This is not official yet, but rumors (from reliable sources) going around the Twitterverse have been reporting that Cliff Lee turned down the Yankees’ approximately 7-year 154 million dollar offer for a 5-year 115 million dollar deal from the Phillies, a team that virtually nobody thought was even in on Lee. It’s a bizarre turn of events because the Phillies traded Lee last year after he wouldn’t sign an extension with them, but evidently these things can change. It’s unusual to see players leave money and years on the table (especially that much money), but I can’t fault Lee for turning down the money and going where he wanted to be. I also can’t fault Brian Cashman here. He did his job and gave Lee the highest offer, but evidently, Lee didn’t want to go to New York. It’s unfortunate for the Yankees and Brian Cashman, who did his job and gave Lee the (presumed) highest offer.
So what’s next for the Yankees after this bombshell? The Yankee rotation without Lee looks dangerously thin, and Cashman’s next task will likely be to beg Andy Pettitte to hold off retirement for one more year. With Pettite, the rotation of Sabathia, Petttitte, Burnett (hopefully cured by Larry Rothschild), Hughes and Nova could still be playoff-worthy, but I imagine the Yankees will look to add another arm. The free-agent market is pretty barren, with the best remaining guy, Carl Pavano, standing virtually zero chance of signing with the Yankees (and the Yankees probably don’t want him back either).
To acquire a frontline starter, the Yankees will probably have to look at the trade market. A lot of speculation will revolve around Royals ace Zack Greinke, but I imagine that Dayton Moore’s high price will prevent a deal from happening, as he’ll try to chisel the seemingly desperate Yankees. A Greinke deal would have to start with a Montero-caliber prospect, but the Royals already have an all-hit no-field catching prospect in Wil Myers, and the Yankee system lacks up-the-middle prospects that the Royals would covet. I’m not sure who else could be made available, but there’s no ace-caliber arm on the trade market other than Greinke. There may be concerns about how Greinke with his social anxiety disorder will be able to handle New York, but I wouldn’t let that get in the way of acquiring him if the price is right.
I doubt it will happen, but I think the Yankees should consider moving Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation. Is it a panic move? Maybe, but one with significant upside. I think Joba still has the ability to be as good as if not better than pretty much any non-Greinke pitcher the Yankees could bring in. Barring a trade for a frontline starter, it is an option that must be explored, because an 8th-inning guy is so much less valuable than a solid starter. I know he’s been in the bullpen for a full season, but we’ve seen less talented relievers become successful starters (CJ Wilson and Ryan Dempster for example), and it’s worth a shot to see if Joba can rediscover his mojo in the rotation.
Are the 2011 Yankees worse without Cliff Lee? Almost certainly. Are there some silver linings? A few. As EJ has alluded to, signing Lee to a big contract would be committing big dollars to another player in his 30’s who is on the wrong side of his prime. By avoiding the contract, the Yankees could maintain flexibility, allowing them to shell out for the next big free agent (and preferably, one who’s not 32). Additionally, they may get to keep their first-round pick in a loaded draft (unless they do something stupid like signing a Type-A reliever). Also, Lee’s signing with Philly means that he’s not making a potential AL rival stronger. Finally, the Yankees are returning pretty much the entirety of a 95-win team, while adding their top prospect into the catching mix. Convinced? Neither am I. I would have loved to have Lee in the rotation, and I believe that he could have held up pretty well over the duration of the contract.
As Yankee fans, we’re used to getting everything we want. For once, however, we’ll have to watch the shiny new toy we desperately wanted go somewhere else. And it stings. Regardless, it’s premature to panic and concede the season and the division to an improved Boston squad. There will be bridge-jumpers and alarmists, but this is still a good Yankee club, and they still have to play the games. Is there such thing as a 200 million dollar underdog? There may be now. Russell Martin here we come!
Update: Apparently the Rangers’ final offer may have been a little higher than the Yanks’. 6-year offer with a vesting option for a total of 161 million.