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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Wait ... nobody wants Cliff Lee for free?

By David Schoenfield

Found this quote about Cliff Lee in Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings & Grumblings interesting:
"This guy [Lee] has so much money coming. I'd bet 27 teams wouldn't even claim him on waivers because they can't afford him. So the Red Sox have to be looking at the Phillies and thinking, 'What's your leverage?' It wouldn't surprise me if the Red Sox really want him. So would they give up one of their top prospects who's not Bogaerts? Maybe. But they're a team that's set up really well for the future. So they're not going to do anything out of desperation. Why would they?"


Umm ... really? Not to criticize Jayson's source here, but would 27 teams pass on Lee if the Phillies were theoretically just dumping his salary?

We can't count the Phillies, so the executive is suggesting only two teams would be willing to take on Lee's salary. I'm not even which teams the exec is suggesting, the Red Sox? Maybe the Dodgers?

Anyway, let's take a step back. Lee is owed at least $70 million on his contract -- $8 million this year, $25 million in 2014 and 2015 and then a $12.5 million buyout or $27.5 million club option for 2016. If Lee were a free agent, would what it take to sign him for two (and a third) seasons?

Right now, each win above replacement on the free agent market is going for about $4.9 million, according to ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski. $70 million would then be worth 14 Wins Above Replacement; if you pick up the 2016 option, you're talking about 17 Wins Above Replacement. Lee has been worth 17.1 WAR the past two-plus seasons. So this isn't an Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton contract we're talking about; it's actually pretty reasonable for Lee's current level of ability. There hasn't been any decline in his peripherals and while he does turn 35 in August, he's had no major arm injuries. He's a pretty good bet to stay healthy for the next two or three seasons (of course, the same could have been said of Roy Halladay a couple years ago).

The point is: If Cliff Lee were a free agent, he's like get $70 million, give or take.

And I think more than two teams would be willing to pony up that many. Go through the rolodex: Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Cardinals, Giants. Then think of a club like the Cubs, with guaranteed money past 2014 committed only to Edwin Jackson, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler. Or the Mariners, with only Felix Hernandez signed beyond 2014. Those clubs have money to burn the next few seasons. Or the Orioles, who could use Lee this year and will be cutting $25 million in payroll next in Brian Roberts, Jason Hammel, Tsoyshi Wade and Wilson Betemit.

Keep in mind as well that MLB's national TV contracts with Fox, ESPN and TBS kick in next year, increasing each team's annual payout by about $25.

Or the value of one year of Cliff Lee.

I think more than two teams would be willing to take him for free.