The Yankees are learning from past successes. Two winters ago the team made a splash on the first day of free agency, offering CC Sabathia the largest contract ever for a pitcher. Yet for the next three or four weeks we heard next to nothing. Sabathia and his agent acknowledged the offer, but after that they played the silent game. The two parties met on the eve of the Winter Meetings, but it didn’t appear to further the Yankees’ cause. A few days later, Sabathia left Las Vegas and returned home.
The next day or so was filled with uncertainty. Did Sabathia’s departure mean that he wasn’t interested in pitching for the Yankees? Had another team even made an offer? There was actually a report that Sabathia had rejected the Yankees offer upon leaving Vegas. Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes. Sabathia went home so he could discuss the situation with his wife. That led to the infamous phone call in which Sabathia requested that Cashman come to Vallejo and meet the family. A few hours later they were putting together a seven-year, $161 million contract.
Today it appears the Yankees will try something similar. MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Yankees are flying to Arkansas for a face-to-face meeting with Cliff Lee. While there’s little chance that Cashman walks away with a signed contract, I have to think this bodes well for the team’s chances.
Money played the biggest role in Sabathia’s decision. It plays an enormous role in nearly every free agent decision. Players know that they’re getting ready for their one big pay day, and they want to make the most out of it. The Yankees, as we know, do not take kindly to getting outbid for a player they desire. We saw this as well two winters ago, when the Braves aggressively pursued A.J. Burnett. The bidding increased until the Yankees finally hit that $82.5 million mark. Contract signed. We saw it again a few weeks later, when the Yankees outbid the Red Sox for Mark Teixeira. I doubt they’ll let another team offer Lee more money.
What the Yankees should accomplish with this trip is what they accomplished by flying to Vallejo in 2008. That is, the purpose is to make Lee know that he’s the Yankees’ guy. After signing his contract, Sabathia said that what swayed him was his central role in the Yankees’ plans. Once Cashman revealed that they didn’t trade for Johan Santana because they wanted CC instead, the big man said he felt wanted. Again, money certainly played a bigger role. But there are certainly other factors to consider, and the feeling of being wanted — being needed, even — plays a part in that.
With Lee, the Yanks probably don’t have to do much work. They did, after all, offer up their best prospect for a half season of Lee. That should signal right there how much they wanted him. And now, presumably, Cashman will give Lee the Sabathia pitch. They wanted him then, and they want him now; they plan to pair him with CC for a top that can match with anyone else’s. There are plenty of other points to make, and I trust that Cashman will hit on all of them. Why else would he make such a personal visit?
Remember, though, that these types of visits are fairly routine at this time of year. In 2008 the Yankees paid a similar visit to Mark Teixeira and nothing came of it for another month or so. The Red Sox then tried a similar tactic and were rebuffed — if you’ll remember, at the time John Henry talked about how the two sides just weren’t going to fit. In a similar way, I don’t expect Lee to sign a contract any sooner than we previously expected. But I do appreciate Cashman’s approach to the matter. They want Lee, and they want to make it as clear as possible. That sounds like a plan.