One would have to be a fool to not see the value a guy like Cliff Lee can bring to your team. In addition to being as good a pitcher as there is in the major leagues, he goes about his business in a supremely confident and professional manner that can impact an entire rotation.
For the simple fact that the Red Sox have money to spend and play in the most competitive division in baseball with a nearby rival who will stop at no cost to make upgrades, it seems a certainty Boston will at least flirt with Lee this offseason. Before we make such assumptions we need to ask, should the Red Sox go after Cliff Lee?
To begin with, it is likely that something would have to be altered in a big way for the Red Sox to actually acquire Lee, who is expected to command a contract worth more than $20 million per year. General manager Theo Epstein said Friday that he would not rule out obtaining another starting pitcher but he knows how contractually bound he already is to his rotation.
“We have a lot of resources already allocated to our starting staff so you could argue there’s a limit to what percentage of your payroll you should dedicate to your starting five alone,” Epstein said.
Nearly $50 million will be doled out to the quintet of Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2011. If that number jumps to more than $70 million with Lee in the fold, it would greatly reduce the Sox’ flexibility elsewhere. Someone would have to go.
No other teams are going to take on Beckett or Lackey’s contracts, and nobody in the Red Sox’ front office is convincing Epstein to trade Buchholz or Lester. That leaves Matsuzaka, who has a no-trade clause, as the best opportunity to ship elsewhere and create space for Lee, both in the rotation and in the checkbook.
In the more likely scenario that Matsuzaka stays put, there is one other reason for Epstein to keep Lee’s number in his speed dial. Boston is Lee’s best bet to drive up the price for the New York Yankees, who figure to pay what is necessary to win the bidding war for the southpaw, despite what some would have you believe.
Bidding wars, whether in terms of dollars or prospects, are not uncommon between the two teams. The precedent for such competition can be found in the tales of Mark Teixeira, Curt Schilling, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Bernie Williams and many more. What is and will always remain unknown is just how much of it was mind games and how much was a sincere desire to not only land said player but to keep him away from their archrival.
Boston ought to test that limit with Lee until the point where they either lose out, shrug their shoulders and hope that the price hinders the Yankees or another team down the road, or get “stuck” with perhaps the best pitcher in baseball. Either are better alternatives to just sitting on the sidelines and saying, “No thanks, we’re all set at pitcher.”
Sunday, Nov. 14: What bargain outfielders would be a good fit in Boston if the Red Sox don’t land Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth?
Tuesday, Nov. 16: Will the Fenway Park sellout streak continue for another 81 games?