Ken Rosenthal thinks we have some dark horse candidates for the services of Mr. Cliff Lee, and the Detroit Tigers are one of them.
In addition to the obvious players in Texas and New York, he includes the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Reds. But not the Nats. Odd. As I mentioned in that long-winded and technical post earlier today, the Nats are actually a big-market team – and big-market can turn wins into cash better than (for example) the Reds can. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Nats are willing to spend… but why doesn’t anyone want to play there?
Unfortunately, he has no information whatsoever to suggest that the Tigers (or White Sox – or Reds – or Angels – or Phillies) are actively pursuing Lee. And he isn’t the sort of free agent (like Johnny Damon, or Magglio Ordonez, or Pudge Rodriguez) that pursues you.
His reasoning is that Mike Illitch has shown a penchant for expensive toys and signed plenty of free agents seemingly out of the blue in the past decade. In this I agree, though I think his reasoning is more suspect in regards to the other teams on his list (the White Sox and Angels have no need for starting pitching, the Phillies and Reds can barely afford to keep the players they have). If Cliff Lee’s agent made Mike Illitch an offer, I think he would accept – even given the knowledge that those millions would be coming directly out of his own pocket. If we’ve seen anything over the past few years, it’s that the Tigers front office does its best to win within a fixed budget only until Illitch decides he wants something.
I don’t see any chance that Lee comes knocking on his own, and I don’t see much of a chance that Illitch would give the go ahead to a long-shot pursuit if Lee was almost certain to sign elsewhere for comparable money. The psychology of the shopper doesn’t work that way. Illitch, like the rest of us, would (metaphorically speaking) clip coupons but then grab that $1.29 candy bar at the checkout lane on impulse. Cliff Lee is going to the shopper who wants their brand no matter what the cost – because it is the best.
To me, that’s an unfortunate thing. There is no equivalent player to Cliff Lee on the market this year, and there probably won’t be one next year either. He’s the rare tier-1 free agent who actually provides enough wins to a team that he’s worth what he gets paid.