In conversations with multiple Yankee officials I have not sensed they are looking at [Cliff Lee] with the same desperation as they approached CC Sabathia two offseasons ago.
At that time, the Yankees were sandwiched by missing the playoffs in 2008 and opening a new Stadium in 2009. They also had heard that Sabathia had reservations about coming to New York and joining a clubhouse that was viewed around the game as morose and fractured. The Yankee strategy with Sabathia, therefore, was to remove as much of the competition as quickly as possible. They sensed that the final number for Sabathia was going to top the six-year, $137.5 million given the offseason before by the Mets to Johan Santana. So they just topped it from the outset.
Again, from conversations with Yankee officials, I do not get the feeling the Yanks will apply the same tactics here. Lee will start this contract at 32 compared to 28 for Sabathia. That is going to make the Yanks cautious going beyond five years, maybe even four. Also, Lee’s recent history probably outstripes Sabathia — though both finished with exactly a 3.18 ERA this year — but Sabathia had — by far — the better career going into free agency. Also, the Yanks just have some long-term worries about too much money tied up in too few aging players.
So I can see the Yanks allowing themselves to get involved in incremental bidding. I would not be surprised, in fact, if the Yanks began as low as four years at $80 million and made sure what the field was at even that level. It might be that just the Rangers and another team or two will have the tolerance even to go that far. I think this will still get settled at about five years at $125 million — which at $25 million per year would give Lee the new record for annual average value for a pitcher on a multi-year contract. But I fully suspect that if the Yanks do sign Lee at a total approaching that number that it will be part of a traditional negotiation and not similar to the Sabathia pursuit.
I found all of this to be very interesting when reading it. It has been generally assumed that the Yankees would offer Lee whatever it took in the exact vein of Sabathia, but this doesn’t appear to be the case.
This does seem to be the smarter way to go though even if there is some risk that they will miss out on Lee. If they are successful they could potentially have Lee at both less money and fewer years than if they just gave him a blank check. It will save them a ton of grief on the back end of the deal, especially if Lee suffers injuries.
It is also smart because of two other things Sherman brought up in his article. One, Lee seemed to like the idea of joining the Yankees back in July and has a strong relationship with CC Sabathia. And top of the line starters have been on the trade market quite a bit recently. It doesn’t make sense to kill your payroll over one player if other top starters will be available through trade in the near future.
This is a different situation than the Yankees were in going into the 2009 season when they felt like they had to have Sabathia. So why treat it the same way? It’s glad to see Cashman and Co. keeping their heads on straight.