Back in October, we took a look at what it might take to sign Cliff Lee this off-season. The conclusion was six-years and $156 million ($26M per season). Now comes word that Lee is seeking a seven-year deal. And sources have told Ken Rosenthal that Lee is likely to get at least one seven-year offer.
Seven years is exactly what CC Sabathia got prior to the 2009 season, when he signed a $161 million contract with the Yankees. Of course, Sabathia was only 28 in the first season of his deal, four years younger than Lee will be next year in the first year of his new deal.
Seven year deals are rare in baseball. In our research, we found seven pitchers in the history of baseball that had signed a contract of at least seven years. And these deals are rare for good reason: pitchers break down.
Let’s take a look at those seven pitchers and how they performed over the life of the contract…
Of the seven pitchers that have signed seven-year deals, Barry Zito and CC Sabathia are the only two pitchers still under their contract. Two of the pitchers, Dave Stieb and Wayne Garland, were out of baseball before their contracts expired. And Mike Hampton missed two seasons in the middle of his contract.
If we ignore Sabathia, who has only played two of the seven years on his contract, we see that long-term deals are just not a good idea for starting pitchers. All of the remaining pitchers averaged less than 10 wins per season and only two pitchers had an ERA south of 4.00.
And as bad as these pitchers were, consider that only Kevin Brown was older than Lee is now, when he signed his long-term deal.
There is no doubt that Lee is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and anybody that signs him will be better in the short-run for having done so. But for a chance to be better for the next few years, at some point, Lee’s next team will have to pay the piper.
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