Monday, December 6, 2010

If Yankees Don't Land Lee; What's Next?

While the New York Yankees' GM, Brian Cashman, was scaling down a 22-story building in Connecticut this weekend, the team finished signing up two free agents, closer Mariano Rivera and shortstop Derek Jeter.  It is only fitting that this year's Winter Meetings are in Orlando--the home of Disney World--especially the way the Yankees Mickey Moused with the team captain the past few weeks.

Things have been rather noisy around the Yankees off-season offices--not for all the right reasons--and now the Boston Red Sox have started making a racket.  The Sox finally showed some form of life and unapologetic gall this past weekend by announcing that they had offered Rivera, one of the Yank's signing  priorities, a three-year deal and then traded for first-baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.  It's good to see the Yankees/Red Sox rivals butting head once again especially since their wooing of Mo was a direct slap to the face of their own closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  The Sox finally landed a big-time hitter after losing both Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to the Yankees in past off-seasons.

Things have been relatively quiet between the two AL East division teams after the Red Sox Nation basked  in the glow of the ALCS in 2004 and the days of "bloody" socks and Pedro Martinez roughing up Don Zimmer.  Regular season games against the Sox have become five hour tests of endurance  compared to the ones against the chippy Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays short-lived "dynasty" will soon go the way of their cowbells and mohawks as the team gets stripped by free-agency.  Rays fans may find solace in the knowledge that it is no secret that Jeter has expressed interest in becoming a major league team owner and has just completed a $36 million estate in Tampa.  Jeter's final playing days have just been signed and sealed and that $51 million should be enough for a down payment on the fan-starved franchise after his days in pinstripes are over.  

The Yankees deals with Rivera and Jeter do raise a few questions.  Rivera has mentioned that his two-year, $30 million contract might be his last.  He was offered three years by Boston and turned it down and there was never any reports of him fighting for more time.  2012 could be the year "Enter Sandman" blasts from the speakers in the house that Jeter built.

Jeter, on the other hand, haggled and got three years plus a fourth with incentives.  Now the only question is whether or not last season's slump was just a bump on the way to Coopperstown.  The 36 year-old  Jeter will be working hard to regain his reputation as a premier player.  The shortstop will turn 37 in June and wasn't too happy with the way he was described and flogged during the contentious contractual process.

Too many stories claimed only two shortstops--Honus Wagner and Luke Appling--were ever successful after the age of 37 and they played eons ago.  Since 1969, only 19 shortstops older than 37 played 100 games in a season and only one, Larry Bowa, made the playoffs.  So Jeter has a high wall to scale.  Maybe he should borrow some of Cashman's rappelling gear.

Now that Cashman has signed two pieces of his off-season trifecta, he can concentrate on getting every one's favorite Christmas present,  Cliff Lee.  Lee's name will be in the New York headlines a lot for the next few days with a few side bars about Andy Pettitte.  The left-handed starter Lee is Cashman's main concern.

"My priority is pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching," the GM said, "I've been focusing on the legacy guys, but I really need to take care of our pitching."  Lee is the class pitcher in a shallow group of free-agents.  The righthander and Pettitte would fill that void.

Lee is going to be looking for a deal of about $140 million for six or seven years.  The Texas Rangers, Lee's team last season, is hoping a longer contract will keep their ace in Arlington, but the Yankees believe their deeper pockets will prevail.

The Yankees and Rangers are the only serious bidders for Lee.   If the Yankees don't get Lee, they might have to fight for the services of Plan B; Carl Crawford.  The Rangers are also interested in the centerfielder and he could become a parting gift to the team that doesn't land Lee, but only if the Los Angeles don't grab him first.   Although the Yankees just lost DH Lance Berkman, it is unlikely that any team could afford both players--especially the recently bankrupt Rangers.

Crawford would be a replacement for one of three current Yankee outfielders--Curtis Granderson,  Brett Gardner or Nick Swisher.  Granderson came on strong at the end of last year and Swisher, a fan favorite, had a solid first half, then wilted after his All-Star appearance.  Gardner is the young stud and modelled similar  to Crawford, so any rumors of a trade means talks are on between the Yankees and Crawford.

One player the Yankees might want to test in the trade waters is reliever/starter Joba Chamberlain.  The yankees' front office has never expressed interest in trading the inconsistent and maligned Joba, but many think he could thrive on a different team. 

A.J. Burnett could find himself gone if the Yankees sign Lee and Pettitte.  Burnett throws more pies than strikes and the Yankees might be interested in unloading the tattooed pitcher by paying some of his money to a team that wants him.  A nice relief pitcher would be welcome in that trade.  Toronto reliever, Scott Downs could fit the bill.

The Yankees tried to acquire Downs from the Blue Jays last year and have something in common with the lefthander--his agent Casey Close is Jeter's front man.  Nothing breeds love like familiarity and Close has become a regular on Cashman's Skype.  Damasco Marte's shoulder injury leaves the lefty's future in jeopardy and the Yankees bullpen even thinner.

Cashman knows his off-season success hangs on signing Lee.  Jeter and Rivera were primarily slam-dunks and even Carl Crawford would be seen a booby prize.  Its Lee or nothing.

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