Philadelphia Phillies Give Cliff Lee a Contract Full of Risks
Lee has joined a starting rotation that already includes last season's Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
The Phillies signed Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal which could grow to $135 million over six seasons.
After looking over how the deal breaks down in terms of dollars, it is a very risky contract for the Phillies.
The bidding for Lee's services began at six years. The initial offer from the Yankees was a six-year deal and the Rangers started at five years but quickly added a sixth.
While Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball and easily the best available free agent pitcher this offseason, most people felt that a commitment of that length to a 32-year-old pitcher with back problems was too risky to justify the amount of money.
Shortly after Carl Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees added a seventh year to the deal and brought it up to as much as $150 million; that's seven guaranteed years, not six with an option.
But the Phillies were able to get Lee for less years and less money. Great deal for them, right?
Not so fast.
Under the new deal, Lee will make just $11 million next season, but after that it goes up and up.
It breaks down as follows: $21.5 million in 2012; $25 million in 2013; $25 million in 2014; $25 million in 2015.
Lee will turn 33 years old in August. So, for those who said devoting such money into an aging pitcher was a bad idea, consider that the Phillies will be paying Lee $25 million in 2015 when Lee will be 37 years old.
But now on to the sixth year option. In 2016, Lee's option year will be guaranteed for $27.5 million should Lee pitch 200 innings in 2015 or a combined 400 innings in 2014 and 2015. Also, Lee must not finish the 2015 season on the DL because of a left shoulder or elbow injury.
Should Lee not complete those provisions, he has a $12.5 million buyout.
Sound like a good deal?
Nevermind the fact that the Phillies will be paying Lee $25 million at ages 35-37.
But with the exception of the 2007 season, Lee has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last five seasons. Over the last three seasons, Lee has averaged 221.1 innings pitched.
Is Lee worth $25 million per season?
It's a bit of a double-edged sword for the Phillies. Should Lee throw his required 200 innings in 2015 to guarantee his sixth year, he'll be making $27.5 million at the age of 38. And while you can assume that Lee would have been healthy and effective in order to reach 200 innings, that's not a fair assumption.
Just because he reached 200 innings, doesn't mean he was effective.
At the age of 38, in a pitcher friendly park like Citizens Bank Park, it's not hard to imagine Lee having a hard time.
So even if he hits the 200 innings mark in 2015, it's no guarantee he'll be worth the $27.5 million the Phillies would have to pay him.
The stipulation concerning Lee's status on the DL at the end of the 2015 season is even more confusing. To review, Lee cannot end the season on the DL because of a left shoulder injury or elbow injury.
Okay, but when Lee missed time last season due to injury, where was the injury? That's right, his back. So it's okay if Lee's back continues to be an issue over the next few years in Philly because even if it lands him on the DL at the end of the 2015 season, he'll still get his $27.5 million.
Or what if it's an ankle injury? Or maybe an injury to his quad muscle? What if he takes one off the head and goes down with a concussion? No problem! $27.5 million in his pocket.
Is Lee's contract good for the Phillies?
So to put it this way—if Lee pitches 200 innings with a 4.25 ERA in 2015 and ends the season with a broken ankle, his contract is guaranteed at $27.5 million for the 2016 season, when Lee will be 38 years old at the start of the season and turn 39 years old that August.
So the Phillies were able to steal the best pitcher in baseball this offseason. They stole him for less years and less money than the team that always seems to land that big free agent they want, the New York Yankees.
And if the Phillies win the World Series next season, hell, let's say they win two straight, they'll still be paying Lee a ridiculous amount of money which only increases as he gets older and could find themselves paying a so-so pitcher, able to suffer from any injury except to his shoulder or elbow, $27.5 million at the age of 39.
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