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Bloated contracts having domino effect
Sometimes when we talk about risk in baseball, I have to laugh.
On Monday night, I reported that free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee will receive a seven-year offer, according to major -league sources.
Upon returning to the lobby at the Dolphin Hotel, a few people who had seen the story — fellow writers, club officials — seemed shocked.
Seven years? That’s crazy!
No argument. But Tuesday morning, the New York Daily News reported that the Nationals were the team willing to go seven.
Frankly, how much crazier would seven be than six?
Back to that fascinating little question in a second.
First, let’s consider the Yankees’ unique quandary in these negotiations.
The longer the deal they give Lee, the thornier the implications could become in their future dealings with ace lefty CC Sabathia.
The Yankees, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking, do not plan to offer Lee seven years.
Still, even six would create a potential issue with Sabathia, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after next season — the third year of his seven-year, $161 million deal.
Sabathia has said publicly he will not opt out. He might be the rare athlete who honors his word.
Or, he might reconsider his position if the Yankees splurge on Lee.
At that point, Sabathia could opt out at 31 knowing that the Yankees had signed Lee to a six-year deal at 32.
Sabathia could ask that a year be added to his contract so the length of his deal would line up exactly with Lee’s.
Or, he could ask that three years be added so his deal would expire when he was 38, the same age Lee would be at the end of his contract.
Heck, even if Sabathia declined to opt out, he could use Lee’s deal to argue for a three-year extension at the end of his current agreement, when he would be “only” 35.
Welcome to free agency, where one contract begets another.
Pat Gillick, a former general manager with four clubs, philosophically opposed deals of longer than three years for any pitcher of any age.
Gillick knew what he was doing — he won three World Series and on Monday was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
But in the free-agent market — particularly a volatile, escalating free-agent market such as this one — anything goes.
A contract of five, six or seven years would be risky for a 32-year-old pitcher, even one as good as Lee. But if seven is what the market bears, then seven it will be.
The Yankees, good golly, plan to hold the line.
The Rangers, who sources say have at least kicked around the idea of short-term, high-dollar proposals, probably are uncomfortable with even six years.
Maybe some mystery team is floating seven. Just know this: If the Yankees and some other club make comparable six-year offers, the deciding factor will be which team decides to add to the extra year.
All of the parties involved deny that free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth’s new, seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals is affecting the Lee negotiations.
True, position players generally age better than pitchers. But, again, all it takes is one team to set the market.
If Werth got seven years at 31, it’s not so ridiculous to imagine Lee getting seven at 32.
Five, six, seven, tell me the big difference.
Tell me where reason stops and irrationality begins.
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