The bidding for Cliff Lee is about to come to a close as the Rangers are expected to have their answer sometime today, according the the Rangers Web site. The reports coming in state that if anyone wants Lee, they’re going to have to make a seven-year commitment to him.
Now, let me preface my statements with this: Cliff Lee is a terrific pitcher who had one of the greatest postseasons I had ever seen, save one game. He’s the ideal model of the power pitcher and with 185 strikeouts and just 18 walks, there are few I have ever seen control the strike zone the way he does.
With all that said, doesn’t history prove that making long-term commitments to pitchers?
At age 26, Mike Hampton led the National League with 22 wins, while also posting a 2.90 ERA in 1999. The following year, he won 15 games and posted a 3.14 ERA. He was considered one of the best pitchers in the league at that time. Then he signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies. After two seasons 5-plus ERAs, he was traded by Colorado. And let’s not forget he missed two consecutive seasons with injuries. His numbers since signing that deal? 56-52 with a 4.81 ERA.
Barry Zito had the AL Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young awards in his resume when he entered free agency in 2007 at the age of 28. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract that offseason and since then, has underwhelmed the Giants with his abilities, going 40-57 with a 4.45 ERA.
Remember Denny Neagle? He was a former 20-game winner and a two-time all star when he hit free agency. Colorado (again) gave him the 31-year-old a five-year, $51 million contract, where he won just 19 games over three years with an ERA of over 5.50. He never finished out his contract because of injury and a little legal issue involving a prostitute.
Chan Ho Park had an very strong start to his career in the US and was coming off two of his best seasons with back-to-back years of over 220 innings with ERAs of 3.27 and 3.50 and his first all star selection. At 28, he signed a five-year, $65 million contract. Over the life of that contract, he never posted an ERA under 5.00 and after making 25 starts in the first year, he made just 23 over the next two and never recovered.
Now you may tell me these guys aren’t of the same caliber as Lee and at this point in their careers, no, they’re not. But these were all considered top-flight pitchers and received compensation based on that. Certainly deals like C.C. Sabathia’s have come up roses, but the point is you never really know. Pitchers have two commodities – their arms and their heads. And if something happens to either of those, teams can be saddled with humongous headaches for years to come.