Cliff Lee Will Get His Ridiculous Contract, But Will He Be Worth It?

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Cliff Lee Will Get His Ridiculous Contract, But Will He Be Worth It? A few weeks ago, it was "Cliff Lee is the best postseason pitcher ever." Now, it's "Cliff Lee is going to get a billion dollars from the Yankees."

It might sound crazy, but why is it a given that the lefty's going to live up to such a contract?

Yes, there is the postseason resume (7-2, 2.13 ERA), and yes, there is the 2008 Cy Young Award (22-3, 2.54 ERA). Both are impressive, without doubt.

But at 32 years old, and with nearly 1,500 innings on that left arm odometer, will the Yankees (or Rangers, Astros, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers and whoever else) be spending all that dough on a guy who will fade over the next four seasons?

There's at least some reason to believe that's the case.

Somewhat forgotten after Lee's postseason success (which in itself waned this October, but we'll get to that later) is that Lee wasn't all that special this past season. After getting traded to the Rangers in early July, Lee went 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts. Of course, those numbers don't reflect the fact that he lasted eight or more innings in all of his first seven starts and averaged 7 1/3 innings per start overall. His seemingly impossible strikeout-to-walk numbers (96-to-12) were also rather incredible.

Still, Lee finished the year at 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA. His numbers were solid, but do they really warrant a multiyear contract that will pay him more than $100 million?

On their own, no, not really, but teams will be looking at those postseason numbers as much as anything.

In the national spotlight, Lee's been amazing. Last October, he became a household name with his ho-hum, nonchalant catch during the World Series. At that point, we all knew the guy was kind of a badass.

His numbers, from his first postseason start in '09 until his third this October, backed that up. In eight starts, he went 7-0 (his team went 8-0) with a 1.26 ERA. He struck out 67 batters while walking just seven. He allowed just one homer and posted a 0.731 WHIP. It was silly.

Then, he lost a little luster. He was touched for seven runs, six earned, in Game 1 of the World Series, surrendering eight hits to the Giants and lasting just 4 2/3 innings. The Rangers turned to Lee with their backs against the wall in a win-or-go-home Game 5, but Lee couldn't get it done. Seven innings, six hits, three runs, and the Giants were World Series champions.

Now, one bad start and one average start do not a career make. Any team would love to add Lee to its rotation for the 2011 season. They'd love to have him for the 2012 season and the 2013 season. But they'll only be able to do so by signing him at a long-term deal that will pay him $20 million per season.

For the Yankees, this won't be like acquiring CC Sabathia. When they got him, he was 28 years old. He'll be under contract with the Yankees until he's 35. Lee will be 35 in the middle of the 2013 season.

In signing Lee, teams will be hoping to get to the playoffs and ride him as their ace. It may work out, or it may not, but there won't be any way any team can sign the free agent without wasting a whole lot of money on the latter half of a deal.

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