MLB Rumors: Cliff Lee's 5 Most-Likely MLB Destinations

Pauly Kwestel@pkwestelWFAN Correspondent INovember 3, 2010

MLB Rumors: Cliff Lee's 5 Most-Likely MLB Destinations

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    Cliff Lee has bounced between four different teams in the past two years, making it to the World Series both times.

    In 2009 it was a trade to the Phillies where he helped Philadelphia capture a second straight National League pennant before losing the Yankees in six games.

    This season, a trade sent him to Texas where he led the Rangers to their first ever American League pennant. 

    During this process, he established himself as one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all time; despite a poor outing in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. 

    Lee's contract has now expired and the pitcher is ready to hit the free agent market. The best option, Lee is set to become one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball; if not the highest. 

    WIth all the moving around, it is time for the pitcher to find a permanent home. 

    Here are the five most likely places where Cliff Lee will land. 

Criteria for Choosing Teams

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    1) Money:

    There is no doubt Cliff Lee is going to command a lot of money; similar to how Johan Santana and CC Sabathia did. This eliminates teams with strict payrolls and small markets.


    2) Winning: 

    Lee has been to the last two World Series, but he has been on the losing end both times.

    He wants to be a winner.

    The need to win is combined with money.  Lee will not allow himself to be a repeat of the A-Rod contract in Texas, which saw Texas spend so much money on him, they couldn't field a competitive team around him. 


    3) Would he want to live there:

    This one could be the deciding factor when it comes to taking slightly less money for a situation that Lee believes could have an equal chance of winning.

    Lee's wife has already spoken out about the poor treatment Yankee fans gave her.

    Lee is a southern boy from Arkansas, and while he pitched well in Philadelphia, he might prefer the smaller spotlight that the South has to offer. 

Best of the Rest

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    Baltimore Orioles: 

    The O's believe they are ready to contend and that Lee will be their final piece.

    This is far from likely, as even though the team played much better under Buck Showalter, they are still a few years away.

    Giving Lee a big contract would not leave enough money for the O's to make improvements. 


    Los Angeles Dodgers:

    The Dodgers have the money to make a run at Lee, but have too much internal turmoil.

    The team is back on the decline after a few years of making the playoffs under Joe Torre.

    The Dodgers are not a fit if Lee wants to win. 


    New York Mets: 

    The Mets will likely make a run at Cliff Lee just to show their fans they are doing something.

    The Mets have far more problems with their batting, rather than their arms.

    The internal structure of the Mets is in complete chaos right now and that will have to be fixed if they want appeal to any potential free agent.

    Two free agents turned the Mets down last season despite the offer of more money then the teams they signed with.

    There has to be a reason that both players didn't want to come to the Mets.

    And of course there is the most important factor: Even though they won't admit it, the Mets don't have the money to sign Lee as the Wilpons lost a lot of money in the Bernie Madoff scandal, and the team has the terrible contracts of Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, and Oliver Perez holding them down. 


    Chicago Cubs: 

    Another team that has the money, but simply doesn't have the talent.

    If this were two years ago, the Cubs would be one of the favorites to land Lee. But, the Cubs have been on a decline and don't offer Lee the chance to win. 

5. Washington Nationals

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    The Nationals think that Cliff Lee will push them over the hump into legitimate playoff contenders. They have young prospects who they feel are ready to contribute at the Major League level. 

    If the Nats prospects truly are ready, then they'll look to open their checkbook and bring in some missing pieces. 

    The problem for the Nationals is, do they have enough money?

    They just spent more money than ever to sign No. 1 draft picks Steven Strasburg and Bryce Harper. If the Nationals choose to spend money on Lee, they will tie up a majority of their payroll to just three players, leaving them weak at several other positions. 

    If the Nationals wanted to recruit Lee they would need to offer him a long term deal. Has anyone realized that Cliff Lee is already 32 years old? He isn't entering the prime of his career, he's finishing it. 

    A long term contract for Lee would tie up the Nationals payroll and likely mean that they will have to hold onto him until he is nearly 40. As Lee gets older, the chances of his body breaking down and having injuries goes up. An injury to Lee, or even to one of the other two Nationals stars could end up crippling the franchise for years to come. 

    More importantly, does Cliff Lee feel that he is the missing piece to the Nationals success?

    You probably wouldn't have thought at the beginning of the season that Cliff Lee would be the piece the Texas Rangers needed to get to the World Series, so really anything is on the table, but Lee likely feels that the Nationals are depending too much on young unproven stars, and they are not ready yet. 

    The Nationals are interested in Lee, and they say they have the money to sign him, but they remain a long shot to land the star lefty. 

4. Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Phillies would definitely be interested in having a second go around with Cliff Lee. Lee spent half of the 2009 season in Philadelphia where he helped the Phillies reach their second consecutive World Series. Lee was also the winning pitcher in the only two games that the Phillies won in the World Series. 

    Adding Cliff Lee to a rotation that already features Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt would make the Phillies the scariest team in the league. 

    From a competitive standpoint, there is no better place for Lee to go then Philadelphia. How would you feel if you were pitching your number four starter in Game 4 of a seven game series and you had to face former World Series MVP Cole Hamels?

    And that's after you just faced Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt in the first three games! 

    The issue that will hold the Phillies back is money. They won't be able to offer Lee the same amount that the Yankees will.

    The Phillies are tied down to the massive contracts of Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, and part of Roy Oswalt's contract from Houston. There is plenty of talk that the Phillies won't even have the money to re-sign right fielder Jayson Werth. 

    No doubt, the Phillies still have one of the most talented teams in the league, but at this point they don't have the money for a big money improvement.

    If Cliff Lee wants to pitch in Philadelphia, it'll be on a big discount. 

3. Boston Red Sox

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    When the New York Yankees are interested in a player, you can bet your house that the Red Sox are not far behind. 

    After a lackluster season that saw the Red Sox finishing third in the AL East, fans want improvements. 

    The Red Sox owners have been in the news recently when they purchased English Premier League club Liverpool FC. They have said that this investment will not effect how they run the Red Sox. 

    Fans are still skeptical about that statement and the best way for owner John Henry to show that he is serious would be to make a big free agent signing. 

    The Red Sox have some players they need to re-sign, but still have the money to go into the free agent market.

    While they are tied down by big contracts to Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, GM Theo Epstein has shown the creative ability to trade players like this. 

    Even if the Red Sox lose one of those three starters in a trade, if Cliff Lee is their replacement, the Red Sox are in good shape. 

2. New York Yankees

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    The place that everyone believes Cliff Lee will end up lands at number two on this list. 

    There is no doubt that Yankees are interested in Lee, and when the Yankees want someone, they do everything in their power to make sure they get him. 

    But the Yankees could be dealing with some internal monetary issues. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in a radio interview with 1050 ESPN New York that the Yankees would be sticking with their payroll of around $206 million. 

    Before the Yankees can go after Lee they need to take care of re-signing their own stars.

    The Yankees still need to work out contracts for Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter.

    Steinbrenner has said that the team wants Jeter and Rivera to finish their careers in pinstripes but there would be a limit to how much money the team will give them.

    If the Yankees stick to a hard $206 million budget, they may have to get creative with a trade, which Steinbrenner has said the Yankees are prepared to do.

    Another advantage for the Yankees is CC Sabathia. Sabathia and Lee are good friends going back to their days in Cleveland. More importantly, Sabathia and Lee's wives are very good friends.

    Despite the Yankees trying to keep a hard budget they are the destination that Cliff Lee is most likely to end up in unless...  

1. The Texas Rangers Convince Lee to Stay

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    The Texas Rangers have the ability to convince Cliff Lee to stay in Texas. The Rangers are out of the debt that plagued them under Tom Hicks, when he sold the team over the summer. 

    With new ownership, the Rangers have the money to spend big. And with a World Series team already in place, they don't need to look for free agents to fill in missing pieces, rather, they just need to hold onto their prized arm. 

    Besides new owners, the Rangers also just scored a big new cable TV deal that will give them even more money. 

    The Rangers also can present a very well structured argument that they are in a better position to win in the immediate future then the Yankees are. 

    The Rangers have a lot of young talent who, besides just going to the World Series, are still improving.

    The Yankees consist of older players who are starting the decline of their careers. When Lee's next contract expires, the Yankees will have a whole different team. 

    The Rangers' young pitching did a great job during the playoffs. While the Yankees have young pitchers, they have been around for two or three years now and there are still question marks.

    More importantly, the young Rangers just beat the older Yankees in the ALCS. 

    Texas also has the home-field advantage; Texas is much closer to Lee's home in Arkansas than New York. Also, there is no state income tax in Texas. 

    Cliff Lee's wife has already spoken about how she didn't like the way Yankees fans treated her. If the two of them are happy in Texas, the Rangers will have the ability to offer less money then the Yankees, but still persuade Lee to remain in Texas.