December bombshell: Lee signs with the Phillies

Right mound. Wrong team. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After days of hand-wringing by fans of the Yankees and the Rangers, the Cliff Lee saga came to a stunning conclusion when the Philadelphia Phillies landed their once and future lefthander. According to reports, Lee will sign a five-year deal worth approximately $120 million guaranteed with a vesting option for a sixth year. The Yankees, for the first time since Greg Maddux signed with the Braves nearly 20 years ago, are left empty-handed as the Number One item on their Hot Stove wishlist slipped away to a mystery team.

For the Yankees, this shocking turn of events caps off a week and a half of rumors galore. The baseball world had held its breath over the weekend as Lee debated whether or not to take an offer to remain in Texas or join the Yanks. Still, rumblings of a mystery team would not die, and according to numerous reports, the Phillies leaped into the fray this weekend when Lee made it be known that he was itching to return to Philadelphia.

After all of the hours of silence and the countless cries of “what does it mean,” the Yankees are once again left Lee-less. Perhaps they dodged a bullet when the Mariners backed out of a trade that would have sent Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Lee. Perhaps the Yanks would have gotten just four months of Lee and six years of pining for Montero. We’ll never know, and we’ll leave that hand-writing to the Rangers who got their first World Series appearance but gave up Justin Smoak in the process. They’re arguably worse off than the Yankees today.

For the Bombers, the only question that remains — and I say only heavily — is about the future. What comes next? Were the season to start tomorrow — and it does not — the rotation would feature CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova (if the club, as rumor has it, is intent on keeping Joba in the pen). Come Opening Day, that won’t be the rotation. The Yanks will court Andy Pettitte and hope that he has enough faith in his aging body to take the ball for another year.

But beyond Pettitte, what’s out there in the great unknown of the trade market? We saw the Blue Jays surrender Shawn Marcum for Brett Lawrie. So we know that trades can be made and pitchers acquired. We hear that the White Sox will shop Mark Buehrle, that the Cardinals may make some arms available, that Zack Greinke, despite the Yanks’ concerns about his mental make-up, can be had. We think the Marlins might part with Ricky Nolasco, and we don’t know about countless other pitchers. We know injuries guys like Brandon Webb remain available. We know that the Yanks have money and prospects. They can make a deal.

So we’ll lick our wounds and perhaps rock ourselves to sleep tonight. The Yanks and their millions rarely lose out. They offered Lee $148 million — six years at $22 million with a seventh year player option for $16 million — and club officials now believe Lee never wanted to come to New York. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. What happens next will be a test of GM Brian Cashman, and the 95-win Yanks who missed the World Series by two wins this year will be just fine by the time pitchers and catchers report. Lee will always be the one who got away.

Phillies making late push for Lee

As the mystery over the mystery team involved in the mysterious Cliff Lee sweepstakes boiled all day, we heard low-level rumors that the Phillies might be involved in the negotiations. This evening, Ken Rosenthal’s sources confirm that the Phillies are indeed involved in the bidding for Lee. Rosenthal’s source did say it would take “nothing short of a miracle” for the team to fit Lee into their budget, but the club is “not out” of it yet.

It’s tough to say what’s going on here. The Phillies could be showing legitimate interest as they have contracts coming off the books, but the club isn’t going to match the seven years the Yankees have reportedly put on the table. This might be a move by Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker to push up the Yanks’ offer by $5-$10 million or it could be the Phillies’ salivating over a rotation of Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt in 2011. Either way, it appears as though this saga will last at least another night.

Update (9:26 p.m.): Jerry Crasnick has more on the Phillies, who, he says, jumped into the hunt “with fervor” after the Winter Meetings. The ESPN scribe’s sources say that Lee is close to a decision. It will all be over soon.

Update (9:51 p.m.): The YES Network’s own Jack Curry has jumped into the fray. He tweets that “there is a belief” that Lee will wind up with the Phillies. But here’s the rub: Lee will have to accept far fewer dollars and perhaps a shorter contract to sign with the Phillies. It’s all happening now.

Open Thread: Charlie Hayes

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I dunno why, but I’ve been on a bit of a retro kick of lately, hence the recent Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, and Darryl Strawberry posts. Anyway, everyone remembers Charlie Hayes for that moment right there, the final out of the 1996 World Series, and I suspect he’s perfectly fine with that. It’s easy to forget that Hayes was a fine player for a lot of years though. He put up 2.6 fWAR for the Yanks as their regular third baseman in 1992, and almost a third of career 14.0 fWAR came in pinstripes. Hayes’ big year came with the Rockies in 1993 (after they grabbed him in the expansion draft), when Coors Field helped him hit .305/.355/.552 with 4.1 fWAR. It’s all about that catch though, when you hear the name Charlie Hayes, you can’t help but put a smile on your face because of that weak little foul pop-up.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s your open thread for the evening. We’ve got not one but two football games tonight. The regular MNF game has the Ravens at the Texas, but the Giants are also playing the Vikings in Detroit because the Metrodome roof collapsed yesterday. That game will air on FOX in the Tri-State area. The Isles are also in action. Go ahead and talk about whatever you want, just be cool.

Food For Thought: Darryl Strawberry

What coulda been, eh?

Straw is still my all-time favorite player. I grew up one of two Yankee fans (along with my grandfather) in a family full of Mets fans, and I couldn’t not love Strawberry when he was in his heyday in the 80’s. When he caught on with the Yanks in the ’90’s, I couldn’t have been more excited. I was so young and I didn’t fully understand the power of addiction, and I remember always wondering why he didn’t just stop doing drugs and play baseball all time. It’s too bad things ended up the way they did, he could have been an all-time great.

(related graphs)

The RAB Radio Show: December 13, 2010

Hey, it’s the day Cliff Lee might or might not choose his team. Let’s hope that it’s not Groundhog Day tomorrow. But don’t blame Lee for taking his time. It’s not as though he’s going on a league-wide tour and announcing his decision on ESPN. He’s just a guy who’s taking his time with a major life decision. Well, that, and he’s trying to extract every last dollar out of the deal. Can you really blame him?

One thing this isn’t doing is holding up the Yanks’ winter. I don’t think any of the Lee backup plans are time sensitive, and truth told there might not be that heavy a backup plan. And so we wait.

But could they at least throw us a bone with a Russell Martin signing? Is that too much to ask?

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Did Mo really contact the Red Sox?

(Kathy Willens/AP)

While the re-signing of Mariano Rivera was relatively uneventful, there was an interesting twist. When news of the signing broke we learned that Rivera had other offers, and we later learned that one came from the Red Sox. The idea of a three-year, $51 million offer was shot down, but later word was that the Red Sox had offered two years and $30 million. Futhermore, ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox were prepared to non-tender Jonathan Papelbon in the event that they landed Rivera. That left the Sox a little mess to clean.

A recent report from WEEI’s Rob Bradford attempts to walk back most of the story. It starts with the revelation that Mariano’s agent, Fernando Cuza, initiated contact with the Red Sox. When we first learned of the Red Sox offer it was assumed that they were the ones who contacted Rivera. Bradford’s scenario does make a bit of sense, though. What better way to attract the Yankees’ interest than by contacting the Red Sox?

The report also attempts to walk back the other part of the situation, i.e. Papelbon’s imminent non-tender. Bradford cites “separate sources,” and goes on to list the reasons why the Red Sox would never let Papelbon walk for nothing. If they offer him arbitration after the 2011 season, when he becomes a free agent, they can collect two compensatory draft picks if he signs elsewhere. Of course, that overlooks the possibility that Papelbon really is declining and that not only will he not be worth his salary in 2011, but that he won’t be worth the risk of an arbitration offer, thereby netting the Sox nothing if he leaves.

Still, it would represent a poor distribution of resources for the Red Sox to carry both Rivera at $15 million and Papelbon at $12 million. That’s more than the Rays will pay their entire pitching staff in 2011. The Red Sox can afford it, I suppose, but I doubt they’d do it. Plus, since the market for closers isn’t very strong, they’d have a hard time finding a taker for Papelbon at that salary. In the unthinkable event that Mo signed with Boston, I have to think that Boston would have cut ties with Papelbon. They can say, then, that they never intended to non-tender Papelbon, because they never really stood a chance to sign Mo.

There figured to be little drama in the Mariano negotiations, and as it concerned the Yankees there was not. Wanting to minimize risk, they wanted to sign him for only one year. He, wanting another two years before retirement, sought two years. His being Mariano Rivera, I’m sure the Yankees were prepared to go two years all along. It just took the Red Sox offer to prod them along. Might Rivera have contacted the Red Sox to get the process moving? Sure. Might the Red Sox have been willing to carry both Papelbon and Rivera? Maybe. But neither seems all that realistic. After the mess that Edes’s report created, I’m not surprised to see a contradictory one a few weeks later.

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.