What Losing Lee Means to Yankees: Doom, Gloom, and a Trip to the Playoffs

The Yankees lost out on their top offseason priority in Cliff Lee yesterday and let’s face it – it hurts. He wasn’t just part of the plan for them this offseason, he was the plan. So what does this mean?

The first thing it means is that Andy Pettitte is about to get a lot richer. Pettitte has been said to have been leaning toward retirement all offseason, but now that Lee is out of the picture for the Yankees he becomes extremely important. If he does retire the Yankees would be set to go into 2011 with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre in their rotation. Not pretty and considering how the Red Sox have improved this offseason the AL East titled could be crossed off. So expect Pettitte to get a call from GM Brian Cashman soon.

For now let’s assume Pettitte is coming back though. The Yankees still have a rotation hole to fill. If they do that internally they could use Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre. They could transition Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation, but both Cashman and Joe Girardi have stated that he is a reliever only going forward. Hector Noesi is also a possibility as well. Out of the Killer B’s (Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, and Manuel Banuelos) only Brackman is even close enough to be considered out of spring training and even he is a longshot.

Let’s face it though, these are the Yankees, they hate missing the playoffs and the last time they went with a rookie in the rotation, 2008, they missed the playoffs. So they will try to make a trade to bolster the rotation. Zack Greinke is the biggest name out there, but so far they seem uninterested in him. There aren’t a whole lot of obvious choices out there that are readily available after him though so another no. 1 type is out of the picture. Maybe guys like Derek Lowe, Mark Buehrle, or even Chris Carpenter are possible so the Yankees could go that route.

Any trades they make would either deplete the farm system, add a lot of money to the payroll, or both so if Pettitte does return they may look to try one of the younger guys and use the money they had tabbed for Lee to stock the bullpen. They could still add Kerry Wood and another impact arm or two. This would make it less risky to go with a guy like Nova. They also could then wait for a pitcher to hit the trade market that they really like instead of one that they are merely settling for. I’m talking about guys like Josh Johnson or similar pitchers who aren’t expected to be traded this offseason but could sometime in the future.

It is possible they could dip into the free agent market for a pitcher on a one-year deal or sign a high risk type as a stop gap and hope that the Killer B’s develop by next season. There are some intriguing free agent pitchers left like Brian Bannister, Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, and even Brandon Webb to name a few (Mark Prior too if you want to get really daring). Each of these guys individually aren’t very impressive, but if one or two were signed then maybe one of them would stick and have a big season for the Yankees. The Yankees have already expressed interest in Harden and Prior.

So far though we’ve assumed that Pettitte was coming back. If he doesn’t though that’s when Lee signing with the Phillies will really hurt. The Yankees could miss the playoffs in 2011 or Cashman will make multiple trades or signings that could potentially negatively impact the longterm health of the franchise or both.

If Pettitte retires then the Yankees will feel more pressure to trade for Greinke. This could work out well if they trade some prospects, guess right on which to deal, and he pitches wonderfully. It could also work out badly if they deal Brett Gardner, Jesus Montero, one of the Killer B’s, and more and Greinke folds under the pressure of New York. Then not only will the Yankees empty the farm, but they could be doing it for a pitcher who doesn’t even help.

Even if they make a trade that doesn’t blow up in their faces they could still be dealing away pieces that turn out to be real gems. Then for years we’ll be cursing Lee’s name while Betances strikes out 10 batters a game for the St Louis Cardinals for the next six years.

If Pettitte retires and they try to go the free agent route to avoid dealing their top talent it could burn them too. That may come in the form of short deals that just don’t work out. It may also come in the fact that the Yankees feel pressure to add veteran talent and have to over spend in either money or years for mediocre pitchers. Down the road that would take away roster flexibility and even block paths for pitchers like the aforementioned Killer B’s.

Sorry if this sounds a little gloom and doom. I’m just running through scenarios here. Realistically if I had to guess I’d imagine that things don’t go so poorly for the Yankees.

They’ll probably express to Pettitte how important he is to the team and he’ll re-sign for something like $12 million. They’ll spend some money and improve the bullpen and bench. Then they’ll essentially be returning in 2011 with the same team that in 2010 won 95 games and coasted into the playoffs. Sure the Red Sox have gotten better, but it is only marginally as they did lose big bats in Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. The Rays also lost a long list of players and have taken a big step backward. If they get some unexpected contributions from rookies they may have no problem making the playoffs in 2011.

The 2010 team was just two games from a trip to the World Series and the 2011 team could look very similar. Add Montero to that, get a bounce back season from Jeter, and health down the stretch from Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Pettitte and the 2011 Yankees could beat anybody including the Red Sox.

All we can do at this point is wait for the rest of the offseason to unfold, hope that Pettitte has one more good season in him, and hope that the rest of the moves Cashman makes are smart for both the short-term and long-term success of the team. Isn’t that what we do every year though?

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5 Responses to What Losing Lee Means to Yankees: Doom, Gloom, and a Trip to the Playoffs

  1. BleedingYankeeBlue says:

    Whew man I glad the Phillies got Lee. Lee adds maybe 3 more wins from the rotation from 2010 period. And that's not worth the investment. For the money the Yankees can beef up the pen and the bench and add another 10-12 wins. Nova seems to be the real deal and he's not feeling the pressure of the hype that Hughes and Chamberlain were given.

    Worst scenario is emptying the farm for anything. Yanks have been scouting real talent the last decade only to watch it go away on deals that don't work out. It's time for the Yankees to start harvesting the crop. That's what the fans want. We got a recent title now is the time for retooling from within. While there is still a core of a competitive team in place. Veterans that can help smooth the transition for seamless winning.

    CC. Sabathia

    Phil Hughes

    AJ Burnett

    Ivan Nova

    Sergio Mitre

    doesn't look as compelling as a Lee in that line-up but boost the pen and bring in the late inning defensive replacements and you got 98-102 wins. Boston is still looking at 93 wins and Tampa Bay maybe 87. The main threat will come from Minnesota, Detroit and possibly Los Angelas in getting to the WS.

    And with the Yankee offensive output returning even that starting rotation should win 12-15 games a piece with a quality pen picking up the rest. If the Yanks invest in getting Burnett and Chamberlain a head doctor NY has one of the potentially most dangerous complete pitching staffs in baseball.

  2. Tom Mackey says:

    While I would never discount the Yankee's chances for the post-season because of their resources, I must say you guys are delusional in your evaluation of the 2011 team. The Lee situation is catastrophic for the Yankees, and will likely force them into trading for someone like Greinke or Garza. Barring that, their starting rotation if mediocre at best. What if the Killer B's never pan out? That is the ultimate dilemma with young talent — they could never develop or be an injury away from going up in smoke. And their offensive output? It looks to me like it is in serious decline, and bound to get worse over time.

    • Your perception is totally off. The only difference so far between the 2010 Yankees and 2011 Yankees is they've lost Vazquez, Berkman, and Miranda. They've added Martin, will call up Montero. It's essentially the same team that won 95 games last year. Only players where serious regression is possible is with A-Rod, Posada, and Pettitte. Jeter should bounce back. Pettitte, Teixeira, Gardner, and Swisher were hurt down the stretch last year.

      This team could very well be better than the 95 win team from last year. Cano, Granderson, Swisher, Gardner, Teixeira, and Martin are all in their prime.

  3. Mindkind says:

    The people that are giving the AL East to Boston don't know baseball. They added two bats after losing two bats. The only thing i would be worry from Boston is a rebound season from Beckett and Lackey. the Yankees were 2 wins away from the WS and now everybody is in panic mode because the Yankees didn't get Lee, why? Good point Rob.

  4. Joey P says:

    I think in the end the lack of Cliff Lee could be a blessing for the Yankees. I like the Russ Martin signing and note that the Yankees were looking at this before Lee made his decision so I think they at least had a feeling they wouldn't get Lee… I suspect Montero is now trade bait. Before teh winter meetings I was suggesting signing Victor Martinez and foregoing Lee anyway. Now is the time that Yankees management, especially Cashman, needs to step up and make some real baseball moves. While he may not be available, before I look to trade away prospects anywhere else, I talk to seattle about Felix Hernandez. IMO, he's one of the few pitchers out there I would actually trade good young talent for. Don't know if Seattle would be interested, but Montero, two killer B's and another player or two might make them think twice. After that, work on the bullpen and give remaining young pitchers a chance at the fifth spot if necessary. Would love to get Andy back for at least one more year too.