Can the Nationals Land Lee?
The Buzz around the Winter Meetings today seems to be with the Nationals potentially making Cliff Lee an offer he can’t refuse. Though it should be noted that local reporter Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post quashed some of the hype. While rumors are known to fly at the Winter Meetings, I do think there could be a glimmer of hope for Cliff Lee in Washington. I think some of the hype could be agents talking or speculating after the Nationals gave 7 years and $126 million. But when there is this much smoke, there is likely some fire as well.
Seven year deals to any pitcher are insane, much less when they are 32 years old. That being said, I hope the Nationals make this deal, if for no other reason to give them a chance to be successful. The years and money might be an overpay, but it wouldn’t hurt the development of the team. The only pitcher on either the trade or free agent market close to Lee in talent is Zack Greinke, and he would cost the Nationals a fortune in terms of prospects/young players. Also, while Greinke might make just over half of what Lee will make per year, he is only signed for two seasons at which point he will look for a Lee like extension (note he is younger and a safer bet to give that kind of money to). While he might be cheaper he won’t be under team control during a period which the Nationals will be true contenders. In addition if they end up giving up 5 pieces, they likely aren’t deep enough to replace all of that talent. In which case the Nationals would need to go out on the free agent market to fill their holes and likely pay even more money.
The fact of the matter is this deal will make sense as long as it doesn’t truly hinder their development in other areas. If the Nationals start cutting back on their draft budget or skimp on free agent deals (and extensions) down the line than this doesn’t make sense. But if the Nationals are willing to admit that the 6th and 7th years of Werth and potentially Lee might be ‘wasted’ money, and still field a full payroll (considering the fact that the Nationals have been ‘saving’ money the past few years on a below average product they should be able to afford it), then it is a great deal. A Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann rotation in 2012 very well could match any starting 3 in the league. And when you think about it, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth are far superior players than anyone in the Giants lineup, and they just won the World Series. Is Lee and championship dreams a long shot? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a reality.