How much do the words of Cliff Lee’s wife really mean?

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Much has been made of the whole “Yankees fans spit on Cliff Lee’s wife and they like Arkansas and all that jazz” story from this morning.  As far as I can tell, the battle lines break down as follows: (a) people who are dying for the Yankees to finally whiff on a highly-coveted free agent and are thus latching on to Kristen Lee’s comments; and (b) Yankees fans who really want to see Cliff Lee join the team and dismiss these comments as meaningless. The former camp getting off on the idea of the Yankees losing out on Lee. The latter camp is epitomized by a refrain that basically goes like this: “yeah, we’ll see how bad Ms. Lee feels about New York when the money is actually on the table.”

I think both sides are overreacting.

Yes, it’s true that Kristen Lee noted that she had a bad experience in Yankee Stadium. And she noted that she likes Dallas and that she and Cliff love being close to Arkansas and all of that.  Still, we’ve heard this before, haven’t we? CC Sabathia was supposed to be enamored with California. Mike Mussina was a small town guy. Mark Teixeira was from Baltimore. For every free agent out there, there has been some non-New York storyline that people have latched onto.  At the end of the day, however, they almost always sign with the Yankees. Money talks.

At the same time, the response from the Yankees folks today has seemed a bit too confident to me. Everyone has cited the past examples of the money ruling the day, but no one seems to want to acknowledge the possibility that the Lees may be different than the Sabathias and those who came before them. Some folks have been borderline offensive, assuming that nothing Kristen Lee said mattered and that she’ll forget her discomfort with New York the second the money truck is unloaded. Maybe she will. But maybe these are legitimate concerns on her part. To act as if this morning’s story means absolutely nothing and that everyone has a price tag just seems wrongheaded to me. It’s like everyone is reaching for a security blanket the second they hear something that doesn’t jibe with their expectations. It’s also like everyone who says this stuff has never had to talk about relocating with their spouse. We have no idea what the dynamic of the Lee marriage truly is, and to assume that either Kristen Lee’s concerns will go away with more money or that her love of Arkansas will trump business concerns is just wishcasting in either direction.

Ultimately, the biggest factor here will be the Rangers. In the past, the choice for free agents has been easy. The Yankees have just blown competing bids away. That is, if there were any, which in some cases there weren’t.  With Chuck Greenberg around promising to be competitive, however, you can’t just assume that New York will blow the Rangers away by $30 million. You can’t assume that, like the Brewers and CC Sabathia, only a token bid will be forthcoming.  If he comes close to what the Yankees are offering, Kristin Lee’s comments will mean a great deal.

At the end of the day, we have no idea what’s going to happen until it happens.  In this case, however, a lot of folks on both sides of the issue seem to think they know better.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.