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.
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.