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Still No Resolution to Where Lee Will Sign

December 8, 2010

There’s an old cliché in baseball that “you can never have too much pitching”. This is why pitching always comes at such a premium in the offseason or at the trade deadline. This is also why teams focus so much of their efforts on finding talented arms and developing their minor leaguers to either fill roles in the rotation or serve as the foundation for trades. This winter has been no different.

Entering the offseason the biggest name pitcher available was none other than Cliff Lee. Lee is coming off a solid, but not spectacular season in which he finished 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA and a league leading 1.003 WHIP and 10.28 K/9. He also pitched a career high 7 complete games with a career low 0.8 BB/9. He added to that season with three dominant starts in the ALDS and ALCS before getting hit hard twice during the World Series. Many expected as the offseason began that he would be one of the most sought after free agents available and that he would be in position to command a massive contract rival to that which C.C. Sabathia received prior to the 2009 season.

Much of the early speculation leading into the offseason centered around the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers having the most interest. The Yankees were an obvious choice as they have both a need in their rotation and the ability to afford giving Lee a significant deal. Plus, they nearly acquired the lefty in July when Seattle made him available. However, instead of going to New York Lee was traded to Texas. The Rangers are also an obvious choice for Lee’s services. They will have a major hole in their rotation if they are unable to resign him, can afford to do so given that their ownership situation has finally settled, and Arlington is relatively close to Lee’s Arkansas home. Each location has its advantages and disadvantages for Lee and ultimately he will have to weigh all of those factors once he’s ready to make a decision.

It was widely expected that his agent, Darek Braunecker, would ramp up the negotiating process at this week’s Winter Meetings. In fact, most expected that by the end of the Meetings a decision would have been made. However, that now appears unlikely as multiple media outlets are reporting that Braunecker has actually left the Winter Meetings altogether. So, in lieu of hard news on where Lee will pitch next season let’s try to summarize what we do know about the teams still pursuing the lefty:

  • The Rangers reportedly met with Braunecker once again this morning. The team has possibly been the most active in discussions with Lee and his agent, having met the pair at Lee’s Arkansas home on multiple occasions. Team President Nolan Ryan has been quoted multiple times on the matter and his confidence in a deal getting done seems to have grown.
  • The Yankees have also gone down to Arkansas to meet directly with Lee but have yet to make a formal offer according to most reports. The team still has hope but GM Brian Cashman (and many Yankee fans) are rumored to be frustrated at the pace of negotiations. Word is they do not want to go beyond a six year deal, which could be a big factor in where Lee ends up.
  • The Nationals are another team believed to be interested but their ability to sign Lee to a significant deal could be hindered after the contract they just gave to Jayson Werth. However, sources have stated one won’t preclude the other and in fact, Werth’s signing actually helps their chances. Lee and Werth are reportedly very close from the time they spent together in Philadelphia.
  • The Angels are the other team expected to get involved in the bidding for Lee but there has not been much word about their intentions or interest. We know the Angels have some money to spend this winter and the team has a number of needs. It is believed that Lee is one of their top targets but not their #1 priority.
  • Numerous other teams – including the Red Sox, Phillies, and Cubs – have reportedly checked in on the situation but most reports seem to indicate that there aren’t many other serious suitors for Lee’s services. Many of those teams were simply doing their due diligence but aren’t actively pursuing him.
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