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Posted at 12:40 PM ET, 12/13/2010

Cliff Lee is going to sign a bad contract

By Adam Kilgore

At some point soon, maybe today, Cliff Lee is going to sign with either the Yankees or the Rangers, presumably for seven years. The Nationals pretty much exited the running for Lee once the bidding escalated to seven years. The best postseason pitcher alive will not be a National, and, given the price and number of years on the contract, that's probably a good thing for them.

Deals of $100 million or more for pitchers have a stark history of failure, littered with dizzying trips to the disabled list, surgeries and under-performance. Lee will become the sixth pitcher to sign a $100 million contract, and here are the other five:

CC Sabathia, Yankees
Contract: $160 million for seven years
Age: 28-29 so far; under contract until 34
Stats: 40-15, 3.27 ERA, 667 2/3 innings, 136 ERA+
Notes: Sabathia is the unquestioned ace of the Yankees, who have won the World Series one season with Sabathia and advanced to the ALCS in the other. He's had no health issues so far.

Johan Santana, Mets
Contract: $137.5 million for six years
Age: 29-31 so far; under contract until 34
Stats: 40-25, 2.85 ERA, 600 IP, 143 ERA+
Notes: Santana's performance when healthy has been exquisite, but he's missed about 15 starts over the past two seasons with various ailments. And the worst is yet to come: Santana could miss all of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Given the nature of shoulder injuries to pitchers, it's unlikely he'll be close to the same pitcher during the final two years of his deal.

Barry Zito, Giants
Contract: $126 million for seven years
Age: 29-32 so far; under contract until 35
Stats: 40-57, 4.45 ERA, 768 IP, 97 ERA+
Notes: Widely regarded as one of the worst contracts in baseball history. The Giants won the World Series this year, but Zito watched -- he did not even make the postseason roster.

Mike Hampton, Rockies
Contract: $121 million for eight years
Age: 28-35
Stats: 56-52, 4.81 ERA, 891 1/3 IP, 96 ERA+
Notes: Probably the biggest trainwreck here. Hampton actually pitched only two years for Colorado, going 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA, before they traded him to the Atlanta Braves. He didn't pitch at all in 2006 or 2007, and he pitched 78 or fewer innings in two other seasons.

Kevin Brown, Dodgers
Contract: $105 million for seven years
Age: 34-40
Stats: 58-32, 3.23 ERA, 1,078 innings, 131 ERA+
Notes: His performance was tremendous when healthy, especially early in the contract. But as we're seeing, "when healthy" is an operative phrase when it comes to pitchers in their 30s. Brown made only 29 starts in 2000 and 2001 combined. The Dodgers traded Brown to the Yankees before the 2004 season, and Brown made 35 starts in the final two years of his deal.

The most interesting and most troubling thing about Lee's coming deal is his age. Not since Brown signed with the Dodgers after the 1998 season has a pitcher in his 30s received such a lucrative contract. Lee will turn 33 next August. It's not even Year 7 that's scary about this upcoming Cliff Lee contract. Really, it's Year 3, when he's turning 35 and has four years remaining.

When you look at the list above, it starts to feel pretty insane that Lee could be commanding offers of seven years and far more than $100 million. Lee made only 28 starts last season, experiencing some back problems at the start of the year with Seattle and once he arrived in Texas.

Among the pitchers with the best 25 ERAs in 2010, only seven were 30 or older on opening day; Lee was the only one of those who pitched in the American League. In the AL Cy Young vote, none of the top six vote-getters were younger than 30. In the National League, Roy Halladay (33) won, and two of the other top-six finishers were 30 or older.

Cliff Lee is obviously a great pitcher, one of the best ever in the postseason. But the bidding war for his services has made it highly unlikely he'll sign a contract that ends up being good for his team.

By Adam Kilgore  | December 13, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
 
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Next: Drew Storen takes on the red carpet

Comments

Puleeze. If he signed with the Nats you'd be calling it the greatest signing eva.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | December 13, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Not for 7 years at 100$ M, Plus, Plus...no way jose.

Posted by: hunter321 | December 13, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

This 7 year contract talk is sil-lee. Realee, let the Rangers and Spankees bear the burden of that deal.

Posted by: cokedispatch | December 13, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight. Cliff Lee 32, 7 years bad deal. Jason Werth 32, 7 years good deal. Umm Ok.
In case you hadn't noticed, pitchers win titles, not aging right fielders with a .270 average.
Whateva.
Seriously give us a break.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | December 13, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

The contract will be bad long-run wise but brilliant in the short term

The next 3-4 years will be DOMINATED by Lee so whoever gets him will see a LOT of success early on

Posted by: Bious | December 13, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

7 years is too long for any player.. pitcher or every day guy. And the money these free agents make is insane. There should be a cap of $12m or maybe $15m per year per player (as well as a hard salary cap and floor..)

Posted by: rwmorey71 | December 13, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I think the title is misleading - the article clearly indicates that the contract will be very GOOD for Cliff Lee - he's going to get paid $20 million a year for the next 6-7 years to work every 5th day. Only at the bottom do we learn to whom the title speaks - the Rangers or Yankees.

I'm actually surprised the Yankees are going balls to the wall for Lee when they have sufficient prospects to pluck a Garza or Greinke from one of the sister's of the poor at a younger age and lower price point. Rangers not re-signing him will end up being a blessing in disguise for Texas and Yankees signing him will be a contract albatross around their neck in 3-4 years (A Rod, CC, Lee, Tex)

Posted by: terrapin31590us | December 13, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree. 7 years is too long for any player. However, if you want a player bad enough, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. If the Nats signed Lee to a 7 year deal, I would know it is a bad signing (just like I know Werth is too much), but if that is what it takes to get an ace (without giving up the farm) then so be it. Will Lee be good at the end of 7 years, probably not, but that is what the market is demanding right now.

Posted by: paulhealey | December 13, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

skins_fan_22, give ME a break. Of the 55 'megadeals' pitchers have got, only 6 have turned out to be worth it (according to the ESPN article I've linked to twice); if history shows anything a long term contract to a pitcher clearly isn't worth it. Is Werth worth it? Who knows, but any educated fan knows there is a better chance that it works out for an outfielder then a pitcher.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | December 13, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Adam - what are you hearing on the Greinke front? What would we have to give up?

Posted by: PattyinSJ | December 13, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

"The best postseason pitcher alive will not be a National..."

Wow, I didn't know they were negotiating with Bob Gibson...

Posted by: baltova1 | December 13, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

>Brue - what are you hearing on the Greinke front? What would we have to give up?

Posted by: PattyinSJ

Pants isn't gonna do anything he'd regret. He's gonna let the pitching come to him. Just like StunK used to say. If deal makes sense, he'll do it. Go Pants Go! Go Pants Go! People are taking Pants seriously now!!!

Posted by: Brue | December 13, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Bad contract for whom? Because if I'm Cliff Lee, related to Cliff Lee, friends with Cliff Lee, or acquaintances with Cliff Lee I think it's going to be an awesome contract.

Posted by: Kavorka | December 13, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Good analysis. I hope the Yankees get him.

Posted by: mikemc1 | December 13, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"The best postseason pitcher alive will not be a National..."

Wow, I didn't know they were negotiating with Bob Gibson...

----------------------

Or John Smoltz. Or Curt Schilling.

Posted by: JOC44 | December 13, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Be careful. We might be negotiating with Smoltz. Or Schilling.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | December 13, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

It is not so much the years as it is the dollars. The total is presumed to be $150M or so. Well then, if we think Lee is going to be special for 4-5 years, then make it a 5 year deal for $30m per season.

Posted by: rdondero123 | December 13, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

"The best postseason pitcher alive will not be a National..."

Wow, I didn't know they were negotiating with Bob Gibson...

----------------------

Or John Smoltz. Or Curt Schilling.
_________________

Or Sandy Koufax

Posted by: schecro | December 13, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Yuo know I'm just not getting this "pants" thing. Obviously intended as a slur, it just isn't working. Apparently you don't like Rizzo but would like to see him without pants. Well let me tell you mister, you've got a better chance of getting him out of those pants if you start acting a little nicer!

Posted by: natbiscuits | December 13, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Brue, the Pants thing's not working. Maybe time to move on...

Posted by: baltova1 | December 13, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

>Brue, the Pants thing's not working. Maybe time to move on...

Posted by: baltova1

Pants baltova1.

Expect it.

Posted by: Brue | December 13, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Yuo know I'm just not getting this "pants" thing.

Posted by: natbiscuits

You don't seem to get much of anything. I like to help the less fortunate, though. Instead of handing out turkeys, I end up talking to them on imb's.

Now let's all just put our thinking caps on try to figure out a way for Pants to let the pitching come to him! They're still in it for Pavano!! Go Nats Go!!!

Posted by: Brue | December 13, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

If only there were some kind of Segway that would get him off of the whole Pants thing. Hmmmm.

Posted by: dfh21 | December 13, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Brue, the Pants thing's not working. Maybe time to move on...

Posted by: baltova1

Pants baltova1.

Expect it.

Posted by: Brue | December 13, 2010 4:15 PM

Actually, Brue, it's going to be more like "Ignore it."

Posted by: baltova1 | December 13, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

>Actually, Brue, it's going to be more like "Ignore it."

Posted by: baltova1

What, no more whining? This whole thing is starting to work out like I planned.

Still trying to figure out what Pants offers up for excuses for missing out on Pavano and LaRoche. 'We didn't feel comfortable about the money and years for (Pavano) (LaRoche) (your favorite FA). But Pants, life isn't supposed to be comfortable!!

Posted by: Brue | December 13, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Love ya' Brue! Keep preaching to Pants! When you said "IMB's" I didn't figure out that it was Internet Message Boards until after I'd read some heartfelt reports from the International Missions Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Conference about a couple of brave missionaries that were shot and robbed in Tanzania! I thought, "Is Brue a missionary?" And you are - a missionqry for truth and humor - keep Pants honest Brue - I can't stand to watch 297 losses again in the next 3 years.

Posted by: flynnie321 | December 13, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

" Santana could miss all of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Given the nature of shoulder injuries to pitchers, it's unlikely he'll be close to the same pitcher during the final two years of his deal." Adam Kilgore

Does this apply to Strasburg?

Posted by: flynnie321 | December 13, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I am also with you Brue. Pants it up to High Heaven for all I care.

Posted by: dfh21 | December 13, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Flynnie, shoulders and elbows are different animals. TJ surgery has a great record of recovery, shoulder stuff is generally harder to return from. So, when Johan finally comes back he may not be the same guy, Stras is conisdered a pretty safe bet to be effective again. We'll see.

Posted by: dfh21 | December 13, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

" Santana could miss all of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Given the nature of shoulder injuries to pitchers, it's unlikely he'll be close to the same pitcher during the final two years of his deal." Adam Kilgore

Does this apply to Strasburg?

Posted by: flynnie321 | December 13, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse


Strasburg had surgery on his elbow, not his shoudler...

Shoulder injuries are generally devastating, career-ending type injuries for pitchers (see Mark Prior, Scott Olsen, Chien-Ming Wang, Brandon Webb, etc...)

Pitchers often come back from elbow surgery at similar skill level as pre-surgery (see Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, and, uh, some guy named Tommy John)...

Generally speaking, the chance of Strasburg coming back in 2012 at a similar skill level that he left at in 2010 is good... nothing is guaranteed, but relatively speaking the chances of a full recovery are good...

The chance of seeing Chien-Ming Wang or Brandon Webb ever pitching effectiviely in the major leagues again is exceedingly small... sign 'em up, Rizzo!

Posted by: Ghost7 | December 13, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

For shoulders it also appears the type of pitcher you are - power vs. junk - is important, and I think the reason people are high on Webb is he'll be able to pitch effectively but you wonder for how long.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | December 13, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Too bad you did not wait 24 hours before hitting the send button. You would have saved all that egg on your face. R2C2 forever!

Posted by: joejohnson0399 | December 14, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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