How Cliff Lee’s Deal Changed Baseball Today

Its been a bit of time since Cliff Lee put his signature to a contract worth a guaranteed $120 million. Putting his name to such a contract meant that the pick for “best left-handed starter” would be pitching under the bright lights of Citizens Bank Park for five-years, and maybe even more. It meant that he would be paired up with the pick for “best right-handed starter,” the enigma of MLB pitchers today, known as Roy “Doc” Halladay. His signature to that contract meant much more solidifying the MLB’s most dominant rotation. If you think that this signing only effects the Phillies, think again. There is a lot of potential fallout to Lee turning down $30 million from the wide-open wallet of the New York Yankees.

For one, such a move signified that the Yankees don’t have the power to sign everyone. In baseball, if you are a big name free-agent such as Cliff Lee, the preconceived belief is that if the Yankees want you, they will get you. The Yankees wanted Lee; they wanted him bad.

However, Lee put this belief to sleep, by turning down the money he did, and joining a team that offered even less than the Texas Rangers. With Lee agreeing to play for the Phillies, it solidified that the Yankees are losing power on the free-agent market. Now, I’m not saying that the Phillies are becoming the new Yankees. But, after the offseason the Yankees had, specifically Lee snubbing them, one can’t help but see that New York isn’t a players guaranteed first choice on the market.

Another thing to look at is how the market for high-caliber pitchers has changed. Take a second to consider C.C. Sabathia’s contract with the Yankees. He signed for seven-years, $161 million. That set a market for ace-type pitchers that, when entering free-agency, will look towards a payroll that mimics that contract. For one, not many teams can afford a price tag such as that one; especially for a pitcher. As a matter of fact, the Yankees and Redsox are probably the only teams that could. But, Lee signed for  less than that; $41 million less to be exact. Lee, being arguably one of the top-three pitchers in the game, set a new market for pitchers. When a team comes up with an offer for a pitcher after Lee’s deal, they won’t be spending as much as they would have if Lee would have mimicked the Sabathia signing. Teams are gonna look at a pitcher and say, “well, Lee signed for $120 million and is one of the best, if not the best. Why should I offer any more than what he made?” So, as free agent pitchers hit the market, they can expect a smaller offers. Hey, if Lee can sign for less, why can’t a guy like Mark Buehrle, a free agent after the 2011 season?

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