If anything can light a fire under Brian Cashman, it's the Boston Red Sox. The New York Yankee GM has upped the Cliff Lee ante in his game of Texas Hold 'em with his Texas Rangers opponent by offering the prized pitcher a seven-year deal worth $161 million. Cashman's flop sweat is dripping onto the poker chips.
The Red Sox just snapped up outfielder Carl Crawford--the Yankees Plan B if they lost Lee--after signing first baseman Adrian Gonzalez last week. Both players--in the prime of their careers--have each agreed to seven-year deals worth nearly $300 million. Everything looks good up in the land of white clam chowder.
Cashman's two-year deal with Mariano Rivera and his four-year contract with Derek Jeter were almost no-brainers--if you discount Jeter's contentious negotiations--they weren't going anywhere else. Both signings of past-their-prime players were important, but the deals haven't upgraded the team. Now with veteran pitcher Andy Pettitte seriously talking retirement and the Core Four looking like it might be whittled down to the "Key Three," Cashman has to go all in for Lee.
The Texas Rangers won't go away quietly, but their bark is louder than their bank account. The team filed for bankruptcy and the Lee numbers would take up between 25-30% of their entire payroll. The ace up Cashman's sleeve is the seventh year. The Rangers originally offered the lefthander a four or five deal and got real quiet after the Yankees threw a sixth year on the table. Seven could be too rich for their blood. Sure the new Texas regime has two major investors who are Texas oil barons and could pump out a few extra barrels to land Lee, but it seems unlikely they will go for the extra year.
Cashman isn't bluffing, even if he knows the sixth and seventh years could be throw-ins for the 32 year-old Lee. He recognizes the limitations of pitchers approaching the big Four-Oh. The GM also knows getting the lefty is an immediate antidote to the plague of a predominately left-hitting Red Sox line-up. The sight of Lee signing a Yankee contract could possibly entice Pettitte to give it another shot at a championship too. A starting line-up of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes makes the Yankee Universe salivate. Sorry Kristen Lee, that's not fan's spit raining down from the mezzanine it is their drool.
As Cashman makes mild overtures at catcher Russell Martin, if only to keep him available and away from the Sox, and has Zach Greinke simmering on the stove--just in case Lee fails to sign--he realizes everything boils down to Lee.
The newly signed Gonzalez donned his new Red Sox jersey and proclaimed he was "ready to beat the Yanks," but it is Epstein who has made the loudest noise at the Winter Meetings.
The Red Sox/Yankees rivalry goes beyond the diamond and into the front office. Cashman has made the biggest off-season strides between the teams for the past two years and now the Boston GM has turned the tables.
It has now become a matter of pride to Cashman and the Yankees. If he can land Lee, and only Lee, the Yankees have beaten the Red Sox once again. Nothing else will do.