The Texas Rangers got to the postseason without Cliff Lee. But Cliff Lee has (so far) brought the Rangers through the postseason. That’s why they need each other in the future.

It wasn’t until July 2 that the Rangers unexpectedly got Cliff Lee from a Seattle Mariners team that was out of contention, and had no further use for Lee. Since then, he was 4-6 with the Rangers, with an ERA of just under 4.00. Clearly, he was not the person that got the Rangers to the postseason. One might expect this of a capable, but older pitcher, who sat out the first month of the season with injuries.

Now for the playoffs (so far). Lee has been 3-0 in the postseason, with a 0.75 ERA reminiscent of his early 2008 break out months as a Cleveland Indian. This follows the 2009 postseason in which he was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA (as a Phillie). You would expect a veteran like Lee to play at the top of his game when it counted most.

But the Rangers have had two dominant pitchers, Lee and Colby Lewis (Lewis is 2-0 in the postseason with a 1.45 ERA). Between them, they are capable of winning four games in any best-of-seven series. CJ Wilson and even Tommy Hunter haven’t been bad supporting characters, but neither of them is as reliable as Lee and Lewis.

If Lee wants another “CC Sabathia” to buttress him, he’s probably got one in Lewis. My best guess is that the Rangers will win the World Series in six, with Lee and Lewis winning at least three, more like four of those games.

Can the Rangers retain Lee against the Yankees?

I will start by stating my belief that the Texas Rangers are a better fit for Lee on every metric except money. If Lee turns out to be purely mercenary, the Yankees will get him. If he takes a “balanced” approach that encompasses money, playing conditions, potential for contributions, etc. the Rangers can be very competitive.

The (current) Rangers have every bit as good a chance of getting to the postseason as the Yankees with or without Lee. The Yankees have, in the past, dominated their division, the Rangers, hardly so. But that is about to change.

The Rangers have hit their stride just as the rest of the American League West has fallen apart. The Los Angeles Angels are in disarray, the Seattle Mariners are badly managed and the well-managed Oakland A’s are hobbled by a budget that’s much tighter than the Rangers’. Small wonder that the Rangers’ lead of nine games over the second-place team was larger than in any of the five other divisions in baseball.

On the other hand, the Yankees are now in a tough division having finished second to Tampa Bay (and receiving the Wild Card). Boston was No. 3, and No. 4 Toronto sported a winning 85-77 record, plus baseball’s best home run hitter (Jose Bautista). Even laggard Baltimore has a better-than-.500 record since the All-Star break (under new management).

The Rangers have a lot of good players, but few established stars. Given that they haven’t been successful in the postseason without Lee, they would probably welcome him on the team, even if his large contract might hurt their salary prospects. In Texas, Lee would basically be in a class by himself.

The situation is opposite in New York, where Lee would be “one of the stars,” alongside marquee Yankee names, and former Texans like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. But with the rest of the rotation (other than Sabathia) questionable, and a lineup that is no longer “Murderer’s Row,” there would be a lot more day-to-day pressure on Lee in New York to “carry” the team, instead of being “carried” during the regular season.

Moreover, the core of the Yankees (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte) is much older than Lee. Having won World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009, they won’t be around much longer. Apart from Robinson Cano, newer home-grown players like Marcus Thames, Brett Gardiner and Frankie Cervelli are promising, but not established players. If they turn out not to be suitable replacements for departees, Lee might find himself irrelevant. On the other hand, Texas has talented players that are younger than Lee and will mostly outlast him.

New York City is in some ways a less pleasant place to work than Texas. For one thing the fans are even more boisterous than in Texas. Lee’s wife Kristen was quoted in USA Today as saying that “the fans did not do good things in my heart.” And let’s not forget that Texas has no state income tax, New York State does, and New York City an additional tax on top of that.

Now to the question of money. What would Lee be worth? Fan Graphs places his contribution at around $30 million a year for the past three years. On the other hand, Lee is 32, a peak age for a baseball player, meaning that he is not going to get better, and will likely get worse.

A reasonable contract offer might be something like $125 million for five years, ($25 million per), possibly front-loading early years above $25 million to reflect Lee’s probable decline. That would pay him at a higher rate, albeit for fewer years, than CC Sabathia’s seven-year contract at $23 million per.

That would be a steep, but probably fair price for Texas, one that they might be willing to pay, given that a decade ago, the team signed one Alexander Rodriguez to a then-record 10-year $252 million contract.

On the other hand, the Yankees have been known to pay “full price,” both in dollars and in years. If the metrics say that’s what Cliff Lee is worth, they might end up offering that. And since they offered Sabathia a seven-year contract, they might have to do that with Lee as well (it was a bad precedent that I quarrel with), for a grand total of $210 million.

Investor Warren Buffett once said that it was a bad idea to marry for money—insanity if you are already wealthy (as Lee is). Let’s hope that he is one person that money can’t buy.

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