Nationals willing to “overspend” on Cliff lee

Tory E. Renck of The Denver Post reports that the Washington Nationals are a team to keep an eye on in regards to Cliff Lee becoming a free agent:

“Talked to several agents and executives who expect Cliff Lee to ask for CC Sabathia money — eight years, $160 million — in free agency….One club to keep an eye on is Washington. The Nationals are telling agents they are willing to overspend, if necessary, to bolster their rotation. . . .”

A couple of thoughts in response to this. First, it’s great to hear from a source outside the beltway that the Nationals are willing to be aggressive this offseason, even if that does mean they will “overspend.” Second, let’s face it, they will probably have to overpay if they want to land Cliff Lee this winter.

Lee at the age of 32 had another outstanding season this year combing between the Mariners and Rangers to go 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA and 185 strikeouts to only 18 walks. That’s right, only 18 walks! More importantly though, Lee is currently dominating the postseason yet again, inflating his contract value through the roof, especially to any team that thinks competing is an option next year. So yes, the Nationals would certainly have to overspend to get Cliff Lee.

Lee As An Investment

Cliff Lee was arguably one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, and that’s saying a lot when you consider this the year of the pitcher. In 212.1 innings pitched Lee posted a FIP of 2.58, which was the second lowest in the Major Leagues. He averaged 10.28 strikeouts per walk (K/BB) which was by far the best in the Majors, with only Roy Halladay coming close at 7.30 K/BB, and third place Jered Weaver finishing way behind with 4.31 K/BB. With a 7.0 WAR, Lee again topped the Major Leagues as the most valuable pitcher in baseball, and the sixth most valuable player overall. So let there be no question, in 2010 Cliff Lee was worth C.C. Sabathia type money, in fact, he was probably worth more.

That doesn’t tell us however what kind of investment down the road Lee will be. Of course, that’s a very important question one has to ask when their team is about to possibly spend eight years and $160 million on a 32-year-old pitcher.

Lee has had four great seasons since 2004, and two subpar seasons which could be blamed on a groin injury. In total he has made 218 career starts, won 102 games, posted an ERA of 3.85, averaged 6.93 K/9, and collected 29.9 career WAR. For a 32-year-old ace, he has relatively little wear and tear on his arm. 1409 innings pitched really isn’t that much when you consider the workload other pitchers his age have had, most of them starting their careers in the majors at the earlier age.

Will he be worth $20 million a year in 2014 when he is 36? Probably not. However the Nationals, if they are willing to make this deal, will have to be willing to sacrifice overpaying an aging Cliff Lee if they want to compete in 2011 and 2012. Who better though for the Nationals young starters to learn from than a guy who has been around the league, including the playoffs, like Cliff Lee. While his location has been transient in the past several years, his talent has been very consistent…and is worth taking a chance on.