Cliff Lee To Rangers — Good News or Bad News?

July 10, 2010 – 1:14 pm

So Brian Cashman finished in second place in the Cliff Lee “arm for hire” sweepstakes.  Clearly this is bad news for the Yankees, as he would have made an already strong starting rotation all the more so.  But according to a lot of pundits, the good news here is that he ended up with the Texas Rangers rather than with Boston or Tampa Bay, and so should not significantly impact the AL East race.  Well, I’m not so sure just how “good” that news is.  The problem here is the short five-game Divisional Series where one ace like Lee can make a huge, huge difference.  Whoever ends up playing Lee’s team is guaranteed to see him twice — which could easily put you in an 0-2 hole, meaning you have no margin for error in the other three games.  You have to sweep the non-Lee started games.  In a seven game series, even if he does get three starts, at least all you have to do is go 1-2 against him and then 3-1 against the remainder of the staff.  Lots of margin for error there.

And I think this is exactly why the trade was such a good trade for the Rangers, and why it could easily come back to haunt the Yankees.  Now if the season ended today, the Yankees would catch Detroit in the Divisional Series, and Tampa Bay would have to deal with the Rangers and Lee.  But, I’m not so sure the season is going to end this way.  The reality is that the AL West is without a doubt the weakest division, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the AL Central winner ends up with a better record than the AL West winner.  Yes, Lee will make the Rangers better, but he’s only going to be starting every fifth day.  So far the Rangers have benefited from an incredibly easy schedule — in fact, their first half schedule was arguably the easiest in the entire AL.  Of their 86 games played to-date, only 30 have been against teams with winning records!  That’s the least number of any AL team.  Compare that to the Yankees who have played 47 games against .500+ teams.  And the Rangers have a losing record against these better teams, 13-17 so far.  Again, compare that to the Yankees who are 26-21 against .500+ teams.  Bottom line is that the schedule is likely to catch up with the Rangers, Cliff Lee notwithstanding, and even though they may still more than likely win the West, they very easily could end up with the worst record among division winners — and thus could end up facing the Yankees in the short 5-game series.

Yeah, lots of projections and hypotheticals  here, and lots of baseball left to be played.  But come October, I do worry that this Lee-to-the-Rangers trade is going to loom large for the Yankees in the post-season.

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