff Lee.
Thanks for the four greatest sports months of my life. Thanks for the greatness, the dominant precision, the artistry. The way you pitched, the way you competed. The occasional transcendence.
Thanks for October 6. And for October 12, and the Don Draper cool of that march toward Bengie Molina and everything that happened in the three hours that led up to it.
Thanks for October 18. Man, thank you for that.
Thanks for doing your part to make a playoff team a World Series team. Maybe more than once.
Sure do appreciate you not signing with New York. A lot.
I wasn’t surprised when I read last night that you called Jon Daniels yourself to tell him you were signing with Philadelphia. I was entertained that you had your agent call Brian Cashman to deliver the same message.
I wanted you back in Texas, but the years and dollars that the bidding had gone to scared me. Still wanted you here, but when the offers got as crazy as they did, I found myself more preoccupied with you not ending up with the Yankees.
Even though it behooved you to sign with them.
So much of what was reported this last month, in this age of 140 characters or less, as fast as you can, was wrong, including the perceptions that Lee would carry the Union torch and ultimately chase the biggest deal, that New York wasn’t going to allow Lee to get away, that the fact that his mother doesn’t fly and that he absolutely loved his time here was going to win the day.
Everyone with a public opinion, even the ones banging their fists on the table, was wrong. Lee – who reportedly wanted so badly to return to Philadelphia that he instigated the talks with the Phillies – caught everyone looking at strike three.
Emotionally, it does suck that Texas reportedly offered the most lucrative contract* and that, despite every indication that Lee loved his Texas teammates and despite proximity and lifestyle and tax laws and the strength and promise of the team around him and December hunts with Tommy Hunter while everyone else was on the edge of their Winter Meetings seats, it wasn’t enough.
[* Rumored best offers: Texas apparently offered six years at $23 million annually (some deferred), with a seventh year option - a vesting option - at the same amount, for a possible total of $161 million (Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, who called Texas the "high bidders"; Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated on the "huge, huge deferrals"); New York's equivalent proposal was reportedly for a similar and possibly slightly less valuable six-year package ($22 million or $23 million per year) and a seventh-year player option for $16 million, for a possible total of $148 or $154 million (Jerry Crasnick and Buster Olney of ESPN, Heyman); Philadelphia offered five years at $21.5 million annually, with an "easily reachable" vesting option at $27.5 million that the club can buy out for $12.5 million, making the package a guaranteed $120 million over five years that could end up being $135 million over six years (Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, and Crasnick on the "easily reachable" part)]
But unemotionally? (And sorta emotionally?) I don’t blame Lee at all, and really I’m not all that torn up. The biggest sports moments in my lifetime have been adrenaline rushes and kicks in the gut. This one was really different, has an oddly surprising calm to it. Hearing that Lee chose Philadelphia, that Lee didn’t choose Texas and didn’t choose New York, struck me as good news. I would have never expected that reaction (and, despite the fear over the financial commitment, would have never had the same reaction if he chose pinstripes).
I’m not trying to rationalize this. I realized two days ago, as we’ve talked about, that it was starting to feel more important to me to see the Yankees not get Lee than for Texas to sign him to what many of us – and I bet some of the Rangers’ decision-makers – knew deep down was a bad baseball contract. I’m content with this, until we see what the Rangers do next.
I look forward to the New York columns that blast Lee for defying what was preordained – and that examine what might look very different today (and what might have looked very different in October and November) had the Yankees agreed in early July to part with infielder Eduardo Nunez or righthander Ivan Nova.
That part of this story will never stop entertaining me.
What’s Plan B for New York? Pay Andy Pettitte’s price not to retire, but then what? Zack Greinke apparently prefers not to pitch in New York (and has the partial no-trade clause to make sure it doesn’t happen), and the Yankees reportedly share doubts about that fit. Would Tampa Bay trade Matt Garza in the division? Would New York trade Jesus Montero in the division? There’s a good reason we’ve seen stories that the Yankees have placed calls about Francisco Liriano, John Danks, and others on that tier.
And now there’s word that Boston is about to trade for Joe Blanton, helping the Phillies afford Lee and further making this less than the happiest Yankees winter ever.
But I don’t care about New York’s Plan B.
As for Texas’s, we all know the Rangers aren’t caught unprepared by this, and truthfully there’s an argument to made that no player that Texas truly targeted this winter, aside from Lee, has gone off the free agent market yet or been traded elsewhere. Greinke and Garza will be the popular names in every story you read, but know this: It will take considerably more to get either one than it took Texas (or Seattle or Philadelphia) to trade for Lee. Kansas City and Tampa Bay are sitting in great spots right now, holding the two best young available pitchers on the market, at affordable contracts and multiple years of control, neither needing to trade its guy.
You can bet the Rangers will make absolutely sure that Florida, in spite of being a year away from opening its new stadium, wouldn’t consider taking advantage of the situation and trading Josh Johnson.
And you can also bet that the idea of testing Neftali Feliz as a starter will draw intensified scrutiny now, and that the free agent relief pitcher market could begin now to take on more importance here.
Whoever Plan B is, will he be as good as Lee? Probably not, but we’ll see. Some think Greinke, in particular, will produce more over the next five years than Lee. Far more unknowns with Greinke, though.
Will Texas be able to replenish the prospects traded? Probably not fully, but we’ll see. Texas gets Philadelphia’s first-round pick (number 33 overall) in this June’s draft, which promises a deeper crop than last year’s, plus a supplemental first-rounder. Remember that Tanner Scheppers was a supplemental first, and this ownership group certainly won’t be afraid to take big-dollar risks in the draft.
Will Plan B leave Texas more money to address other needs, now or in July? Yes.
Will Plan B come off the books himself in two years, maybe three? If so, then we go get the next young ace.
The point of that is there’s less financial risk in Greinke or Garza, even if neither is Cliff Lee when it comes to level of trust, particularly in the biggest games. The bigger risk is in the young players it will take to get either of them, but the Rangers are in a good position to at least have a tough call to make, having built one of the game’s richest farm systems.
Put it this way: The Plan B effort is much more of a scramble for New York than it is for Texas.
This was one helluva effort by the Rangers. I’m dying to know, if this team wasn’t as aggressive as it was in the last few days, whether it wou
ld have ended this way. Maybe the Lee contract would have been a bad outcome ultimately, but if the Rangers didn’t revive their place in this on Thursday, with that third flight to Arkansas, would Lee have signed then with New York? Or would the Phillies have stepped in then rather than Monday?
Don’t know, but I know that I love how aggressive the Rangers are.
I love Cliff Lee. There’s never been a pitcher quite like him in Texas, and there’s never been a season in Texas anything like 2010, which without Lee would have ended sooner. The Rangers’ opportunistic move to get Lee in July, and his part in the four months that followed to give us that season, will stand forever among the greatest rewards I’ve had as a sports fan. Forever.
For that, Cliff, no matter what happens from here on out for you or for Texas, let me just say, once again: