One of the age-old water cooler questions is: What would a 26-year old Babe Ruth be worth in today’s free agency world?
- A left-handed pitcher that already had two 20-win season under his belt and one ERA title.
- A power bat coming off a season with 54 home runs, shattering the old record by 25, while hitting .376 with a .532 OBP.
I bring this up, because in a couple of weeks we may actually get the answer to what a 32-year old Sandy Koufax would be worth in today’s free agency market.
That’s because Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers will hit the free agency market once the World Series is over and, let’s face it, Cliff Lee is the Sandy Koufax of our generation.
Here are the similarities:
- In 8 postseason appearances, Koufax pitched 57 innings, allowing 6 earned run on 36 hits and 11 walks with 61 strikeouts. After Monday’s victory over the Yankees, Lee has made 8 appearances, pitching 64.1 innings, allowing 9 earned runs on 40 hits and 7 walks with 67 strikeouts.
- What about the regular season? Koufax had three seasons with an ERA+* of 160 (60% above average) or greater. Lee has already done it twice.
So what will Lee demand on the free agent market this winter? In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, JC Bradbury stated that Lee would be worth $21-22 million to “an average major-league team,” but that an “elite franchise” might be willing to reach $32 million based on MLB’s revenue growth in recent years.
The obvious comparison is C.C. Sabathia, who signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season. Lee is four years older (31) than Sabathia (27) was when he signed with the Yankees. But Sabathia didn’t have Lee’s postseason resume. And let’s face it, the Yankees are the one team that will pay for postseason brilliance above and beyond regular season numbers.
If Sabathia can make $23 million per season, $32 million seems like a pretty big jump. But it is not out of this world to think Lee will demand $25-27 million per season. However, it is hard to believe the Yankees will give Lee a seven-year deal like they gave Sabathia.
So let’s say six years, $156 million ($26 million per season). That will be the Yankees final offer…Unless of course he wants more or Mark Cuban actually manages to buy a team in the next month or two.
* ERA adjusted for year and home ballpark. 100 is average. Bigger numbers are better.
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