THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Take Texas: Cliff Lee, just say no to Yankees

Cliff Lee when he was a Philly

The last I heard, Cliff Lee didn't exactly propel the Texas Rangers to a World Series win. Both times he was on the mound proved a bit disappointing, if memory serves. But even with a 2010 season that came nowhere near his last with the Phillies, Lee is at the center of a very expensive love triangle. Or parabola. Or trapezoid. Who can keep up?

Recently, Yankees' owner Hank Steinbrenner and Texas Rangers' CEO Chuck Greenberg were doing their best to one-up each other for Lee's favor without resorting to a fistfight, when a new suitor entered the picture: on Sunday, December 12, the Boston Red Sox reportedly threw their hat in the ring. 

As it stands right now, the Yankees, the Rangers and the Red Sox are all offering the 2008 Cy Young award winner deals worth seven years and around $140 million. (Actually, the rumor is the Red Sox are low-balling. Typical.)

When Catfish Hunter became baseball's first free agent back in 1973, he never could have imagined a baseball player could command $140 million in an entire career, much less in seven years. That was an obscene amount of money in 1973– and guess what? It still is.

If Cliff Lee was worth it, who could argue? It's obvious the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox must have millions and millions of dollars to throw at the pitcher. At least the Yankees do– the Red Sox just made a seven-year, $142 million-deal (with a $6 million signing bonus) with outfielder Carl Crawford, and the Rangers may be mortgaging everything they own.

 For what? A pitcher who was lights out two years ago with the Phillies.

If the Yankees didn't offer a pitcher the moon and a steak dinner every night of his life, that might be news, but $140 million for seven years is par for the course in New York. The Yankees gave C.C. Sabathia a record seven-year, $161 million contract after he tanked in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons. 

But the Rangers have me worried. According to Game Score, a formula that uses math and other hoodoo to evaluate the quality of a pitcher's start, in the opening game of the World Series back on October 27, Cliff Lee's performance ranked as the 13th worst in Game 1 history. Meanwhile Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum cleaned up– and he's an acknowledged (and busted) pot smoker. Oy.

But Nolan Ryan is the Rangers' president and co-owner, and that must count for something. If there's one thing Ryan knows, it's pitching. He threw an 80 mph ceremonial first pitch at Game 1 of the ALCS this year, and he's 63. He's been retired since 1993, for heaven's sake. I have confidence in Nolan Ryan, and I don't reckon he'd be working so hard to woo Lee if he weren't sure Lee is his man, right?

Let's hope not. Who among us (Yankee fans excepted, of course) really wants to see New York buy another jewel for their crown? And that's the worrisome aspect of the Lee love trapezoid: are teams falling all over themselves to woo him just so he won't go to New York? Sabathia returned to his Cy Young award form once he got to the Bronx; are the Rangers and the Red Sox afraid the same will happen with Lee?

The best thing would be for Lee to stay with the Rangers– and not just to irritate Steinbrenner. Unlike the Yankees, the Rangers are building a strong and solid team– the old-fashioned way, with good hitting, solid pitching and little to no dramatics (please stay sober, Josh Hamilton).

Wouldn't it be nice to see Lee be a pitcher's pitcher in Texas instead of a glamour boy in pinstripes? If he's worth it, that is. If he's not, let the Red Sox have him.


Juanita Giles lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.