The headline might make Rangers fans roll their eyes. It might make Rangers fans angry. It might make Rangers fans think I'm clueless, but it's true: the Texas Rangers should not re-sign Cliff Lee.
Lee has been nothing shy of phenomenal since he won the Cy Young in Cleveland in 2008, posting an ERA of 2.54 while posting a WAR of 7.2 - a career best for Lee. In 2009, he wasn't worth quite as much, posting a 6.6 WAR before his historically great SO/BB ratio in 2010 propelled him to a 7.1 WAR. To summarize, Lee has been nothing short of excellent the last three years.
So why shouldn't the Rangers sign him?
It's simple. Lee will not be worth the contract he receives from either Texas or New York. Lee is expected to get a six- or maybe even a seven-year contract from the Yankees. Nolan Ryan conceded that the Rangers would offer Lee a six-year contract. Lee will be 33 next season and nearly 40 years old by the end of his contract.
The Yankees have reportedly offered Lee a six-year deal worth $140 million, averaging $23.3 million annually. If Lee accepts this contract, the Yankees will be paying Lee $23.3 million in 2015 based on his 2008-10 seasons. It is unreasonable to expect that Lee will be a 6.5-7.2 WAR pitcher towards the end of the six- or seven-year deal that Lee will sign.
Lee absolutely deserves to be paid well. He has been one of the five best pitchers in baseball the last three seasons. He deserves to be paid in excess of $23 million per season - in the short term.
Of the 25 richest contracts in baseball history, five have been handed to pitchers. CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Barry Zito, Mike Hampton and Kevin Brown have been recipients of contracts in excess of $100 million. The jury is still certainly out on Sabathia, and it's soured on Santana with his recent arm troubles. Zito, Hampton and Brown have not or did not earn the money on their contract.
In what looks to be a deep 2011 draft, the Rangers are better off accepting two compensatory picks for Lee and trading for Zack Greinke. Greinke is not as good as Lee - though he was worth over a 9 WAR in 2009 - but he will be financially cheaper in the short term. If the Rangers can avoid trading Martin Perez and Jurickson Profar, they should absolutely trade for Greinke and let Lee walk. Greinke is five years younger than Lee and has shown brilliance in his career earlier than Lee has - there's no reason to think that Greinke can't progress back closer to his 2009 form.
It will be painful to watch Cliff Lee pitch in pinstripes in the Bronx - at the same stadium that Lee pitched so brilliantly to defeat the Yankees and lead the Rangers into the World Series.
Sometimes the smart thing to do is painful.