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Second-guessing: Have Cliff Lee regrets?

6/29/2011

Cliff Lee pitched a two-hit shutout of the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, his third consecutive shutout. It capped a ridiculous June for the former Ranger -- a 5-0 record and an ERA of 0.21 in the month, the fifth pitcher since World War II to put up numbers that good in a calendar month.

Our buddies Ben & Skin saw that performance and couldn't help but picture Lee in a Rangers uniform. I'm sure many of you did too. I can't blame you. Can you imagine what having Lee at the top of the Rangers' rotation right now would do for the entire team? He'd provide a big 1-2 punch with C.J. Wilson and help give the struggling bullpen a break in most of his starts. And right away, the Rangers' rotation would look a lot better for the postseason.

The Rangers knew all of this when they didn't commit to the long-term contract Lee wanted in the offseason. It was never a question of how well Lee would pitch in 2011 or even 2012 or 2013, as long as he stayed healthy. The question was what might happen after that. Lee turns 33 in August. To come to Texas, it would have required a guaranteed seventh year, making him a starter in his late 30s.

That's just way too risky. And nothing Lee does in 2011 will change that. He liked his time in Texas, but wanted two more guaranteed years to pitch here than he did in Philadelphia. It's one thing to sign up a guy like Lee to five years guaranteed with a vesting option for the sixth year. The Rangers gladly would have done that. It's another thing to take up a large percentage of your payroll in the sixth and seventh year of a deal for a pitcher in his late 30s. There aren't many examples of that working out well.

That said, I know some of you believe you take that risk just to have Lee during the next few seasons when the Rangers' window might be its largest. And I can see that. But if you do that, you also risk shutting that window early too if Lee gets hurt and that money remains on the books, preventing you from signing other players. The Rangers have a bunch of key members of the core that will need new contracts in the next few years and they'll need financial flexibility to sign them. Not having money tied up long-term to Lee will help in that department.

Lee sure is fun to watch. He looks like a guy ready to help lead a strong Philadelphia team through the postseason, too. He would also make the Rangers a lot better right now. But that isn't the question that GM Jon Daniels and his staff had to ask themselves. What would Lee do in the fifth, sixth and seventh year of the deal? How would it impact assembling a team around him? The answer: It was too risky to sign that deal and find out.

Tune in to 103.3 FM ESPN for the Ben & Skin Show as they discuss Lee this morning starting at 10 a.m.