After Cliff Lee signed a five-year, $120 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies late Monday night, Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Danielsimmediately responded to his decision: “Let’s give the guy some credit. How many people criticize players for running after the last dollar?” Daniels was disappointed. How could he not be? But Lee called him personally to break the news to him. Daniels said when he saw “his name on the caller ID I kind of anticipated that it probably was not an acceptance call.” But I’m sure he appreciated that Lee told him. And I’m sure that made the pill easier to swallow.
In contrast, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was informed of Lee’s decision by his now immensely flush agent, Darek Braunecker, which says something in itself. It shows Lee really didn’t want to go to the Yankees. If he considered the Yankees a serious contender he would have also thanked them for their interest. Instead, New York offered him their six-year deal last week, upped it to a bold seven years, and never heard back. Their aggressiveness drew nothing more than a figurative shrug from Lee. The pain ran deep. Cashman didn’t say it hurt. In fact, he didn’t immediately issue a response. He didn’t have it in him to do what Daniels did. He told the media he would wait until Tuesday to comment on Lee.
With a sleepless night behind him he came to grips with reality, though his tone was full of disappointment:
“I think that New York was not something he didn’t want to go to. If I had to speculate, he’s worked hard to put himself in position to be a free agent. Texas, Philadelphia, New York, we all had a lot to offer. We were in an environment to compete for him at a very fair, highly competitive level as a fre agent and Philadelpia secured him. It’s as simple as that. The fact that he is going to Philadelphia proves how much he enjoyed Philly. Could Cliff Lee have made a difference for us? He may have . . .”
When asked about what’s next for his Yankees, he said, “I do stress Plan B is patience. It’s not like we’re in a rush to do anything.”
New York didn’t go out and get the next best thing, but, contrary to Cashman’s statement, they certainly weren’t patient after missing out on Lee. They intensified talks with catcher Russell Martin, who was also wooed by the Red Sox, and signed him away from their rival. Martin, 27, previously played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and regressed after a promising start to his career. He hit .285 from 2006-2008, averaging 14 homers and 74 rbi’s per season. But, batting injuries, he batted only .248 this past season. Despite struggling he is a low-risk, high-reward signing given his prior success.
Signing catching depth is great for New York, but what about the pitching staff? They went out on a limb and signed Mark Prior to a minor-league deal. Yes, that Mark Prior, who was originally drafted by New York, won 18 games with the Chicago Cubs in the Steve Bartman year of 2003, and proceeded to fade into obscurity largely due to a flurry of shoulder and elbow injuries.
Having last pitched in the major leagues in 2006 with the San Diego Padres, Prior rehabbed, worked out for teams, and, this past season, pitched for the Orange County Flyers of the Independent League, an affiliate of the Rangers organization. There, he made nine relief appearances and struck out 22 batters in 11 innings while allowing just one run.
His performance with the Flyers caught New York’s eye. If he makes it to the big club he will be reunited with Larry Rothschild, his pitching coach with Chicago. It’s hard to believe that Prior is only 30 years after all he has been through. He is two years younger than Lee. He was once as good as Lee. And, given his increased velocity and improved mechanics, he could pay dividends for the Yankees, whether it be in the rotation or out of the bullpen. I can’t help but hope he succeeds, albeit on Boston’s rival.
New York hopes Martin and Prior pan out, but they would survive if they didn’t. Without Andy Pettitte, however, they would have difficulty staying afloat. He was 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 2010 with the team and has always delivered in big games for the Yankees. Due to his effectiveness, reputation, and presence, they will beg and plead the 38-year-old left-hander to forgo retirement for another year. They will throw all kinds of money his way, but the possibility of him returning isn’t likely. Evidently, as reported by Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, it appears signing Lee would have been his lone incentive to return:
“Someone who spoke with Andy Pettitte last week said that the lefty told him this: If the Yankees get Lee, then he would come back. If not, then he would stay home. That essentially matches what [the NY Post's] Joel Sherman reported last week.”
If Pettitte did indeed say this and if he does retire, New York is in trouble. They watched Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford go to Boston and Lee take his talents to Philadelphia. Safe to say, Yankee fans would die a little more inside if Pettitte elected to relax in his Houston home, hand in his glove for some golf clubs, and bask in his millions. Without him, CC Sabathia would be their only dependable starter. Phil Hughes would slot in behind him, but he was inconsistent after a strong start to 2010, finishing with an ERA over four. A.J. Burnett is a crapshoot, while unproven Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova round out the starting-five. Because of such uncertainty, I expect them to be aggressive on the trade market.
They could go after Zack Greinke, as the Rangers are expected to do, but with the way the offseason has gone for these two teams a mystery team will undoubtedly swoop in and snatch him up too. While they brace for that and continue to scour the trade and free-agent market, Lee is “excited” to be a Phillie again, to join a rotation that already had three aces. Little did Texas and New York know they would add a fourth as late as early Monday evening, but the two American League powers must move on. Though depressed, the Yankees went about their business. Now the Rangers have to do the same.