Cliff Lee is going to get paid A LOT of money this winter. It’s a given.  

In fact, he’s going to get a contract in same range as the ones CC Sabathia and Johan Santana inked two and three years ago respectively.

Leading into his free agent year, Johan had averaged 228 IP, 239K’s, 17 wins, 9 losses, a 4.8 K/BB ratio, and an ERA of 2.99 for the three years prior.  

CC’s line is almost identical, averaging 228 IP, 211K’s, 16 wins, 9 losses, a 4.5 K/BB ratio, and an era of 3.07.  

Johan got 23 million per year as a 28 year old hurler over six years, and CC cashed in for 23 million a year over 7 years, also signing as a 28 year old.  

Lee’s production puts him squarely in line with these other premier southpaws. Averaging 222 IP, 179 K’s, 16 wins, 8 losses, a ridiculous 6.5 K/BB ratio and tidy 2.98 era.  

Lee is 31 years old, and the market for him is more likely to be a 4-5 year deal than a 6-7 year deal, but $25 million per year over this shorter period seems like a reasonable price tag, especially given the fact that Lee makes professional major league hitters look like they are blindfolded children trying to hit the elusive piñata during the most important month of the year, October.  

When you combine this hefty price tag with the fact that the mercenary has spent much of the last two Octobers dominating the Yankees with virtuoso pitching performances, it seems obvious that Lee will be the next in a long line of blue-chip free agents to land in the Bronx and don the pinstripes.

After all, if you can’t beat em…sign em, and the Yankees are the team with the biggest piggy bank.

So how can Lee’s current team possibly compete with the Evil Empire?  Well, Nolan Ryan’s Rangers are not the small market squad you think they are, that’s how.   

In April 2010, the Rangers payroll was roughly equivalent to the amount the Yankees paid out for Joe Girardi’s braces (well $58 million or so, by all counts much less than a third than that of the Yanks).

However, their shiny new television rights extension deal with FOX is infusing the club with $80 million dollars up front, and a reported 1.6 billion over the next 20 years, or an average of $80 million per year.

This would represent a net gain of about $60 million towards the Rangers bottom line per year (previous rights earned them approximately 15-20 million per year).

Nolan’s Rangers, previously teetering on bankruptcy, playing in the nation’s fifth-largest market (Dallas) all of a sudden has a team looking for its first World Series ring, with the promise of some money to spend come the offseason.  In fact, they have about $50 million worth.

But the Rangers have another ace up their sleeve in their quest to retain their…well, ace.  In a world where free agents almost exclusively take the deal with the most green, forsaking other factors, the state of Texas has no state income tax.

Any Yankee offer is worth 7 percent less than any Texas offer, that 4 year 100 million contract, can be matched by Texas for a measly $93 million…bargain bin tickets on the Ryan Express anyone?  

Forgetting these numbers for a second, being a New Yorker, I’m accustomed to paying $2.75 for a 20-ounce soda (no, not at a stadium, at a deli), so maybe, just maybe the cost of living issues that arise when Cliff Lee prices out real estate and realizes that he can buy an entire prairie in Texas for the same price as he can buy a four-bedroom penthouse in Manhattan will push him deeper into the heart of Texas.  

Being an Arkansas native, that area of the country may be just what he wants anyway.

So, while it is certain that no other time arouses the same passionate brand of nostalgic drama and timeless moments as does the major league baseball postseason, this year a further drama may unfold afterward.

Defeating the Yankees on the field in Arlington and advancing to their first-ever World Series will serve to set the table for an event almost as rare, where the recently almost bankrupt Texas Rangers are able to put out a better offer than the team with the infinite payroll, and keep the free agent difference maker that led them to the promised land with hopes that he can do it again.

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