What happens if the Yanks miss out on Lee?

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Most of what I’ve seen written in the last week or so claims that the Yankees are doomed if they don’t sign free agent lefty Cliff Lee, double doomed if Andy Pettitte retires. They certainly will be worse off going into the 2011 season, no doubt about that, but they still have a team capable of making the postseason. Hell, they won the division from 2004 through 2007 with far worse rotations than one anchored by CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes.

We’ve explored a number of potential Plan B options should the Yankees fail to sign Lee, including guys like Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, Tom Gorzelanny, Carl Pavano, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Carpenter, and Zack Greinke. Countless other names have been mentioned by the masses, most of them unattainable (i.e. Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson). Here’s the thing though: if they do lose out on Lee for whatever reason, every other team in baseball will know that the Yankees are desperate for pitching, and the prices are going to sky rocket. It’s simply supply and demand.

Because of this, I would not at all be surprised if the real Plan B is to do nothing to help the pitching staff for the rest of the offseason and instead wait to see how the first few months of the 2011 season play out.  Well, “do nothing” is a relative term, “do little” would be more appropriate. Brian Cashman would still have to add someone to the starting staff just to increase organizational depth, but it won’t be any kind of long-term solution. Perhaps he gambles on the health of Brad Penny or Justin Duchscherer or even Brandon Webb for a few months, or goes with the surefire mediocrity that is Kevin Millwood. A small move just to lighten the load on Ivan Nova and whoever else (Sergio Mitre?) is at the back of the rotation for the time being.

Cashman’s mantra has been patience since the day he took over full control of the baseball operations, and I don’t see why this would be any different. Waiting out the offseason and seeing what happens in April and May gives the front office more information to use when making a decision, which is always a good thing. Maybe Burnett rebounds to his 2009 self, maybe Hughes takes another step forward, maybe Nova pulls off a mean Chien-Ming Wang impression, or maybe they all suck and the rotation is Sabathia and four question marks. In that case, they’re screwed anyway, with or without Lee. Patience will allow the trade market to develop, to see if the Cardinals fall out of it and Carpenter does become available, or if the Dodgers flop and put Hiroki Kuroda on the market, or if Lance Pendleton and Aneury Rodriguez and Ryan Rowland-Smith work out for the Astros, making Wandy Rodriguez expendable. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

There’s no more Cliff Lee’s out there, which is why the Yankees want the real Lee so badly. He only costs money (and a draft pick), their greatest asset, and it’ll be a few years before a pitcher of this caliber is on the open market. The answer to losing him isn’t to run out in desperation and trade for a pitcher you may not want just for the sake of adding a pitcher. We’ve seen what knee-jerk, reactionary moves like that can do, and the result is never good. Remember, the Yankees don’t need to be the best team in baseball from April through July, they just need to be the best team at the end of the season and in a position to do some damage in a short playoff series (ideally three). We’ve seen major bullpen makeovers over the last three seasons, and if they fail to sign Lee, they might just have to bank on a mid-season rotation makeover.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 13th, 2010

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:128}

Mailbag: Mark Buehrle

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Any chance the Yankees show an interest in Mark Buehrle? He’s owed $14 million in the last year of his contract and it sounds like the Sox will listen to offers. What do you think it would take to get him? Given his contract situation, he might be cheaper than some of the other fallback plans.

The ChiSox are willing to listen to offers for their nominal ace according to Nick Cafardo, and they’re sure to get a ton of bites. Buehlre’s reputation as a top flight pitcher is prevalent throughout the game even though his performance doesn’t exactly back it up, but that’s not to say he’s a bad pitcher. He’s obviously quite good. I guess a perfect game, a no hitter, and a World Series championship can cloud people’s perception. Crazy, I know.

Buehrle’s value lies primarily in his supreme durability. He’s made no fewer than 30 starts or thrown fewer than 201 innings in each of the last ten seasons, averaging 33 and 222 during that time, respectively. Simply put, this is a guy a team can count on to take the ball deep into the game every fifth day, and there’s a ton of value in that (no fewer than 3.4 fWAR in nine of the last ten years).

Now, the underlying performance is a bit of an issue. Buehrle doesn’t strike anyone out, which is always a concern. His strikeout rate dipped to just 4.24 batters per nine innings in 2010, down from 4.43 in 2009, 5.76 in 2008, and just north of 6.00 at his peak. Unsurprisingly, his swing-and-miss rate has been dangerously low at 6.7% over the last five years, well below the ~8.6% league average. For comparison’s sake, Sergio Mitre posted an identical 6.7% whiff rate in 2010. Buehrle makes up for the lack of strikeouts by getting a good amount of ground balls but certainly not a ton; his 46.8% grounder rate over the last three seasons is identical to CC Sabathia‘s and the 24th best in baseball.

If you’re not going to strike anyone out or get an excessive amount of ground balls, you can’t walk yourself into trouble, and Buehrle excels at avoiding free passes. He’s unintentionally walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings pitched in his career, a rate that held true last year, the last three years, and the last five years. Consistency, they name is Buehrle. Concerned about all those miles on his arm catching up to him a la Javy Vazquez? Don’t be, Buehrle’s sat at 86.4 mph with his fastball over the last four seasons. Yeah, the velocity was never there in the first place. He succeeds by throwing three different fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter) and a changeup with great regularity (no fewer than 15.4% of the time each last season).

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With the lack a knock-out breaking ball and the inability to get strike three, it’s inevitable that any pitcher will get hit around a bit, and Buehrle is no exception. His 708 hits allowed over the last three seasons (.304 BABIP) are the most in baseball, and the 66 homers are the 22nd most during the same time frame. Left-handers have gotten him for a .345 wOBA and righties a .325 wOBA since 2008, both worse than league average. His 4.10 FIP since ’08 is just a touch better than Ted Lilly’s and A.J. Burnett‘s, though his 4.38 xFIP lags a bit behind those two. Buehrle is what he is, a true innings eater that is good for solid but unspectacular performances. His reputation as an ace is a bit puzzling, but he’s certainly a fine pitcher.

Should the Yankees be interested if they fail to sign Cliff Lee? Sure, they absolutely need two starters this offseason and a pitcher of Buehrle’s caliber is a big upgrade over the Ivan Novas of the world. He’ll pull down a cool $14M in 2011 before hitting the free agent market, so a trade would have to be viewed as a rental. The Yanks gave up a fringe big leaguer, a top pitching prospect, and a decent relief prospect for Vazquez last year, who was cheaper and coming off a better season than Buehrle is this winter. I don’t see why they should give up any more this time around.

We do run into a similar problem with Buehrle as we did with Gavin Floyd, in that it doesn’t appear the two teams line up well for a trade. Chicago’s in the hunt for a third baseman and relief help, and the Yanks can’t really spare either. Brandon Laird and Joba Chamberlain shouldn’t be enough for Buehrle, nor would I want the Yanks to surrender Joba for a one year rental. Whether or not a trade can be worked out is not my responsibility, but if the price is right, it certainly makes sense for the Yankees to go after the lefty if they can’t land Lee. Hell, even if Lee does sign with the Yanks, Buehrle would be a fine replacement for Andy Pettitte should he call it a career.

Update: Turns out that Buehrle’s contract has some trade-related perks. If traded, his 2011 salary is increased to $15M, and what amounts to a $15M option for 2012 automatically vests. That’s a problem because Buehrle isn’t young and doesn’t have much margin for error to begin with, so it really hurts his value and stock as a trade target.

Open Thread: Jimmy Key

(AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Yesterday it was Mike Mussina, today we’ll go with Jimmy Key. No particular reason, the Ben Shpigel link in today’s link dump made me think of him. I remember Key as being solid but unspectacular, though his numbers suggest he was a lot better than a realized, with a 5.2 WAR season in 1993 and a 4.1 WAR season in 1994. Of course, I think everyone remembers Key for Game Six of the 1996 World Series, when he outdueled Greg Maddux en route to New York’s 23rd World Championship. Good times, good times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The late NFL game features the Eagles at the Cowboys (doesn’t it seem like these two play every Sunday or Monday?), plus the Rangers Knicks, and Nets are in action. You all know what to do, so have at it.

New faces in winter ball

I know I’ve been slacking on the winter ball updates since the Arizona Fall League season ended, but let’s catch up on all the action now, starting with the two newest Yankees…

Arizona Fall League
Robert Fish: 11 G, 10.1 IP, 17 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 2 HB, 1 WP (10.45 ERA, 2.13 WHIP) – the Yanks’ first Rule 5 Draft pick
Daniel Turpen: 10 G, 11.2 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 1 WP, 2 HB (5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) – and their second

Australian Baseball League
Nathan Aron: 8 G, 4 for 15, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 6 K, 1 HBP (.267/.294/.333)
Kyle Perkins: 2 G, 0 for 2, 2 K

Dominican Winter League
Colin Curtis: 12 G, 10 for 43, 8 R, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 8 BB, 6 K (.233/.353/.302)
Eduardo Nunez: 6 G, 8 for 23, 4 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 CS (.348/.333/.391) – only Nunez could manage an AVG > OBP
Francisco Santana: 10 G, 4 for 14, 2 R, 2 RBI, 3 K (.286/.286/.286)
Wilkins Arias: 16 G, 13.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 16 K (2.03 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) – kinda surprised he didn’t get selected in the Rule 5 Draft, but then again not really

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 41 G, 33 for 113, 27 R, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 BB, 31 K, 4 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.292/.349/.381)
Ramiro Pena: 21 G, 18 for 80, 9 R, 5 2B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 9 BB, 17 K, 1 CS (.225/.300/.325)
Jorge Vazquez: 27 G, 29 for 97, 14 G, 7 2B, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 10 BB, 31 K, 1 CS (.299/.361/.557)
Francisco Gil: 4 G, 6 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP (10.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP)
Andy Sisco: 12 G, 12 GS, 60.2 IP, 52 H, 31 R, 27 ER, 32 BB, 67 K, 1 HB, 6 WP (4.01 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) – signed as a minor league free agent recently, definitely in the mix for the second LOOGY job
Eric Wordekemper: 21 G, 19.1 IP, 21 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 11 BB, 19 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (6.05 ERA, 1.66 WHIP)

Venezuelan Winter League
Luis Nunez: 8 G, 3 for 13, 1 R, 1 BB (.231/.286/.231)
Jose Pirela: 16 G, 17 for 55, 11 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 CS (.309/.333/.473) – this is after his hideous AzFL stint
Romulo Sanchez: 14 G, 11.2 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 8 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (6.17 ERA, 1.89 WHIP)
Amaury Sanit: 2 G, 2 GS, 7.2 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP (4.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP)
Josh Schmidt: 10 H, 9 ER, 50.2 IP, 31 H, 13 R, 12 ER, 22 BB, 48 K, 4 HB (2.13 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)

Cashman: Yanks will not increase offer to Lee

Brian Cashman told George King that the Yankees will not increase their offer to free agent lefty Cliff Lee. Although Cashman indicated that he has spoken to agent Darek Braunecker since the winter meetings, he simply said “no” when asked if he’d increase his offer in terms of dollars and/or years. First of all, Cashman’s not going to state publicly that he’s willing to up the offer, keep that in mind. Secondly, you can’t blame the Yanks GM here, they already offered Lee a menu of huge dollar deals that are more than fair. The ball is in Lee’s court now, everyone’s made their best offer. Time to decide, Cliff.

Link Dump: Maddux, Romine, Farm System

It’s raining cats and dogs in the Tri-State Area, but at least it’s better than what’s going on in Minnesota. Here are a few links to check out before the Jets kick off…

The Last Time The Yankees Didn’t Get Their Man

As the Cliff Lee circus continues to play out, it’s tough for many young fans to remember the last time the Yankees failed to sign a free agent they coveted. Ben Shpigel recapped the courtship of Greg Maddux, in which then-GM Gene Michael went above and beyond the normal call of duty only to be left in the dark. It’s also easy to forget that the Yanks were turned down by David Cone, Doug Drabek, and Barry Bonds that offseason, instead settling for Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs. Given how the late-90’s played out (especially against Maddux’s Braves), I’d say things worked out in the end.

Romine Trying To Keep The Family Business Alive

The Romine family is a baseball family, with father Kevin playing for the Red Sox back in the day and son Andrew suiting up for the Angels this past September. Austin is still trying to work his way up the minor league ladder, but Anthony McCarron caught up with the Yankee catching prospect about his upbringing. It’s a really interesting read, little did we know that Austin’s first steps came wearing a Red Sox shirt on the field in Fenway Park. Make sure you check it out.

Farm System Discussion

John Sickels at Minor League Ball is hosting a discussion thread about the Yankees farm system, part of his annual look at each team’s top twenty prospects. The comments can be both informative and borderline insane, but it’s worth a scroll through.

Oh, and Nick Swisher got married yesterday. Congrats, Swish.