It all started with a tweet from Ed Price. He talked to a source who said that John Lackey was in Boston taking a physical. Since free agents don’t normally take physical exams unless it’s the last step before signing a contract, the scene was set. The Red Sox would soon announce they signed Lackey. Yet that wasn’t the biggest move of the day. Later in the afternoon, after a short speculation period, the Mariners, Blue Jays, and Phillies worked out a deal that would send Cliff Lee to the Mariners, Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and prospects from both teams to the Blue Jays. It turned out to be the busiest day yet this off-season.
These moves all affect the Yankees in some way or another, so let’s examine the fallout.
Lackey to the Sox
With Lackey pitching behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the Red Sox have an excellent top three. There are concerns about Lackey’s health, but there were greater concerns last winter about A.J. Burnett‘s health, and that worked out for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean it will work for the Sox, but it certainly could. The Sox have plenty of room on their payroll for Lackey, so the move makes even more sense.
The move hurts the Yankees a little, as the Sox figure to have a stronger rotation than last year. The move bumps Daisuke Matsuzaka to the fourth rotation spot, with Tim Wakefield or Clay Buchholz holding down the fifth. The move could turn into an even bigger one for the Sox if they trade Buchholz for a big bat, though they could just as easily keep their pitching depth. As they learned last year, it can dry up quickly.
Overall, the Yankees needn’t worry about Lackey and the Sox. They apparently didn’t have Lackey in their sights, so they shouldn’t mind it when he lands elsewhere, even if it’s with a division rival. He makes the Sox stronger on the pitching end, but the Yanks don’t lag far behind there, if at all, and still have the superior offense. Both teams will continue dealing this off-season, so we’re a long way from figuring out the winners and losers here.
Still, a good move for the Sox.
Halladay to the Phillies
The Yanks’ interest in Roy Halladay always seemed lukewarm at best. It’s not that they didn’t want him. It’s that the cost of acquiring him was a bit high. Perhaps if the Blue Jays’ asking price had dropped later in the off-season the Yankees would have gotten serious, but it never got to that point. Toronto found the offer it wanted, though it took the involvement of a third team.
Halladay to the Phillies is, for the sake of 162 games, a good thing for the Yankees. The only time the Yankees could even possibly face him next year is in a World Series rematch. There’s no sense in thinking about that now, so this is a clear win for the Yankees. It not only gets Halladay out of the division, but out of the American League. The Blue Jays figure to be an even softer team next year, which helps.
Should the Yankees have cashed in Montero and Hughes/Chamberlain for Halladay? I think that’s way too steep a price for one year of a player, though it would also mean signing Halladay to an extension and therefore keeping him off the market. The Phillies get that now. If the Angels or the Red Sox had acquired Halladay, the situation might be a bit different. But as it stands, the Yanks don’t really lose out.
Lee to the Mariners
The Angels lose both of their top free agents, Lackey and Chone Figgins, this off-season. Worse, they lost Figgins to the Mariners, their division rivals. Once the Sox moved on Lackey, the Angels figured to increase their efforts to land Halladay — or, if Halladay was Philadelphia bound, to land Cliff Lee. Unfortunately, none of them are options right now. The Angels are stuck with a rotation headed by Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Saunders. The Mariners could easily overtake them in 2010.
For their part, the Yankees inquired about Lee, but as with Halladay found the cost prohibitive. Lee won’t do too much damage to the team out in Seattle, though there are some playoff implications here. That shouldn’t concern the Yankees too much. The unbalanced schedule means the Yanks will only face the Ms a few times, so they might see Lee three times, tops. That’s not a huge deal in a 162-game season. Again, the Angels are the team that loses here.
This move affects the Yankees, tough, as it regards the remaining pitching market. The Angels are now more likely players for Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, two potential Yankees targets. Thankfully, it’s doubtful they’ll sign both players, so the Yankees could still add that high-risk starter even if the Angels go all-in for one — probably Sheets, as he has the higher upside. Other than that, the Yankees can proceed as normal.
What’s next for the Yanks
While all three pitchers could have helped out the Yankees next season, none were a necessity. The team has five prospective starters, so adding another one is a luxury. In their position it might be better to add a one-year player, as it leaves them flexibility to use their young pitchers in the rotation in 2011 and beyond. Locking down Lackey or Halladay, in addition to Sabathia and Burnett, would have been a huge commitment.
We’ll continue to speculate on Sheets and Duchscherer because they’re the guys who fit with the Yanks’ current plans. Short deals for high-risk players. It doesn’t always work out, but the Yankees have some depth. They can absorb a one-year deal even if that deal doesn’t pan out. We might see something soon, as Lackey’s deal could open the gates for more starters. After all, each team’s situation is a bit more clear now.
Could we see the Yanks pick up their left fielder in the coming weeks? I think that’s the most likely scenario. They’ll continue to monitor the pitching situation, but I think that adding a left fielder is still atop the priority list. Once they do that, we’ll have a better idea of what they have in mind for the rotation.