Cliff Lee has shown he can pitch at Fenway Park (2.00 ERA in 2010) and against the Yankees (6-4, 4.42 ERA)
After it was announced that Carl Crawford will play the next seven years in Boston, every Sox fan had the same thought: "Yes! Suck it, New York!!!!" Five seconds later, every Boston fan shared this thought as well: "Well, I guess that's it for either Ellsbury or Cameron in Beantown." The third thought that popped into every Boston fan's head was, "Oh S---!! Now the Yanks will get Lee for sure!!"
Now, the biggest question for the Red Sox is not who will pitch the 7th inning, but if the Crawford signing was worth having to face Lee in the division. The Carl Crawford signing undoubtedly forces the Stein Brothers to cough up whatever amount necessary to net Cliff Lee to satisfy angry fans.
Every Yankee fan knows that George Steinbrenner would never allow Boston to get two MVP-type players in one offseason without New York adding its own superstar. Hal and Hank know it too, and they won't let themselves be known as the guys who let Boston win the division in '11. New York will have to push extra hard to put Lee in pinstripes now.
Many Boston fans now wonder, should they have gone after Lee instead? In this world where Sawx fans would almost rather their team finish 5th in the division than see New York win a championship, would it have been smarter to get Lee and block the Yankees from adding what they desperately need?
Theo Epstein probably thought of getting Lee instead, but after an embarrassing display during the 2003-04 offseason negotiations for Alex Rodriguez, he probably thought it was best not to directly compete with the Yankees for fear of losing to them. Boston cannot just step aside and let New York have whichever free agents they want. In order to beat the Yankees during the season, Boston needs to step up and beat them during the offseason by going after the players the Yankees want as well.
If Boston signed Lee, their rotation would feature five aces, the best in baseball. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the biggest question mark in the rotation after posting a 4.69 ERA in 2010, would be bumped to the bullpen, or moved to another team in a trade. Boston would have no question marks regarding their rotation, while the outfield would still be pretty solid without Crawford. Ellsbury can steal 60 bases, Cameron can play excellent defense, and J.D. Drew can hit 20+ homers per year.
Now, with Crawford, Theo Epstein has to figure out which of his four outfielders he will trade for a useful part. Why add one player when you will just have to get rid of another that's not bad at all? Mike Cameron had a .328 OBP in the 48 games he played in last season, while Ellsbury stole 70 bases in his last full season. Neither of those two are bad players, but one will be benched because of the signing of Crawford.
One can present the argument that while Boston didn't really need a new left fielder, they don't need a new starting pitcher either. To that, I say you have to look from the perspective of the rivalry. The Red Sox could use a starting pitcher like Lee, and they have the money. They could also use a left fielder, but the Yankees have no need for one. By signing Lee, Boston assures that neither Crawford nor Lee goes to their arch rival. Boston gets the best rotation in the majors, and a better chance to win the division by taking Lee from the Yankees.
Boston would have better spent their money on Cliff Lee rather than Carl Crawford because he would make the rotation unstoppable and the Yankees would miss out on an elite free agent. But because Boston went after Crawford instead, most Boston fans will be muttering, "That damn Cliff Lee," for the next seven years.
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