The New York City sports crowd is abuzz with talk of free agency this week. It has nothing to do with Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Rather, the attention is on the NBA. With their salary cap and free agent signing period, basketball has a concentrated flurry of news that keeps the pressure on teams to improve. We’ve seen the Knicks sign Amar’e Stoudemire, and now those with an interest in the sport are waiting for LeBron’s chip to fall.
While Yankee fans could care less about baseball’s free agency as the pennant races unfold, Brian Cashman knows that he and the Yanks’ Front Office have some decisions to make this winter. They’ll want to land Cliff Lee and must dole out contracts to two Yankee lifers who aren’t quite ready to hang it up. In an ESPN New York piece by Ian O’Connor — save it before it’s gone! — Cashman discussing New York City and their free agents.
As the premier media market in the country, free agents, says Cash, want to come to New York, and New York spots teams usually land the players they want. “LeBron James is going to be a Knick,” the Yanks’ GM said. “I’m convinced of it. New York is the place that will allow him to be the player and person he wants to be, and it’s coming together. Just listen to me, LeBron James will be a Knick.”
It’s all well and good for Cashman to predict the NBA free agent market, but it’s a different beast than that of MLB. In baseball, without a salary cap and constrained only by the Steinbrenners’ desire to win and their willingness to pay a luxury tax, the Yankees can spend and spend and spend. In fact, Cashman admits as much to O’Connor:
“In free agency, it’s not about cutting the best deal, it’s about securing the player,” Cashman said. “I gave CC an extra year and an out after three years because we needed him. We couldn’t afford to lose him. He was the most vital piece to our entire game plan in free agency.” …
“You don’t get a gold star for saving money on a deal; your goal is to win championships,” Cashman said. “You can’t enter the free-agent market as a buyer hoping to beat the other teams by one dollar. You can’t mess around and lose the player.”
Cashman is laying his cards on the table right here. The Yankees, he says, are willing to go above and beyond for players they want because that’s how badly they want them. It’s no big deal to give CC more years at the back end because, by passing up on Johan Santana, the Yanks absolutely had to land Sabathia 12 months later.
On the flip side, this statement illuminates another move I long thought curious. The Yankees needed a center fielder after 2005 and could have pursued Carlos Beltran a year before. The former Astro wanted to be a Yankee and was seemingly willing to give the Bombers a discount. But the Yankees passed on Beltran. They didn’t outbid the Mets, and they didn’t take Beltran up on his offer. In fact, they didn’t bid at all. The Yankees simply didn’t want Beltran, and although his offensive production was still tops among center fielders until he got injured, his injury has thrown into doubt whether the Mets made a sound seven-year investment.
When it comes to free agency, the Yankees are always buyers, and if money is no obstacle, they will get their man. If Jerry Crasnick is to be believed, the Yankees “covet” Cliff Lee, and if the lefty is reading Cashman’s comments on free agency, he knows he will soon have a hefty check coming his way. Whatever Brian wants, Brian gets.