"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Off the Cliff

We know the following as it pertains to the Yankees in the 72-plus hours since the World Series ended:

* Signing Derek Jeter is the top priority, and the general consensus is that the tennis match being played between Yankees management and Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, is a cover. Jeter will be a Yankee and will get a new contract, it’s just a matter of how long and for how much.

* Mariano Rivera is a free agent also. Like Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ exclusive window to negotiate with Rivera ends Sunday. Like Jeter, it’s hard to imagine Rivera, who it can be argued is an even more iconic figure of the recent-vintage Yankees, in a different set of laundry.

* Cliff Lee is on the market.

A few months ago, many members of the media who cover the Yankees, as well as Yankee fans — I’d include myself in this camp — would say Lee coming to New York was a given. Now, it’s not as certain.

Rob Abruzzese over at Bronx Baseball Daily referenced Joel Sherman’s recent column in the New York Post, where Sherman noted that the Yankees aren’t treating the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes with the same level of aggressiveness — others might say desperation — with which they recruited CC Sabathia two years ago. Sherman cites Lee’s age (32) as being a key differentiator in the Yankees’ thought process. Abruzzese notes that the Yankees, still just one season removed from their last title, aren’t in a position where they feel like they have to have Lee. Lee certainly doesn’t have to have the Yankees. He’s proven that.

Since this is the Hot Stove topic, let’s get to it: Should the Yankees sign Cliff Lee, given the cash they’re going to be spending on Jeter, Rivera, and possibly Andy Pettitte? Three weeks ago, I’d have said, “Yes” in a blink. Now, I’m not sure.

Some other things to consider:

* Lee has been to the World Series two straight seasons with two different teams. He’s been with four teams over the past two seasons. In addition to a monster paycheck, he’s probably looking for some stability. This is likely the last chance he has to sign a huge deal. Being three hours away from his home in Benton, Arkansas, the pull of home and the quality of life improvements are tough to compete with. Do the Yankees want to go there?

* Too many years, too much money. Even at 5 years and $125 million, as some have suggested, that contract will extend him through Age 37. Putting a pitcher on the hook for that long is a huge risk.

* Does winning in New York mean more to Lee than winning in Texas or Philadelphia or San Francisco? We say it does because we’re from New York, have an inflated opinion of ourselves, and with that, a tendency to overdramatize the successes of our sports teams. This debate raged for a year-and-a-half with LeBron James. “He’d be a legend if he won here.” Mark Messier was referenced; how he had won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton but cemented his legacy with the Rangers. Conversely, A-Rod did what many others before him did; came to the Yankees to get his title. I get the sense that Lee doesn’t care, and that he’d be happier beating the Yankees than being a Yankee and winning here.

* On Mike and Mike earlier this week, Buster Olney had an interesting comment about the prospect of the Yankees signing Lee, and more specifically, why it wouldn’t be a good fit. To paraphrase, Olney said Lee did not enjoy answering too many questions from the media, even in a postseason setting, leading to questions about his facility and willingness to deal with the scrutiny of the New York media corps that will light him up if he loses a couple of games to the Rays or Red Sox. We might not be looking at Randy Johnson or Jeff Weaver-caliber surliness, Clemens-level denial or Burnett-ish confusion, more like a miffed, frustrated, impatient “I wanna go home” tone.

* Tuesday, per ESPNDallas.com, Lee said, “There’s a lot to build on,” referring to his stint with the Rangers. “We did a lot of firsts for this organization. We were the second-best team in the big leagues. We should be proud of that. We’re going to use this for motivation and come in next year and try to do better.” Tim McMahon, the article’s author, made a point to mention that Lee’s use of the word “we” shouldn’t be mistaken as a commitment to return to the Rangers, but can give a hint to where he’s leaning. Add that Rangers GM Jon Daniels plans on increasing payroll in a clear effort to go after Lee, and the Rangers may make this decision easy for him.

* Check out Lee’s Baseball Reference profile. The most similar pitcher to him through Age 31 is Mark Mulder. Quick tangent: when Billy Beane broke up the Big Three in Oakland, I thought Mulder was the best of that group and thought he’d be dynamite on the Yankees. Injuries derailed Mulder’s career, and not signing him was a wise move for the Yankees. Mulder is now out of baseball, a near scratch golfer and won two majors on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour this year. Lee has proven more durable than “Agent” Mulder, however.

* The Yankees do not have a pitching coach. Externally, that suggests volatility at the core of the coaching staff. (Never mind the fact that the Yankees’ club policy is to sign all their coaches to one-year deals.) If I was Lee, I’d be observing the current landscape and weighing that into my decision.

Is Cliff Lee a must for the Yankees to win next year? The local media, like the Yankees’ front office, have zeroed in on Lee as the focal point outside the organization to their 2011 success. Given the variables listed above, what do you think? Why do you believe the Yankees shouldn’t sign him? (I ask that question because the other one is obvious.)

Put on your thinking caps and hit me up in comments.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Will Weiss  Yankee Panky  Yankees

Tags:  cliff lee  New York Yankees

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 bp1   ~  Nov 5, 2010 9:22 am

I think Cashman is smart enough to avoid a long term real with Cliff Lee. He passed on Johan Santana even when the pressure was enormous. I think he will pass on Lee if he can't get a short term deal. I don't think the money is as much of an issue as the length of contract. He's already got a bunch of old players and I just don't see him wanting to sign up for more a few years down the road.

I think the Yankees will pass on Lee and try to put together a trade package for another not-quite-as-good starter.

2 Will Weiss   ~  Nov 5, 2010 9:33 am

[1] Tremendous comment. I should have thought of the Johan Santana element. I had a paragraph written about Beltran and scratched it. Thanks for picking it up with Santana.

3 monkeypants   ~  Nov 5, 2010 9:38 am

Speaking of years and dollars, I wonder if the Yankees have considered one unorthodox solution to the Jeter conundrum: give him way too many years in order to spread out the sort of financial commitment that he may want. In other words, instead of worrying about 3 or 4 years at $20 million per, why not offer him, say, $100 million over ten years.

He will, of course, be long gone before the end of the contract, either through retirement or release, but this would greatly limit the financial hit over the course of his remaining days with the team. And by the time years 5, 6, 7, etc roll around, $10 million is going to be relatively insignificant. Heck, if the team can carry Igawa's salary for four years, they can eat a few million in 2018.

4 doodoobrown   ~  Nov 5, 2010 9:47 am

I think concerns about Lee's back issues and his willingness/ability to handle the spotlight of NY will keep Cashman from going overboard with an offer. But more importantly, I think he's hamstrung by the outlandish contracts for A-Rod and AJ. Those deals look particularly bad right now, and having to throw tons of money at Jeter and Mo doesn't help, despite the fact that those guys have earned it. This team, at some point, has to get younger. I say if you can get Lee for three years, do it. Otherwise, let Texas or someone else grab him.

5 The Hawk   ~  Nov 5, 2010 10:05 am

Man, his wife is frightening

6 omarcoming   ~  Nov 5, 2010 10:12 am

Nice kids. They would do well in Texas.

7 Will Weiss   ~  Nov 5, 2010 10:28 am

[3] Ron Darling has made the most sense re: Jeter, citing what Michael Jordan did with his series of 1-year contracts. This way, you're guaranteed to pay him for what the current market value is, as opposed to what he's done. If it's $20M this year, that's fine. The Yankees would love that, but Jeter would not, obviously.

Hal was right ... This is going to get messy.

[4] I didn't even take into consideration the back issues. Probably because Lee threw 7 CG this year and was as much of an innings eater as Sabathia. Another solid comment.

8 bp1   ~  Nov 5, 2010 10:53 am

[7] If Andy can do a bunch of one-year deals, why not Jeter?

Someone on TMKS made a good point yesterday, re: Bernie. Bernie had better hitting numbers, gold glover, batting champion, world series champion, blah blah blah, but look at the way he was treated at the end. Sometimes Cashman can be reptilian cold, speaking of his "assets" this and "assets" that. Bernie was not exactly welcomed back that last year with open arms and warm hugs. He was asked to prove himself via a non guaranteed contract.

Sure, Hal can say things like "Yankee for life" to satisfy the fan base, but what exactly does "for life" really mean? Bernie was a Yankee for life, too, but at some point the "for life" refers to things other than being on the roster.

I keep coming back to the feeling that Jeter does not want to leave the team before A-Rod. Maybe that's not even remotely the case, maybe its just silly fan perception, but that's stuck in my craw. I think it would burn Jeter to know end to sit at home and watch A-Rod still playing on his team.

Gonna be very interesting, and while I don't think it will be publicly messy, I don't think it will be resolved anytime soon.

9 rbj   ~  Nov 5, 2010 10:53 am

If we can get Cliff for a fairly reasonable amount in $ & years terms, obviously do it. But I don't want paying $20 million to a 37 y.o. with a bad back and an arm with too many innings on it. Yankees should be in on the sweepstakes if only to drive up the price for other teams -- so that maybe Texas can't afford Lee and Crawford. The Rangers are a good bet to be a playoff team next year, so we shouldn't want them to be too good in case we face them in the post season.

A rotation of CC, AJ, Andy (is he coming back?), Hughes, and Nova?

10 The Mick536   ~  Nov 5, 2010 12:03 pm

Messy. What is messy? Does ya remember when, before the UNION, players would hold out. I shudda ta think what George Weiss, the first George of the Jungle that ruled the Yankees would have said to Jeter. In modern parlance: "you got a lotta goddam gaul asking for this kind of money after the year that you had." Joe. Mickey. They sat out.

I think the big problem is the stupidly grand contract given to A-Rod. I wonder who was behind that jackass move. Egowise, Jeter cannot take less. He cannot leave either, because, who will be the daily face of the Yankees? Nobody.

11 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 5, 2010 12:36 pm

[8] Here's the thing with that (concerning Bernie), I hated the way it ended with Bernie with a non-guaranteed "take-it-or-leave-it" contract way below what I will call "Yankee value", which we have to admit is different than market value. The primary concern for Cashman at that time was balancing how much Bernie would be playing vs. his declining skills; he was a marquis player in his twilight in the field, and though he was still a professional hitter, he was clearly no longer a starter.
The problem was that Torre was not objective enough to accept this reality and kept starting him inordinately more than his present skills deserved him to. Torre may have even suggested that he would continue to use Bernie in the same role; continuing find ways to increase his at-bats through the regular season and put him in the field even if the defense would suffer. Cashman must have been reading the tea-leaves in the papers and on the blogs because he took the decision out of Torre's hands.

Now we are in a similar situation where it very well be done differently if all the parties involved could have enough gumption to approach it objectively.

Cash may not have to be so hardline if he knows that both Giradi and Jeter are on the same page about his role going forward. I'm no mind reader, so I can't predict whether Jeter will be just like most people expect him to be (prideful and stubborn) or if he'll surprise us with uncommon gumption that solidifies his leadership role (start grooming his successor), but I'm willing to bet that this will not turn out the same way as it did with Bernie, Torre or even Tino. I would also expect that Jeter starts taking on more of a direct role with the young guys on the roster; being a captain to me implies a lot more than being just a consummate professional on the field.

12 ironhorse   ~  Nov 5, 2010 2:37 pm

Hey Hawk, put up a picture of your wife. Jeez, is that all you've got?

13 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 5, 2010 4:27 pm

[7] Problem is Will... Jeter will already get well more then he's worth in a 3 or 4 year deal. If he went year to year, and fell off the cliff (probable at some time), the Yanks would save a ton... and of course that means Jeter loses.

Over the last 3 years, which includes his career year in 2009, Jeter averaged 3.5 Wins. So even if he was able to manage to average 3 Wins over the next 3 years (he was 1.5 in 2010) that places his worth around $13.5m... and my guess is that 'worth' is much higher then any team would offer.

A fair contract (based on value) for Jeter would be 3/$30m, but we all know Jetes would piss and moan over that amount.

As far as Bernie goes, he played on a team that put winning above all else. In that vane, Bernie should have been let go after his 1/$1m year. Instead the Yankees TRIED TO MAKE NICE and offer him (the longshot) of making the team out of ST. Maybe Bernie would have been less 'insulted' if the Yanks just let him go. I certainly don't blame the Yanks for dealing with reality. However, the players are dealing with their ego.

Barry Bonds went from Super-Duper-Star to unwanted in a year.
Mickey and Joe had the grace to bow out when their time came.
Bernie has STILL not retired. Talk about holding on.

Frankly, IF Derek is really about team, he will do a Wakefield and accept a contract (year to year) that obviously pays him for his current value... and not past it. My opinion is that Jeter has a big ego, is not the team first guy he has been portrayed as, and he will hold up the Yankees using his 'stature' to get more way more dollars then he is worth.

As I said before.... it's a loss for the Yankees, but 3/$45m would be a very fair offer that Jeter should jump all over. If he wants more, let him play out his years in Pittsburgh.

And MP..... One hundred MILLION dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!
Are you nuts (and I say that with luv and respect)? You would do that with YOUR money? The idea is fine if it was like $50m over 8 years.

14 The Hawk   ~  Nov 5, 2010 4:36 pm

[12] You got it, Cliff

15 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 5, 2010 4:39 pm

I cut this from a comment on Lohud, made by long time commenter GreenBeret7:

"There’s an old guy been going to that park (Charleston) since the early 50s. He tells stories about Mantle playing there when NY would take the train up the Eastern seaboard before starting the season. He was going nuts when Montero launched a couple into the pines beyond left center. He said that only Mantle had reached that spot in 60 years."

16 hiscross   ~  Nov 5, 2010 5:52 pm

The Yankees can get another SS, or move AROD back. You can't find good pitching. The league doesn't have anything available, except for Lee. Hitting beats the little guys and pitching beats everybody. SF won on pitching and timely hitting. The Rangers lost the same way as the Yankees did against the Rangers. At this point Lee is more important than Jeter.

17 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 5, 2010 9:33 pm

The issue isn't Lee or Jeter. Jeter is coming back. It's just a matter of if Cashman has the balls to play hardball, and limit the damage by keeping the contract 3 yrs or under, $45m or under.

The issues with Lee have been pointed out in this post. With CC, Teix, ARod and to some degree AJ, the Yankees already are in dangerous position with long, expensive contracts.

The question with Lee is, is his immediate positive impact worth the potential future negative impact.

And stud pitchers come on the market frequently. Lee has been up before (trade). Same with Halliday. Santana was available not too long ago, as was CC, who we snagged. When does Miami JJ come available? Timmy? Cain? And there are others.

Pitching is always a priority... but so is 'balance'.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver