I’ve got a friend named Lee, he cast a spell, a spell on me…

Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee! We’re talking f@#$in’ Lee!

– Tenacious D/SNY.tv the last three days.

Has SNY.tv offered four takes on Cliff Lee in the last three days? Yes. You might say it’s a hot topic around these parts. And maybe that’s my fault and we shouldn’t be running so many columns about the same topic, but whatever. It’s on my mind too.

Check out Howard Megdal, Dan Graziano and Sam Borden on the pitcher, making a variety of reasonable points.

But the point I want to reiterate — one I touched upon earlier this week but failed to drive home, I think — comes in Mike Salfino’s take. He writes:

Madden says the Mets “would be well-advised not to make a trade for him unless they can sign him.”

Signing Lee long-term is a minus to the deal, not a plus. If the Mets’ resources were limitless, this would not matter. But overpaying Lee badly down the road, again the likely outcome, will hamstring future pennant pursuits.

Those negotiating windows are not what they’re cracked up to be. It’s not like the Mets are going to get the exclusive negotiating window and be able to sign Lee for far less than what he’ll get on the open market. Everyone involved — and most importantly, Lee’s agent — is smarter than that. A team that trades for Lee with a negotiating window will still have to sign him for a deal similar to the one he’s likely to get in free agency. And since Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, that’s going to be huge.

Reader and commenter Chris M made a great point via email about this. He argued that the Mets will inevitably pursue an ace — with the “ace” label — this offseason, so they might as well sign Lee if they can snag him. They’re not going to find anyone better on the free-agent market, he pointed out, and they’d have to give up even more young players to trade for anyone else.

But that seems a bit fatalistic to me. That’s just urging the Mets to do the least-dumb thing, since Lee is legitimately awesome and will probably provide at least a reasonable return on his contract for the first couple of years.

To me, the team should worry less about labels and more about putting the best team it can on the field for now and the foreseeable future. I don’t see how offering a long-term deal to Lee assures that. As Salfino points out, it seems more likely to hinder it down the road.

If you look, you will be hard-pressed to find a World Series winner that didn’t have a pitcher who could reasonably be called an ace. So it’s easy to argue, “Well, all World Series winners have aces, so the Mets must make sure they have an ace.”

Only it doesn’t really work like that. Pitching is a fickle thing, difficult to predict. And one ace, no matter how good, will only get you so far. You need to secure as many good pitchers as you can and hope that one performs like an ace instead of overpaying one with a recent history of ace-like performance and assuming he’ll continue it.

5 thoughts on “I’ve got a friend named Lee, he cast a spell, a spell on me…

  1. I’ve been equivocating on this for days. We become instant front-runners with Lee, but I do not want to give up either Mejia or Flores for a rental whom we will feel compelled to overpay in the off-season. But who is to say what the market will be for him, especially in this souring economy.

    No one other than the Yankees offered CC more than $100M, and CC was younger and just as good if not better. The Phils are strapped and just gave Howard that stupid contract; the Yanks have to deal with Jeter and Rivera, have only Vazquez coming off the books, and are saddled with the ridiculous long-term contracts they gave to CC, Tex and A-Rod; the Dodgers and Cubs are messes; the Cardinals just overpaid for Holliday and still have to deal with Pujols; the Angels won’t overpay for anyone; the Red Sox just gave Beckett a big deal and Theo is too smart to give a long term contract to a 32 year old pitcher.

    So, maybe we can re-sign him in the off season for a little more than Lackey last year, and I could live with that. Lee might be 32, but there are not a lot of miles on that arm.

    • well actually the Yankees are actually only committed to $135MM in salary next year, sound ludicrous but that is $70MM below this year, no telling whether Jeter will want a ransom or just appreciation. Rivera who knows, at 40 he might just hang it up, same with Pettite, just don’t know. ARods contract actually begins to roll back beginning next year in terms of annual dollars, not huge, but not insignificant either.

      Bottom line, if the Yankees want Lee, they can get Lee. To me the issue is, do the Yankees want to turn over draft picks to the Mets. who knows.

      • I’m surprised to hear that. But that counts Pettite, Jeter and Rivera, whom I am guessing will all be back at similar rates. Those three will probably cost them around $50M next year, which means only $20M coming off the books. As for A-Rod, while the guaranteed money goes down, they will still owe him bonuses for landmark homeruns which will most likely add $30M to the price of his contract.

        Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees can and will sign anyone. But if the stories about the Yankees not looking to expand payroll because a lot of the limited partners are upset that they have not received any dividends in years are true, Lee might be hard for Cashman and Levine to justify to ownership. And if the Yankees are out of the equation, Lee’s price tag goes way down.

        In any case, I’d be content with Ted Lilly.

  2. I agree with you Ted, but as us often the case with the mets, having them do the least dumb thing is the best possible outcome.

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