Seriously, why not consider one Clifton Phifer Lee? You’ve probably heard of him. After all, Cliff Lee does own a postseason batting average of .308 which is pretty darn good. Oh, and he can pitch pretty well, too. Yeah, he can really pitch. Try 7-2 with a 2.12 ERA in the playoffs. For his career, he owns a 102-61 record, and most of that was compiled while pitching for the Cleveland Indians. He’s 32, and he’s the best pitcher available on the free agent market. If you watch much sports news on TV or listen to sports talk radio, you’ve probably learned by now that it’s a two-horse race between the Rangers and Yankees to land Cliff Lee with a monstrous contract. Why not add a 3rd horse to the race? Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals could ante up and make things really interesting.
Sure, the Rangers just signed a new tv contract, but they’ve got bills to pay. They may have started 2010 with a payroll of just over $55M, but they finished somewhere in the $86M range. While the Rangers are a very young team which implies “cost control”, they are really only going to see significant cost savings for 2011 by a few moves. Letting Bengie Molina and Frank Francisco go would knock $8.12M from the 2010 payroll, and declining options on Rich Harden, Vladimir Guerrero, and Darren Oliver would only cost the team $2.5M in buyouts versus $23.25 in payroll compared to $15M those 3 cost in 2010. Re-signing Lee would probably consume most of the cost savings, and the Rangers would still have 5 holes to fill. Additionally, several key contributors are set for significant raises anyway, so there would be almost no way for Rangers to keep the core intact for more than another 2 years without payroll going north of $100M. Josh Hamilton very easily could be in line for a 4 yr / $40M+ payday via an extension, so the Rangers may not be sitting as pretty as everybody talks about.
As for the Yankees, Lee would be just another expensive cog in the machine. That’s fine, but it’s worth considering that the Yankees may be turning over the catching job to a rookie (Montero) next year, and Jorge Posada will be turned into a full-time DH. Is Lee interested in breaking-in a rookie catcher? In NYC? That far away from Arkansas? Besides, NYC is a pretty expensive place to live, and I doubt that Jeter and A-Rod do much hunting and fishing.
Here’s where the Cardinals come into play. Southeast Missouri has plenty of places to hunt just south of St. Louis. Missouri has a nice, even distribution of all 4 seasons, so there’s plenty of opportunities for all kinds of hunting and fishing. It’s only a little over an hour long flight from St. Louis to Little Rock, and it’s just a short drive from Little Rock to home for Lee. If he wants to take the scenic route, he can drive down MO-67 through Poplar Bluff and into northern Arkansas. The Cardinals could offer a deal somewhere in the middle of what is being offered by Texas and New York. It’s the best of both worlds. The Cardinals would push the payroll well over budget for a couple years, and everything would fall back in line by 2013 when Carpenter and Lohse come off the books. How about a 2011 rotation of Wainwright, Carpenter, Lee, Garcia, and Lohse?
Yes, I realize that this isn’t a likely scenario at all. It’s also a tremendous risk when you consider Lee’s age and the likely duration of his contract. Still, you can’t blame a guy for thinking about lining up a starting pitching “dream team” plus Lohse for at least a few years. Personally, I’d take that over a slightly upgraded middle IF any day. Go big or go home, Mo!
Follow me on Twitter for even more/less interesting banter about the Cardinals.