"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Press on Like Lee

Cliff Lee has at least one seven-year deal on the table from the Yanks. Actually, he’s got a variety of proposed deals from both the Yankees and the Rangers. And he’s still thinking. To me, this means that he’s going to sign with the Rangers. Maybe later today, or over the weekend. The New York papers will be chock full of panic but our man Steven Goldman says not to worry:

Lee might help in the short term, but if the price is too high, they have other choices. Six months from now, Manny Banuelos could be ready to take his stuff up to the Bronx—again, just because the Yankees handled Hughes and Chamberlain like they’d never had a young pitcher before (in fairness, in many ways they hadn’t), not everyone has to advance by baby steps. There is a school of thought that says that once a pitcher reaches a certain level of proficiency in the minors, all a team achieves by keeping him down there is not greater learning, but a greater risk or arm injury as they roll pitches off his odometer.

…I don’t really want to hear about Lee anymore, because I don’t view Lee as the Ultimate Nullifier, the Encyclopedic Panacea. There are other things that need to happen as well, but we don’t hear about them, because all the eggs seem to be in this one left-handed basket. It may also be that because of these numbers—31, 37, 35, 30, 30, 39, 39, 34, and 41—I can’t get too excited by the addition of a 32, no matter how good. The only way the Yankees are going to continue to win consistently is with the addition of a 22, and a 23, and even the odd 27 if need be. Maybe Lee is the next Warren Spahn and he will pitch well into his 40s. I have no way of knowing if that is the case. What I do know is that there was only one Warren Spahn, and you could wait on the corner for a long time before you see another.

Tags:  c.r.e.a.m  cliff lee  johnny cash

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1 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 10, 2010 9:24 am

I think lee probably knows what he wants by now and is in the process of squeezing every last penny out of the deal that he can. in fact, he probably knew what he wanted all along. if he really values staying close to arkansas at the top of his list, nothing the yanks were gonna do was gonna change that. and if he really wanted to play w/ CC and the yanks, nothing texas could do to change that. so i don't think waiting until the weekend signals either team has an edge. he's just shaking the cushions on his preferred choice, whatever that is.

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 10, 2010 9:55 am

For those who don't want Lee, what's the alternative? It's probably time to start warming up plan B, as there's at least a decent chance Lee isn't coming.

Sign Martin, trade Montero for the best pitcher you can get (Grienke or otherwise)? Martin/Cervelli/Posada warm the catcher position for Romine? And get Andy to sign on the line that is dotted? If the pitcher they can get is good enough, that could keep them in contention, right?

3 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:17 am

I really like Goldman, but his take is not very realistic. The Yankees do not have other choices. Right now, AJ Burnett is the third starter! Nova might be the fourth, which probably makes MItre the fifth. If the Yankees don't get Lee, they may have to trade Banuelos or Montero for a pitcher. Maybe panic isn't necessary, but there would be real cocnern.

I also don't get expressing concern over Lee's long-term viability, but then touting Banuelos. A 32-year old lefty is much more reliable than a 19 year old.

Finally, I am growing tired of the need to get young argument. Teams need to get better. If they can do so by getting younger too, that's great, but age alone isn't an advantage. I'd rather have an older star than a younger supporting player any day.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:24 am

[3] William, I think the 2015 World Series is worth double or something. Like the money-ball in the three point shoot out.

5 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:27 am

[4] Bonus!

Actually, by 2015, Bud may have his expanded playoffs in place, so getting in will be easier, which is another reason to focus more on the short-term. Also, why would you take a step back now for the future when you are a veteran team? Does it make sense to retreat while Arod, Jeter, Mo and Posada get a year older?

6 Shaun P.   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:31 am

[2] I wouldn't say I don't want Lee, I just won't be disappointed if he signs elsewhere.

[2] [3] Plan B starts, of course, with Pettitte returning for a year. That makes Burnett the 4th starter. In my ideal world, Joba would be the 5th starter, but since that seems unlikely in reality . . . Nova is a fine 5th starter for now. Phelps got to AAA last year, and could certainly fill the 5th starter role if Nova can't (or if Nova becomes a Mendoza-like swingman out of the bullpen). Noesi is probably also somewhere in the mix.

That's before you even get to the killer B's . . . My guess is that Banuelos stays in the minors all year, maybe a September callup, but we might see Brackman and possible Betances before that, if needed.

[3] I'm also not sure this is the time to give up on Burnett, as you seem to have, william. Rothschild did do very good work with Carlos Zambrano, who bears some similarities to Burnett (prone to wildness, had trouble harnessing his stuff at times).

I don't see why the Yanks can't get younger and better if Lee signs elsewhere. When you ignore his outstanding but admittedly small sample size postseason performance, Lee's "proven veteran-ness" doesn't seem very proven to me. Last year he showed pin-point control like he never had before. Do you really think he's likely to keep repeating that performance? I'm not saying its not possible - but his track record and his age do not suggest it.

7 RIYank   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:35 am

Cliff Lee is not a great pitcher; he's just a good pitcher. He hasn't been more successful than John Lackey. So, if the Yankees have to pick up a league-average starter instead of Lee, it costs them wins but it doesn't cost a lot of wins.

Lee will turn 32 this season. The problem with having an 'aging' staff isn't that it will be too old this year, but that it handcuffs the team in the future. I don't want the Yankees to be paying Cliff Lee $24 million for the season in which he turns 39, not because I hate middle aged people but because I think he's going to suck. I would much, much rather be in a situation in which (a) they already have a really good pitcher in that slot, or (b) they have the open slot and the money to sign a really good pitcher to fill it.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 10, 2010 10:59 am

[6] Think about that Plan B though: it includes Pettitte, who is a good bet to miss a month or so; Burnett, who is a good bet to be bad; and a rookie, who, well, isn't a good bet.

The reason I've given up on Burnett is because he has never had a high ceiling and has now lost 2 mph off his fastball over the last three seasons. He has never really learned to pitch without velocity, so I see no reason why he will now. Rothschild is probably a good pitching coach, but he isn't a miracle worker. Besides, Zambrano took major steps back under his watch.

As for Lee, he has now been excellent for three seasons, which is enough of a track record for me.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 10, 2010 11:05 am

[7] Over the last three seasons, Lee has a WAR of 20.9 (only Halladay, at 21.5, has more), compared to Lackey's 9.9. It isn't even close.

If you think Lee's last three seasons are fluke, then your point is valid. I think that's enough of a track record to auger well for the future.

I also think people get too hung up on what Lee will be making at the end of the contract. What counts is the total cost to the Yankees, not Lee's salary at the back end. I know that's a psychology barrier to overcome, but you can’t think of these deals in those terms.

10 MDF   ~  Dec 10, 2010 11:17 am

[1], [2], [3], [4] {especially "I think the 2015 World Series is worth double or something"), [5], [8], [9]: Yes.

11 Diane Firstman   ~  Dec 10, 2010 11:25 am

... and does anyone (even on the Yankees) know what they REALLY have in Joba?

12 Greg G   ~  Dec 10, 2010 11:40 am

I wonder if Cashman will really earn his salary this offseason and instead of just using the checkbook or tightening his wallet with Jeter, he can put together a creative 3 team trade to get a starter?

Perhaps they pry away Greinke and ship him off to another team where his anxiety won't be a problem and the Yanks can get a servicable starter and maybe a bullpen arm?

The Yanks are not desperate for another ace. They have CC. They need an innings eater with a decent ERA. Someone like Pavano, who is actually not named Carl Pavano.

I agree with Jon DeRosa, the Yanks might be looking to get Martin and then they could package Montero in a deal. I don't think they like Montero as a catcher anyway, and if he is viewed as a 1st baseman/DH, the Yanks have a logjam with all their older players for DH and Tex is written in for years to come in ink.

I worry less about what Lee's contract looks like at the end of his deal. If this off-season show us, the exploding contracts are here to stay. Werth's deal certainly is an outlier, but it will affect what the above average and elite players get in arbitration and as free agents. Just look at Crawford's deal.

It is certainly my hope that the Yanks get Lee, but if not, I think they Yanks will need to make a big trade unless Burnett gets his head screwed on correctly, and that is a big question mark. I don't see the Yanks staying pat and hoping for the best with AJ.

13 RIYank   ~  Dec 10, 2010 11:50 am

[9] Yeah, but you picked exactly three seasons, which allows you to include Lee's best year and ignore his worst year. I think that's cherry-picking.

It doesn't matter if you look at the entire cost or the per year cost. If he gets $170 million and gives the team three very good years plus two mediocre ones and two crappy ones, that's a very bad deal. They can spend the money much better than that, even though they can't spend it this year.

14 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 10, 2010 12:40 pm

[13] Those are his last three seasons though, and by all accounts, 2007 was a real transition year for him.

It does matter if you look at the total cost because the present value of future years is actually much less than the nominal amount. A smart business always does this kind of analysis. I'd imagine the Yankees do it too. If so, they'd realize that Lee doesn't have to be worth $24 million at age 36-38 in order to come close to approximating what he is really being paid.

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