The New York Yankees’ full-court press for Cliff Lee has begun in earnest, and in many ways the team’s hopes for a World Series run in 2011 could remain in the balance.
Sure, the high-powered Bronx Bombers will once again have a fantastic offense, will still sport CC Sabathia atop their rotation and should eventually have the best closer of all time locked up for a few more years. They also have money to spend, in case you hadn’t heard.
But, if that money is not enough to land Lee, the falloff after Sabathia could be steep. Andy Pettitte is a free agent, and if he decides not to come back, then the No. 2 starter is Phil Hughes, a talented yet still developing right-hander who had a 4.90 ERA in the second half of the season and an 11.42 mark in two ALCS starts. Your No. 3 man is A.J. Burnett, a $16.5 million question mark who still delivers the best shaving cream pies in the league but is off the mark with almost everything else. The last two spots are anyone’s guess, and the fear of such uncertainty will cause the Yankees’ front office to offer Lee everything but the kitchen sink.
If it’s the kitchen sink Lee wants, he’ll get that, too.
There is precedent for such a scenario.
Two offseasons ago, after the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and did so with a rotation that featured a retiring Mike Mussina, a potentially retiring Pettitte and a whole lot of nothing else (Darrell Rasner was third on the team in starts with 20), they became so intent on bringing in Sabathia — like Lee, a former Cleveland Indians lefty with a Cy Young Award under his belt — that they essentially entered into a bidding war with themselves.
No other team seemed willing to reach the stratospheric levels the Yankees were at in terms of an offer to Sabathia, yet they still raised the stakes. There was such concern over a rotation that had almost nothing to offer that they were not willing to let that offseason’s big prize get away.
Some feel that because the Yankees need to re-sign Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Pettitte this winter and have a desire to keep their payroll around what it was in 2010, that they will not climb too high for Lee. Hogwash. Remember that in the midst of the Sabathia push two years ago they also signed Mark Teixeira to a $180 million deal and Burnett for $82.5 million.
There was money to spend, a desperate need for starting pitching and a definitive ace on the market in Sabathia. The circumstances are nearly identical this time around.
While Sabathia waited, the Yanks kept sweetening the pot. If getting as much money as he possibly can is all that really matters to Lee, then he should milk it for all its worth.
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