clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cliff Lee wants to pitch again, and the Giants should be curious

New, 551 comments

It's an unlikely scenario, but one worth exploring.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There's nothing more dangerous than the allure of a previously successful pitcher coming off a serious injury or disappointing season. All you can remember are the good times. You weren't there in the bad times, watching them get shelled and breaking hearts. Your eyes skip over the gory lines at the bottom of their Baseball-Reference pages and go right to the good ones.

But this particular pitcher demands our attention. The Giants aren't just looking for a top-o'-the-rotation stud or #3 starter. They're also looking for a fifth starter, perhaps, and that would be a great place to try out a low-risk, high-upside reclamation project. The Giants will have Chris Heston and Clayton Blackburn in a glass case, with pitchers behind them, so they're in a good position to do that. It's one of the reasons that Doug Fister makes sense.

If Fister makes sense, though, what about a healthy Cliff Lee?

The right fit? Like a big ballpark with a strong defensive team that features a Hall of Fame manager, highly regarded pitching coach, and plans to contend? I'd argue that the Giants are the best fit for a pitcher like Lee, especially if he's quietly thinking beyond 2016.

We'll start with the bad news: Lee is 37, and his elbow is goo. Or, at least, it was goo. We'll let the medical clearers do their clearing and hope for the best. Still, such a nasty injury at his age is a Dr. Seuss creation, where Things with red flags pop out from under the hats of other Things with red flags. Red flags everywhere. Lee hasn't pitched since the start of 2014.

Then there's the good news, even though his elbow was goo, he was still effective. He still struck out six batters for every one he walked, and his FIP was as good as it had been over the last few years. His control was still impeccable. He's not just some random dude who had a couple good years and is looking for a team to give him a chance. He's a former Cy Young winner and future Hall of Nearly Great inductee.

This doesn't always work. This doesn't often work. Josh Johnson flopped. Dan Haren was never the same, K/BB ratio be damned. Ben Sheets ate the A's money, and he couldn't make it through a handful of starts with the Braves later. Johan Santana has been an idea in the clouds for some poor team almost every spring this decade.

Counterpoint: Bartolo Colon. He was done and busted, and he had no right to be good again. But he was, and the Yankees are glad they took that chance. He did it with talent and command. And possibly some illegal substances. Also, talent and command. That would be the hope with Lee, but with even more upside.

The biggest caveat of a reclamation project, though, is that the Giants already have one. That would be Matt Cain. Pretend the Giants signed him to a one year, $5 million deal, and you would be thrilled to take the chance at the back of the rotation, so long as the Giants went out and got two other reliable starters. There's just no way Lee can be considered reliable.

Still, I'm curious. Beyond curious. If Lee impresses scouts when he holds a showcase, the Giants should consider him to complement Zack Greinke.

Assuming the Giants sign Zack Greinke.

Yeah, I know. That's probably happening, and if that happens, there's no way the Giants should mess around with Lee (or Fister). There's a new interesting starting pitcher on the free agent market, though, and the Giants should be curious. Cliff Lee used to be pretty good, you know.