We’ve mostly stayed away from discussing Cliff Lee this week due primarily to the fact that there really hasn’t been a ton to comment on outside of a plethora of rumors, hearsay and conjecture. The Winter Meetings started, but nothing happened on Monday. Word got out that more than one team was willing to dangle a seven-year offer. The Yankees were going to hold firm at six years. Then the Yankees supposedly made a six-year offer in the vicinity of $140 million. Then the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year deal late Wednesday night, and by yesterday morning the Lee saga seemed to be reaching a fever pitch, with the Yankees reportedly extending their offer to seven years after firmly denying they would do so, which prompted the Rangers to make a personal visit to Lee’s home in Arkansas yesterday afternoon. Then word came that the Rangers expected to know whether they would still be in the market for Lee’s services by yesterday evening. Then Chuck Greenberg held a conference call at 9pm Eastern that basically said a whole lot of nothing, other than that he felt the Rangers made a competitive offer. And so we wait.
I’m not upset or angry at the process or anything, as I understand how it goes, but given the ridiculous level of access baseball fans have in this hyper-connected day and age, there has never been an anticipated free agent signing by the Yankees that has produced such a heightened sense of nervousness combined with annoyance, posturing, impatience and drama, or lack thereof. The courtship of CC Sabathia paled in comparison to what’s been going on with Lee, although of course the circumstances are quite a bit different this time around, as the Yankees didn’t appear to have any clear-cut competition for Sabathia’s services two years ago.
I’ve made no secret of my desire for the Yankees to sign Lee throughout this offseason — not to mention the postseason and regular season — and at this point I’d certainly be disappointed if he didn’t wind up playing for the Yankees. But it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t come to New York. It’s not as if the Yankees will be fielding a bad team in 2011. There are always alternatives, and even if there’s nothing of interest to be found on the trade market (and as nice as Zack Greinke would be to have, I’m not sure I love the idea of Jesus Montero as sacrificial lamb), the Yankees have arguably more pitching depth in their system than they’ve ever had before, and one would hope that at least one of their high-ceiling arms can develop into an impact Major League pitcher.
Additionally, at what point does a Lee deal become too crazy? If the Rangers approach the Yankees’ 7-year offer, which probably totals something close to CC’s $161 million, does Brian Cashman cave and add an unthinkable eighth year to the deal? It seems incredibly unlikely, and for as badly as I want Lee, I’m pretty sure I don’t want the 40-year-old version of him eating up $20 million in payroll.
However, I think that’s the key takeaway here. Yesterday on Twitter I noticed the confidence level of a lot of normally level-headed Yankee fans go from supreme to rather nervous regarding the prospects of signing Lee, primarily because he hadn’t taken the Yankees’ offer yet. But he’s just doing what anyone is his position should be doing — making his suitors lay their cards bare, and seeing who blinks first. For as much as Texas is trying to sell Lee on the great times he had and camaraderie he experienced during his four-month stint in Texas, at the end of the day we know the Yankees can outbid anyone. As great as it would be for one of the young stud prospects in the farm system to come up and produce at some point in the next few seasons, Cliff Lee is as close to a sure thing as it gets. Brian Cashman knows this. He can envision Sabathia and Lee toeing the rubber back-to-back next October, authoring dual pitching clinics each time through the postseason rotation, and he knows Lee will practically pay for himself once they get to the postseason.
Which is why when it comes down to it, I don’t think the Yankees will be outbid by the Rangers. I almost wouldn’t be shocked if the Yankees did wind up juicing their offer up to 8 years and $180 million. Adding Cliff Lee represents their best chance to win now, and in the next few years, and there’s no way Cashman will let something like an extra $20 million get in the way of potential multiple World Series crowns. His modus operandi since retaining sole authority as General Manager has been not to waste time and dollars on the Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights on the world, but to wait until the biggest and best names finally hit the free agent market at which point the sole acquisition cost is money and not money plus players.
The Rangers beat the Yankees twice this year, both in the ALCS and in initially acquiring Lee back in July before the trade deadline. I don’t see Brian Cashman letting it happen again.
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