Cliff Lee, Mark Buehrle and the hunt for pitchingBy
Every now and then, I think back to July 9 and 10 of 2010. That weekend, the Yankees were on the West Coast, visiting the Mariners, and as Saturday dawned, it appeared as though the Yanks would leave Seattle with Cliff Lee in tow. In exchange, they would have to give up Jesus Montero and a middle infield prospect named Eduardo Nunez, but the spoils would be tremendous.
We know how that story ended for the Yankees. The Mariners wouldn’t accept David Adams who was dealing with an ankle injury and played in just 12 games this season, and the Yanks weren’t, for some reason, too keen on giving up Nunez. In fact, according to some stories, Nunez was more of a deal-breaker than Montero. Lee escaped their grip that July, and he went on to beat the Yanks as a member of the eventual AL Champion Rangers.
A few months later — nearly a year ago — the Yanks were attempting to lure Lee to the Bronx again. They didn’t quite put on the full court press, but all indications were that the Yanks offered Lee six years at $22 million with a seventh year player option for $16 million. For reasons of dollars and comfort, Lee went to the Phillies instead. Maybe the Rangers led to Lee’s decision; maybe he just wanted to go back to Philadelphia. Either way, neither team escaped their respective Division Series match-ups this year, and the Yanks are still struggling to find another starting pitcher.
For the Yankees, losing out on Cliff Lee seemed to indicate a sea change within the organization. Lee was, by all accounts, the best pitcher available either by trade or free agency, since CC Sabathia, and unless Cole Hamels hits the open market next season, it’s tough to find a comparative starter. The Yankees were willing to give up the farm, extend their budget to land Lee or both. But for the first time since Greg Maddux spurned a rebuilding Yankee team in the early 1990s to head to Atlanta, the Bombers were left empty-handed.
This year, the pitcher is kinda sorta out there. In 2011, after Lee left them empty-handed and Andy Pettitte retired, the Yanks somehow made it through the year with CC, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova. As things stand now, they’re gearing up to do to the same for 2012. I always thought they had another move in them last year, but they never found the right trade partner for a pitching upgrade. This winter, things are shaping up similarly.
The pitching is almost out there. Roy Oswalt, who hasn’t popped up in any rumors, is available. C.J. Wilson, another Texas ace, is looking for job security. Mark Buehrle recently landed with the
Yankees South Miami Marlins. Maybe a few young pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez or John Danks could be had on the trade market. But none of these guys are that exciting. They’re supporting cast members, not aces, who carry a price tag that often exceeds their value.
Buehrle, in particular, strikes me as a guy the Yanks would consider. He signed a four-year deal worth $58 million with the Marlins, and the Yanks had only “early conversations” with Buehrle’s representatives. Yet, they passed even though he’s an innings eater with some AL success. Sure, his strike out numbers are down, but he’s thrived by keeping the bill in the park and on the ground. He might fall off a cliff, but he’s just as likely to continue to excel despite saber skepticism over his peripherals.
But the Yankees passed. They want a Cliff Lee type, a difference-maker, not an overpaid cog. They think they can approximate Buehrle’s 2012 production for $10 million less by using Freddy Garcia, and they have their eye on some elusive starter who might become available as they try to usher Manny Banuelos through their organization. Once, the Yanks overpaid for A.J. Burnett because they needed a pitcher. Now, they’re willing to wait and wait and wait for the next must-have Cliff Lee type. It might be a prudent move, but for a fan base used to getting what they want (and need), it makes for a slow wait. I almost miss those Yankees who dove right in. Almost.