A Few Words for Cliff Lee

published December 9, 2010

So here’s the situation, Cliff.

Take a deep breath.

The Yankees have offered you six years in the neighborhood of $140 million.  Texas wants you to stay, and their matching offer will be worth more, because of the state taxes.  The Angels are coming in.  Washington is aggressively in.  One way or another, you’re going to be a very rich man.

Hard to believe it was only three years ago you were in the minors, getting yourself back on track.

This is the one big contract you’re going to get in your career, the one time you can make up your mind about where you want to be and why.  You’ll be 38 at the end of the deal.

Let’s consider the possibilities.

The Nationals lost 93 games last year.  They had one of the weakest offenses in the league and committed the most errors.  Washington in the summer is a sweltering pool of humidity and mosquitoes.  Jayson Werth just signed there because he knew no one was going to offer him anything near the seven-year, $126 million they put on the table.  You have options.  Nuff said.

The Angels are a serious team in a serious market.  The weather is great.  The owner spends.  The team contends year after year.  The crowds are enthusiastic, but not intensely demanding.  There’s always something else to do, so sports are never life and death to the fans.  It’s a Lakers town first, Dodgers second, USC and UCLA third.  You can be as anonymous as you want to be.

Texas wants to keep you. The World Series was a breakthrough for the team; they don’t want to lose momentum with their fans, and losing you would hurt, even though they were pulling away in the division when you joined them in July.  You spent enough of the summer there to know why General Sherman said that if he owned Texas and he owned hell, he’d live in hell and rent out Texas.  The biggest seasons in the Metroplex are football and spring football, and that’s only going to change so much.  The team is not young, so its moment is now.  You know it’s a tough ballpark to pitch in; you’ve got a lifetime ERA of 5.07 there, though it was 2.92 last year.

What do you need me to tell you about the Yankees?  They will always be in play for the best free agents.  Their core is aging rapidly, and there’s limited help coming up from the farm system.   It’s hard to see them falling far, and budgets will probably never be a problem.  Your buddy C.C. can tell you what the clubhouse is like; it’s always been a bit strange, though very professional.  It’s all about taking care of business.

The New York area is a great place to live, but it’s not for everyone.  The spotlight is all-consuming, the media are voracious.  There are more reporters and radio folks and TV crews around the team on a nightly basis than you’ve seen except in the playoffs.

The crowds are big and rabid.  And demanding.  And harsh.  They don’t have a whole lot of patience.  A.J. Burnett gave them 200 innings and shut down the Phillies in one of his two World Series in 2009; in ’10, he was hurt and ineffective – in other words, he displayed his usual consistency – and was roasted in the tabloids and on the talk shows.  Get off to a slow start, and every penny of your contract will be hung around your neck day after day on the back page of the Post.

Mystique and aura are a fine sales pitch, but the daily reality is a huge media gauntlet and a razor’s edge atmosphere.

It’s not about money; you’re set for life no matter what.  It’s not just about championships; no one can guarantee you a ring.  Where do you and your family want to live?  Where will you be happy?  What environment best compliments your skills?  Where are you willing to spend the next six years of your life?

If all else is essentially equal, take the freeway.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)