Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee. Did I mention Cliff Lee?
If you’re Brian Cashman, a Yankee fan or anyone living in or near New York, you are probably beginning to get tired of hearing the name of someone who, as of right now, has nothing to do with the New York Yankees.
Sure, Lee is worth the hype. After leading the league with a 2.54 ERA and winning the Cy Young award in 2008, Lee has put on a show in the American League. Most recently, he carried the Texas Rangers through the postseason, giving up just three runs in three starts before falling apart in the World Series.
But the Yankees have invested so much time and effort into signing a player that may not even want to come to New York. So what happens if he doesn’t sign in New York?
True, we were saying the same thing about C.C. Sabathia a couple years ago, but it’s not as though the Yankees have A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira as backups this time around. The Yankees have many problems to solve, and now they have created a situation where it’s Lee or nothing.
It didn’t have to be that way.
The Yankees expressed no interest in other pitching options such as Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Downs, George Sherrill and Ryan Rowland-Smith to name a few. Not to say the Yankees should have signed them, but they should have at least engaged some of them in conversation, ensuring that they would have a plan B if Lee did not sign.
In the case of Lee not coming to New York, the Yankees have very little breathing room. Joba Chamberlain and Ivan Nova would be the in-club options for starting pitcher, but in one case you lose a relief pitcher, and in both cases you experience a significant decline from Lee.
But before we go ahead and speculate, it is important to note that we have no idea what is going on in Lee’s mind. Income tax, commute to his home; none of these matter. In the end, it will likely be a combination of money, money, money and maybe a small hint of family issues that will influence Lee’s decision. But again, we just don’t know.
The sad truth is that both the Rangers and Yankees have gotten so caught up in signing Lee that neither of them has a clear plan B—as mentioned before—and that has led both of them to drive up the price, a risky move that they have forced themselves into.
While it’s easy for us to get caught up in what Lee has done over the last six years, we forget that there was also his career before that.
Lee has had ERAs of 2.54, 3.22 and 3.18 in the last three seasons respectively. That’s pretty good, but why does he have a career 3.85 ERA? Because he had ERAs of 6.29, 4.40, and 5.43 in three of his six seasons before his breakout season in 2008.
Red flag, red flag!
I am a firm believer that pitchers can reinvent themselves, but I am also a firm believer that you don’t give a guy seven years just because he did well over one-third of his career. In any player’s case, there is an entire story to be told, but with Lee, nobody has spoken a word.
And for that reason, the Yankees and Rangers are swimming in their ignorance. Even if they realized three weeks ago that Lee was not worth it, it would have been too late. Poor planning has forced them both to put everything they have into bringing in Lee, who, despite some question marks, is the indisputable leader of an uninspiring free agent class.
In other words, New York and Texas, at this point, have no choice but to haul in Lee.
The Yankees, however, do have a little wiggle room. They still have A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes and maybe even Andy Pettitte. So, if you are forced to start the season with Ivan Nova or Joba Chamberlain as your fifth starter, it’s not the end of the world.
If the Yankees don’t, in fact, sign Lee, they shouldn’t give up. Yes, it will be depressing, but the 2010 postseason revealed that the Yankees’ problems extend beyond pitching; there are always other places to improve.
If there is one thing that is more concerning than the Yankees’ pitching situation (which really isn’t all that bad), it is their catching situation. As it is now, the Yankees will go into the regular season with Jesus Montero, an unproven prospect, and Francisco Cervelli, a solid but mediocre youngster, as the starting catchers; not too inspiring.
Nevertheless, something has been whispered in the baseball world that should be ringing loudly in the minds of Yankee fans. According to the Daily News, the Yankees have offered a one-year deal to 27-year-old, former Dodgers catcher Russell Martin.
Martin would give the Yankees the best possible improvement they can get apart from, and possibly even including, Lee. He has a career .385 on-base percentage and can potentially hit around 20 home runs per season. He’s also a great defensive catcher, taking home a Gold Glove in 2007.
He has been on the decline the last couple of years, but he is a very solid player who is in the prime of his career. He would give the Yankees a spark behind the plate that they have not seen in a very long time.
The Yankees have already made their mistake, and they shouldn’t prolong it. With no plan B, the Yankees’ future looks dark should Lee decide to pitch in the desert. With little time left, however, Martin could be the Yankees’ silver lining in a slow offseason.
After all, if the Yankees didn’t mean it when they said Bubba Crosby would be the starting centerfielder in 2006, so what makes us think they mean it when they say Cervelli will be their starting catcher in 2011?