The End Of a Cliff (Lee)

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?

Listen to Jess on What’s on Second: The Seamheads.com Radio Hour Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter  @jesskcoleman or send him an e-mail at [email protected].

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8 Responses to The End Of a Cliff (Lee)

  1. [email protected] says:

    Just because we're not aware of a plan B doesn't mean one doesn't exist, as well as C D E F etc.

  2. Two things stick out in this article. The Yankees have never said that Cervelli would be their starting catcher next year. Also, they have specifically said, twice, that Joba will not be a starter next year. He's a reliever.

  3. Jess says:

    Hold on there. The Yankees said Montero and Cervelli will be the two catchers. Despite what the Yankees say, if they do not sign Cliff Lee, Joba Chamberlain will have to be in the discussion for starting pitcher. What if Ivan Nova gets hurt or has a horrible spring. Chamberlain is certainly in their thoughts.

    • They've said pretty definitively that Joba is not considered a starting pitcher. And they've never said anything about Cervelli winning a starting job. I'd challenge you to find the quote that said he could possibly be the starting catcher.

      • Jess says:

        He will not be the starting catcher, I never said that. Montero will catch 100 or so games (or whatever the exact number is) and someone will have to catch the remaining games. As of now, that is Cervelli. My point in the article was that the combination of Montero and Cervelli is not too inspiring.

  4. [email protected] says:

    They said Montero would start, but I'm not sure what they said about Cervelli as they were trying to trade him for Martin. AND THAT'S IF ALL OF THE QUOTES WERE ACCURATE!!!

  5. Mike B. says:

    The more I think about Lee this the less I like the idea of Lee coming to NY. I know he has great command & made hitters look like fools but is he really worth it?

    Suppose he were to sign, now let's fast foward to the 2014 (only 3 seasons) and lets look at how old and costly we'll be:

    *A-Rod @ $27M & will be 39yrs old – DH

    *Jeter @ $17M & will be 39 yrs old – LF?

    *Lee @ $23M & will be 36 yrs old

    *CC @ $23M & will be 34 yrs old

    *AJ @ $16.5M & will be 37 yrs old – BP?

    We need to draft & continue to look for young cheap talent in Latin America especially D.R. & South American countries, & Asia like Japan, Taiwan, & China where baseball is reallly starting to catch on.

    Finally imagine offering $161M to play for the Yankees in the media capital of the world & this red neck has to think about it? If he is really smart he wouldn't calculate no state tax in Texas if he switches residencies but the endorsment dollars he'll be offered playing in NY. I haven't read a thing from anyone talking about that. Maybe Reggie should have been part of this & brought some old Reggie bars.

    I say its time to move on.

  6. Billy Ball says:

    Something to ponder:

    If the Yankees do not acquire Clifford Lee I think the smart move and to the anguish of many impatient Yankee fans is to at best strengthen the bull pen, bring in a plus plus defensive catcher whom probably at best will hit .240 and maybe sign a middle of the rotation guy for one year. Also bring in some risky gambles like Mark Prior.

    Than, concede the Red Sox are now possibly the team to beat with that offense and speed and their pitching will improve as well. They have a healthy Youkilis, Pedroia, Beckett and have added a dangerous 1B and top LF and improved there overall defense dramatically. Now if they get a catcher they are set. We are now the under dogs which is fine. Their speed on bases is better, their power in the middle is equal, their defense is better, and their pitching gets the nod.

    This does not mean we cannot compete for the division and win the wild card. It does mean we should not trade away the farm for guys like Grienke who may or may not mentally break down. He is also a righty and we do need another lefty.

    So what I would do is give Montero a shot. Sign Martin for one year but if he doesn’t sign give the starting spot to Montero to lose to Cervelli. Bring in a top defensive catcher and let all three compete. When the Yanks play the sox or any team with speed platoon Montero with Posada as DH and play the defensive catcher. Build up the pen with guys like Wood if we can sign him and give the two opening starting jobs to whomever wins it from this list:

    Joba

    Nova

    Banuelos

    Brackman

    Betances

    Pettitte will not return without Lee signing cause he knows the chances of winning without Lee are slim with the Red Sox rebuilt team. Think wild card while allowing an infusion of youth. It may be more exciting for fans and if it doesn’t work out it’s a year of rebuilding and allowing the new kids to get ready.

    If team stays healthy;

    Pitching:

    CC-19 wins

    Hughes-17 wins

    AJ-14 wins

    Joba-10 to 12 wins

    Banuelos-10 wins

    Bullpen:

    Rivera, Robertson, Wood, Logan, Noesi, ?????? (pick from kids in minors)

    Catcher:

    Montero, Defensive Catcher

    DH/Bench Coach:

    Posada

    Infield:

    Tex, Cano, Jeter, A-rod, Nunez, Laird

    Outfield:

    Gardner, Swisher, Granderson, Laird, Mesa

    With two spots to fill in.