Yankees visiting Lee in Arkansas today

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.

Posada set for meniscus surgery of his own, DH spot

Jorge Posada, the Yanks’ incumbent catcher, will have surgery today to fix a torn meniscus in his left knee, The Times reported this morning. The Yankees determined yesterday that Posada needed the operation, and while the team expects a speedy recovery, as Michael S. Schmidt writes, “it underlines the age issues that the Yankees have to confront with Posada.”

Beyond the meniscus surgery, though, Schmidt’s story is intriguing as it sheds some light on the Yanks’ catching situation. Yanks GM Brian Cashman has told Posada that he will be competing with Jesus Montero in Spring Training for the starting job and, as one source said, “should prepare to DH a lot…Posada said great and he was willing to do it. He was happy to know what the situation is.” Many Yankee-watchers had predicted that Posada would not respond well to this news, but as Moshe Mandel said to me last night, “It’s almost like he’s a professional who is being paid a lot of money to help the team, and knows he is getting old to catch.”

Dancing with Derek for the first time

Now that Derek Jeter is a free agent for the very first time in his 16-year Major League career, Yankee fans are beside themselves. Some seem to wonder why the Yanks are intent on screwing over Jeter while others believe Jeter is being incredibly selfish. Most are just going to sit back and let the tale play out, calm in the knowledge that the Yanks and Jeter will reach a deal fair to both sides.

I fall in the third camp. Thus when a report comes out that says the Yanks will “overpay” for Jeter’s services, I sit back and yawn. This wasn’t news a year ago; it’s not news today. Of course, the Yanks will give Jeter more than he’d get on a purely open market. He’s a marketable face of the franchise, and as long as they overpay in dollars and not years, it won’t have a significant long-term impact on the Yanks’ chances on the field.

So as we wait for Jeter-mania to play itself out, let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and revisit Derek Jeter’s last contract negotiation. It was a different time for the Yankees. They hadn’t had embraced their financial might to the same extent that they do today, and baseball salaries hadn’t yet exploded as they would following A-Rod‘s, Manny Ramirez’s, Mike Hampton’s and, of course, Jeter’s deal during the winter of 2000-2001.

The story starts after the 1999 season. Jeter had just played his age 25 season, and he was already a Yankee legend in the making. With a .318/.389/.465 line and three World Series rings, the next great Yankee was staking his claim to a big pay day. He had earned himself a $5 million deal for 1999, and in his second year of arbitration, he had asked for a record-setting $10.5 million award.

The Yankees knew it would behoove them to act. They knew that A-Rod’s looming free agency following the 2000 season would set the market, and 12 months before A-Rod signed his deal with the Rangers, the $200 million figure swirled in the winter winds. But before that record-setting winter arrived, the Yankees and Casey Close tried to lock up Jeter to a long-term deal.

As Buster Olney reported in January of 2000, the Yankees were prepared to offer a record-setting deal to their young short stop. The two sides were expected to wrap up negotiations before the end of January, and the deal was believed to be for seven years and $118.5 million. Running from 2001-2007, it would have been the largest deal in baseball history and second in professional sports only to Kevin Garnett’s six-year, $126-million contract. While the average annual salary of $19.75 million seemed steep then, Yankee officials expected it to be a bargain by the time it expired after the 2007 season.

But George Steinbrenner got cold feet. At the time, Steinbrenner didn’t like to flaunt the Yanks’ fiscal might, and he never liked to saddle his young stars with long-term deals. He wanted them to earn it. That hesitancy combined with the fact that, as subsequent reports stated, he didn’t want to make Jeter the game’s top earner led the Yankees to wait on a deal. Bob Klapisch opined that the Boss never intended to make Jeter the highest-paid player and floated the figures to the media gauge the other owners’ reactions. Steinbrenner, wrote Klapisch, didn’t want to “be accused of buying championships” or “ruining baseball’s economy.” Those were the days.

After the Yanks downed the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series and Jeter took home the All Star and World Series MVP, the team acted. Jack Curry speculated that Jeter’s deal would be for eight or nine years at $18.5 million a pop. He wasn’t far off. Throughout the winter of 2000-2001, the New York media watched the Jeter negotiations closely, and a deal didn’t materialize quickly. Buster Olney noted how it would be costly to the Yanks, and as January wore on without a contract in place, Tom Keegan of The Post urged Jeter to hit free agency and sign with the Mets.

In early February, the deal was done. The Yanks and Jeter were in it for the long haul at 10 years and $189 million. Jeter wound up making, as Anthony McCarron noted, around $8 million more over the first seven years of his contract than he would have had the Boss not gotten cold feet a year earlier. The contract did not come with an opt-out and was heavily backloaded to allow the Yanks financial flexibility — for Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi — in the early years. “It’s lower in the early years to help us go out and sign guys,” baseball’s then-second-highest paid player said.

A handful of players — Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, among them — have made more money on an annual basis than Jeter, but since Jeter signed that deal in 2001, only Alex Rodriguez has signed a longer deal for more money. I can’t help but wonder what deal Jeter would have signed after his 2007 campaign. It would have been a far better for his wallet had he hit free agency then. With A-Rod and Jeter both on the open market, the Yanks would have been in some financial pickle.

But now is the time of Jeter’s free agency, and we’ll keep waiting for that deal to be signed. It’ll happen before too long. I’m not worried.

Photo: Derek Jeter accepts his 1996 Rookie of the Year Award. He is 21. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)

Romine’s hot streak continues in Phoenix win

Eduardo Nunez was named to the 2010 Topps Triple-A All Star Team. He’s one of only two International League position players on a roster dominated by Pacific Coast Leaguers.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-4 win over Scottsdale)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (catcher’s interference) – eight for his last 23 (.348)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K – dude is just four for his last 40 … yikes
Jose Pirela, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K

Yankees to interview Patterson on Thursday

Via Sam Borden, the Yankees plan to interview Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for their vacant pitching coach position on Thursday. As far as we know, this is the first formal interview the team has conducted in the two-plus weeks since cutting Dave Eiland loose. Oakland has already granted the Yanks permission to speak to Patterson, who served several stints as a coach in New York’s minor league coaches system. I’m kinda surprised they have hired someone yet, but there’s nothing wrong with being thorough.

Open Thread: Are you ready for some football?

(Photo Credit: The RAB Bullpen)

Yankee Stadium isn’t looking much like a baseball park these days. The infield is gone, the pitcher’s mound has disappeared, and there are giant goal posts behind the plate and in centerfield. Army and Notre Dame meet in the Stadium on Nov. 20th, then a month later the Pinstripe Bowl will be played between still unknown teams. Kinda looks weird, no? Hey, anything that makes the Yankees money, I’m all for it. Derek Jeter‘s inevitable contract won’t pay for itself.

Anyway, here’s is your open thread for this fine evening. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing in various cities at various times. Chat about whatever you like, and go ahead and be as vicious and you want.

Lackawanna County approves sale of Scranton franchise

An artist's rendering of the proposed renovations to Scranton's PNC Field.

Lackawanna County, owners of the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise, have agreed to sell the team to the Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties for $14.6 million. The new owners will sign a 30-year lease with Scranton and have pledged $40 million for stadium renovations, David Singleton of The Times Tribune reported last night.

The Yankees had originally expressed interest in purchasing the team back in September, but political wrangling held up the sale for a few months. Even still, Luzerne County, passive part-owners of the Scranton franchise, is making noises about holding up the deal. That’s Pennsylvania county politics for you.

As Donnie Collins outlines, the sale will come with new terms attached. In addition to the stadium renovation funds, the team’s rent will increase from $150,000 to $750,000, and the least continues an option that could keep the franchise in place for 50 years. The Scranton stadium authority could repurchase the ballpark if the franchise relocates or ends its Yankee affiliation. New York, however, has been inclined to keep the team in Scranton due to the proximity factor. It is only a two-hour drive from the Majors to the AAA.

Overall, the Yankees are committing $37 million to the region, and while local politicians are wary about chipping in a few million in taxpayer dollars as part of the matching funds for the stadium renovation, they recognize its better than losing the team.

As for the renovations, they are extensive. Stadium capacity will drop from 10,500 to between 8000-8500, and the entire park will be overhauled. David Singleton offers up this take:

Under the proposal, only four elements of the existing stadium would be retained: the lower seating bowl, the playing field, the home locker room and the parking lots, Mr. Schmitt said. Everything else, including the upper-level deck, would be demolished.

The rebuilt stadium would have an elevated single- or double-tier of suites, club seats and media facilities behind home plate, but the rest of the seating would be on or below a concourse that would wrap around the entire playing field like a promenade, he said.

The promenade concept, now popular at many major and minor league stadiums, allows fans to view the game from multiple vantage points, he said. “The idea of a promenade lends itself, we think, to the very leisurely and social aspect of attending a ballgame,” [architect Craig] Schmitt said.

It’s a safe bet to assume that the Yanks will extend their PDC with Scranton well beyond the current 2014 expiration date. For minor league fans in Central Pennsylvania, baseball is seemingly there to stay.