CLEVELAND -- When the Indians arrive at their new spring digs in Goodyear, Ariz., next month, one of their first orders of business might be to sit Cliff Lee down and start talking contract. Such talk hasn't been initiated by either side yet. But with the 30-year-old Lee a potential free agent after 2010, when the Indians hold a club option on him, the time might be right to consider such a conversation. "If they want to discuss it, we're open to the discussion," said Darek Braunecker, Lee's agent. "That ball's in their court, in that regard."
Obviously, Lee's value has never been higher, given that he's coming off a American League Cy Young Award-winning season in which he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA. So there might be hesitation on the Tribe's part to extend him. The possibility that Lee, who will make $5.75 million this season and $9 million if and when his 2010 option is exercised, has reached his peak as a performer certainly exists. On the other hand, one look up and down the Indians' roster shows a dearth of starting pitchers who have the potential to step into the No. 1 starter role Lee has inherited from CC Sabathia. Fausto Carmona, a 19-game winner in 2007, might have that potential, but he's coming off an '08 in which he struggled with his control, strained his hip and never got on track. And prospect Adam Miller has that potential as well, but his persistent health woes necessitated a move to a relief role for 2009. This serves to inherently inflate Lee's value to the Indians, who simply don't have the financial resources to compete with big-market clubs for upper-tier starters in free agency. And if Lee rattles off an '09 season at all similar to his '08 campaign, he would likely push himself out of the Tribe's price range. Last year's Sabathia circus aside, the Indians don't comment publicly on their plans concerning contract extensions. But rest assured the thought of approaching Lee with an offer has at least been kicked around in the offices at Carnegie and Ontario. Lee, meanwhile, is home in Benton, Ark., and reportedly preparing just as diligently for 2009 as he did for '08, when he had to fight for a spot in the Tribe's rotation.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.