Economics General Baseball

Be Careful What You Wish For, Part Deux

Cliff Lee, per Nick's piece below about his move to the Phillies, actually left money on the table to be where he wanted. In professional sports terms, this is quite the anomaly, and also something of a big surprise. "Mystery teams" tend not to materialize, or to be figments of Scott Boras' imagination. But Philadelphia really does seem to have swooped in and convinced Lee to play for them. Or Lee, loving Philly, convinced them to make an offer.

Of course, joining a stunning rotation with a clear line to the World Series doesn't hurt, and Lee looks to be taking his talents to the baseball version of South Beach. The Phillies are daunting, but we can't help but think that we'd rather the Sox have more of a chance to make the World Series than die a painful death at the hands of their archrivals in an ALCS, and if it comes down to a Phillies/Sox World Series (should we be so lucky for our team to make it that far), we'll be thrilled – though not as thrilled as a Pirates/Sox series. We got our wish, to an extent, and we're pretty happy about it, no matter what might happen next November.

11 replies on “Be Careful What You Wish For, Part Deux”

Did anyone in sports media actually see the Lee-to-Philly deal coming? Anyone out there got bragging rights? Link?
If not, you have to wonder at both Philadelphia’s black ops crew, and at the media’s lack of inside sources.
And maybe the State Department needs to call on the Phillies gang to get some advice on guarding secrets…

Apparently, a deal in place to send Blanton to the Sox (sorry if it’s been mentioned)…no word on who is leaving, but I suspect absolutely nothing as Philly probably had the deal in place before Lee ever signed just to shed payroll
Also, Kudos to Cliff Lee. Boo to you for leading Texas into the firing range the way you did with all the “I love Texas” and “it’s so much closer to home” bullshit, but kudos for being the one in a thousand.
In all reality, this move is probably best for NY in the long run. It will be interesting to see what Cashman has up his sleeve now that this is done, and really, he should be given some credit for actually letting this go down without offering some absurd amount of money to Lee (above the already absurd amount).
Who would have thought Lee would sign a smaller contract than Crawford or Werth? Count me out.

Blanton to the Sox? Huh?
Does this mean that someone else gets moved for bullpen help? Is Blanton just a trade chit for Theo? Dice-K going somewhere? What a strange, exciting offseason.

Is Lee really one in a thousand for turning down the most money? I mean, I think in terms of the scale (turning down around $30 million assured) he is probably one in a thousand, but I think it is generally the case that “the most money always wins” is a presented as a tautology when really it just is not. Now whether it’s true 98% of the time or “only” 85% of the time I don’t know, but I think it is less of a sure thing then we often acknowledge. Aren’t there players who chose to play for the Sox when they could have made more elsewhere (doesn’t Wakefield fit this mold throughout much of his career?). Beltran offered the Yanks a discount to come play for them and they turned him down. Mauer gave the Twins a hometown discount. Pettitte could have gotten more to play elsewhere in 2009 for sure if he had tested the FA market,but didn’t. I know these are all exceptions to a much more generalizable rule, but I think there are multiple exceptions every year, including many that probably fly well beneath our collective radar screens, rather than one exception every several years as is often the impression one gets from commentary, the blogosphere, etc.

I think it may not be a 100% truth, but the fact is that the MLBPA encourages, strongly, that players take the best offer. Their agents, strongly and out of self-interest, recommend they take the best offer. And players, who have short careers and limited earning potential time-wise, often (smartly) take the best offer.
Yes, there certainly are players who turn down money to stay put (Lowell), who don’t go for the most money. But I think it is a rarity. It is an anomaly. Lee turning down $30M-$50M from a sure contender with a luxurious stadium on the east coast for another good team (though not as wealthy) on the east coast qualifies as a huge surprise, an outlier of a decision.

It’s one thing to take a home-town discount to stay where you currently are, the way Wakefield, Mauer, and Lowell have (and eventually Pujols). But Lee’s scenario is nothing like that. He’s still moving to the East coast, and taking less money in order to play for a team that, arguably, gives him a better chance to win a championship that the Yankees did.

Also, there was no “hometown discount”, in the terms that we conventionally think of one. Lee was a mercenary (not by choice, necessarily). He hadn’t stuck with a team for any duration at all, he had no history with the Rangers. Yes, he was closer to home, but he wasn’t taking a hometown discount to stay with a team with which he had a legacy or a history.

Frankly someone choosing to do anything in Philadelphia vs. doing that same thing virtually anywhere else is rather shocking. This development alone may get that city over its raher massive inferiority-complex vis-a-vis NY/Boston/DC/Chicago…

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