Random Thoughts Concerning Cliff Lee

Matt Himelfarb has various thoughts about Cliff Lee … with the numbers to back up his arguments. Read on

  • Lee is worth about four wins going forward. Hisanori Takahashi or other comparable alternatives (i.e. Kevin Millwood) are certainly above replacement level, so Lee’s value is closer to three wins. While I am pretty sure that increases the Mets playoff chances significantly, a tough break here, an injury there, and the Mets could conceivably miss the division or wild card by more than three games. If the Mets are willing to trade blue chip prospects for Lee, they better be aggressive about improving the bullpen and second base, lest they mortgage the future for nothing.
  • Many analysts contend that the Mets would be better off letting Cliff Lee depart after this season, taking the two draft picks instead of committing big money and years for a pitcher that turns 32 in August. If the Mets somehow acquire Lee, I just cannot imagine how they would not be handicapped in this regard. After dealing someone such as Mejia or Flores, and likely making the post-season (forget about it if Lee is World Series MVP), are the Wilpons, amid the constant accusations of being “cheap”, going to sit there and say “We decided not to commit money to Cliff Lee because research indicates it is not wise to invest long term deals for starting pitchers, and we get compensation picks too!”  Columnists will argue they are being cheap like the Phillies last off-season. I know the Mets wisely laid off signing Barry Zito a couple years back, whom they were under pressure to sign, but losing Lee would be a different case. If The Yankees are intent on pursuing Lee, the Mets will ultimately lose that bidding war. Otherwise, however, I think the Mets are obligated to re-sign Lee, for better or worse.
  • If the Mets are willing to overpay (that means giving Lee a hefty, six-year deal) you would have to think Lee would be willing to sign an extension. Athletes tend to opt. for security rather than risk their value implodes for a few million dollars. Lee could very well suffer an arm injury over the next three months. Plus, if the Yankees are not gung-ho about adding Lee next off-season (speculation that those inside baseball are  perhaps already privy to), the Mets probably represent Lee’s best opportunity for a big payday. Further, the Mets willingness to pay for Lee in the off-season may not exist nearly to the extent it does right now.
  • If the Mets end up trading for Lee, I would rather sign him to an extension than let him walk. I am not adamant about this position, but when push comes to shove, I think it is the best route. If we sign Lee to a six-year extension and he is productive for three-four years while leading the Mets deep into October, I can live with that. For all the long-terms deals to pitchers that do not work out, there are the Randy Johnson’s, Curt Schilling’s, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite’s that remain productive. All pitchers age differently. For what it is worth, Lee is not reliant on his velocity. By signing him to an extension, the Mets also ascertain that Lee does not sign with the Yankees next off-season. Not to mention, the compensation picks are just not worth Wilmer Flores or Ike Davis or even Fernando Martinez.
  • Ideally, I would still rather see them trade Davis than Flores, as I explained a few days back. Martinez is an interesting case, since much of his value is dependent upon his ability to play centerfield, which is unclear right now.

Still, I cannot fathom why fans and analysts are unequivocally for Ike Davis, stubbornly refusing to even talk about including him in a deal for Lee, and yet, are so willing to trade Martinez.

For one, the impression I get is that Martinez’s ceiling is higher than Davis. Sure, people say, but Davis is producing at the big league level. Yes, Davis has been rushed to some extent in his current role, but he is not exactly dominating. He is hitting .260/.333/.430. Fangraphs has his wOBA at .335, while firstinning says it is .327. Daniel Murphy hit .266/.311/.427 with a .318 wOBA last year. Assuming that Martinez cannot play center, the offensive bar for a corner outfielder is still lower (average wOBA for a first baseman is .364, .354 for corner outfielders). To equal Davis’s production right now, Martinez would have to produce something very similar to Daniel Murphy’s line last year. Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that, if Martinez were promoted to the big leagues right now (and he is two years younger than Davis I might add), he could hit .260/.310/.425?

We have already discussed some of Davis’s flaws in his swing, such as dropping his hands into his load and stepping in the bucket. Martinez may not walk enough yet, but he has been rushed, and since returning has posted a 7% walk rate in Buffalo. Davis has also faced problems with plate discipline. At the end of the day, I would rather take the higher ceiling player, with a chance he can play center.

  • That being said, in hindsight, I think I am on board with almost every trade not involving Jenrry Mejia or Jon Niese. I have changed my mind on Flags fly forever.
  • Finally, we cannot underestimate the financial value the Mets would reap by a playoff/World Series appearance. Vince Gennaro wrote several pieces a couple of years ago about this. Here are some snippets:

The “perfect storm” for creating financial value from a World Series title would be a large market team with available stadium capacity and a championship dry spell. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who played before 85% of capacity at Dodger Stadium in 2007 and haven’t been to the World Series in 19 years, would have earned a $65 million payoff.

Sounds awfully comparable to the Mets, does it not?

The Mets revenue streams- season tickets, ticket price increases, merchandise sales, broadcast revenue, corporate sponsors, etc.- would all skyrocket depending on how far the Mets advance to the post-season.

In the case of the Yankees, maintaining their unbroken string of playoff appearances is worth an estimated $39 million in future revenues coming in the form of merchandise sales, retention of season-ticket holders, maintaining the high level of demand from their corporate sponsors, and continued top ratings on the YES Network, in which they own a stake…

The difference between advancing one additional round in the postseason – getting to the World Series versus losing in the league championship series – can mean as much as $15 million to the Yankees.

Yes, the Mets are not on par with the Yankees financially, but there is still a treasure chest of currency to be had. Maybe I am naive about this, but consider the additional free agents the Mets would be able to pay with increased payroll. Heck, if the Mets win a World Series championship, they can buy 20 Wilmer Flores’s in Latin America.

Ideal, reasonable trade:

Mets Receive:

Cliff Lee

Mariners Receive:

Ike Davis

Josh Thole or Ruben Tejada

Robert Carson or Jeurys Familia

A more off-the-wall, creative three team deal that might work as well, considering the Mariners may not be satisfied with Fernando Martinez as a centerpiece, and the Mets reluctance to add Angel Pagan:

Mets Receive:

Cliff Lee

David DeJesus

Mariners Receive:

Angel Pagan

Alex Gordon

Ruben Tejada or Josh Thole

Jeurys Familia or Robert Carson

Royals Receive:

Fernando Martinez

Dejesus is due the rest of his $4.7 million this year, and has a $6 million dollar club option next year, while Pagan is making $1.5 million this year, and is arbitration eligible for the next two before becoming a free agent. Pagan’s salary will likely double next year, so the difference in salary for this year and next year is small. The difference in productivity is also negligible; Pagan is a year-and-a-half younger and under control for an additional year, but DeJesus has a healthier track record, which is important for a contending team such as the Mets to consider.

Since the Mariners are looking more toward the future, however, that extra year is a key component of Pagan’s value. Jack Zduriencik understands the value of defense and positional scarcity as well as any other GM, and likely covets Pagan as much as any other team. Evident by DeJesus’s contract, Pagan will be a bargain before he hits the open market.

I think the deal definitely makes sense from the Mets and Royals (who have clearly tired of Alex Gordon) perspectives. The question is if the Mariners would be interested and how much they intend to compete next year. Just some food for thought we can play with.


Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at: matthimelfarb.wordpress.com
  1. JW July 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm
    So who do you bring in to replace Davis at 1b? Do you think that his defense affects Reyes’s, Wright’s, and Tejada’s?

    I think that trading a major-league piece for a chance that a player in high-A reaches his ceiling is a bit short-sighted and decreases the quality of this year’s team…which is pretty much the opposite of the reason that the Mets would acquire Lee.

  2. Micalpalyn July 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm
    Too much
  3. Nick July 2, 2010 at 3:22 pm
    Not much thought to what the mariners need here, only what we have to give. They just traded for Branyan at 1st, and already have 2 light hitting starting outfielders in Ichiro and Gutierrez. Finally, and most importantly, they’re said to want MLB ready pitching and catching back.

    Even more ridiculous: the Royals will trade their two best chips for Fernando Martinez, who’s injured (again) and just returned after being out for a month.

    Not exactly a compelling argument.

  4. Matt Himelfarb July 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm
    JW: Adam LaRoche or Ty Wiggington are two options right off the top of my head. Both don’t match Davis defensively, but more than make up for it with the bat, particularly LaRoche, who is traditionally a second-half player.

    Nick: I think F-Mart is a pretty reasonable return for the Royals. DeJesus is very underrated. The Royals clearly don’t like Alex Gordon, evident by the fact they are stashing him in AAA. besides, it is the Royals- we are talking about the same team that traded living players for yuniesky beancourt.