Cliff Lee negotiations moving slowly — or not at all

If a Cliff Lee deal is going to get done this week, they’ll have to get things moving pretty quickly. We heard last week that his agent, Darek Braunecker, wasn’t going to take any offers until the Winter Meetings commenced. “He wants to be the ringmaster at the winter meetings,” said a source of ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews. Yet here we are, almost done with Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, and Braunecker still hasn’t started fielding offers, according to Ken Rosenthal.

The Yankees have refrained from making an offer to Lee at the request of his agent, Darek Braunecker, according to sources in contact with the club.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, anxious to close a deal, has privately expressed his frustration to others at the winter meetings about the team’s inability to move the negotiations along, sources say.

Emphasis mine. The Yankees’ interest in Lee is universally known, and Braunecker is going to use this to his advantage. His strategy apparently includes making the Yankees sweat. With no viable alternatives readily available, there’s not much that the Yankees can do about this. All they can do is continue to wait for Braunecker to accept an offer.

There is hope, though, that the situation gets moving tonight. Marc Carig reports that Brian Cashman will meet with Braunecker tonight. We’ve heard a slew of rumors today, including a team, not necessarily the Nationals, willing to offer seven years. It appears to go hand-in-hand with rumors we’ve heard already, which mostly sound like a ploy to get the Yankees’ offer to six, or maybe even seven, years. There’s a chance we could find out more on that front in a few hours.

It is interesting that the two sides are meeting tonight, after moving slowly through the process to this point. It almost resembles the CC Sabathia situation from two years ago. That situation moved slowly — not at all, really, since the Yankees made an offer in mid-November and didn’t hear back until the Meetings — but it started to gain steam not on Tuesday during the day, but Tuesday evening. I’m not as optimistic that something moves with Lee tonight. Then again, I wasn’t at all optimistic that Cashman would get anything done with Sabathia at the 2008 meetings.

For right now we’re left with a mostly unclear situation. Maybe it becomes clearer after Braunecker meets with Cashman this evening. But even if it does I don’t expect anything to get done this week. Lee and his agent are going to take their time getting something done, no matter what other teams think of it.

A quick look at Tom Gorzelanny

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Earlier this morning a rumor surfaced that the Cubs are shopping left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, somewhat surprising after he managed 2.3 fWAR in just 136.1 innings in 2010. The Yankees are perpetually looking for pitching, especially since Andy Pettitte is on the brink of retirement and Cliff Lee may or may not be getting a monster contract offer from the Nationals. I’m not sure the two teams match up for a trade (Chicago’s looking for a lefty hitting first baseman, and not someone like Juan Miranda), so this may all be for naught. Either way, let’s explore.

Gorzelanny, 28, broke in with the Pirates a few years ago and was pretty good for them in 2007 (2.9 fWAR, 201.2 IP, 4.24 FIP), but he struggled in 2008 (6.35 FIP) and was shipped to the Cubs for nothing spectacular in 2009. His fine 2010 season featured a good amount of strikeouts (7.86 K/9) and an above average amount of swings-and-misses (9.7%), an important underlying skill. Gorz is generally a ground ball guy as well, sitting between 40.3% and 40.8% over the last three years, though he can definitely be a little homer prone (one for every 7.2 IP over the last three years).

A three-pitch guy (FB, SL, CH) with a fastball right around 90, Gorzelanny actually isn’t very effective against lefties, holding them to a .309 wOBA in his career and .351 this year, though the 2010 number is inflated by five triples (two doubles, four homers). That seems rather fluky since a) Wrigley’s not a triples park, and b) he’s given up six triples to lefties his entire career. I wouldn’t expect the triples thing to continue. As far as his contract goes, he’s arbitration eligible for the second time as a Super Two, meaning Gorz is still under team control for another three years. After earning $800,000 this season, he’ll get a bump to $2M or so.

Gorzelanny would certainly give the Yankees some pitching depth, but he wouldn’t be anything more than a back-end arm. Even in the two best years of his career (2007 and 2010), he still walked close to three-and-a-half batters per nine unintentionally. That combined with homer tendencies and the lack of dominance against lefties hold him back, but there’s nothing wrong with a solid starter in the fifth spot. Also, Gorzelanny would be a) too expensive for LOOGY work, and b) again, he’s not great against same side batters.

I wouldn’t be opposed to picking Gorzelanny up as sort of a Plan B or C option, but I wouldn’t expect great things and I wouldn’t give up a ton either. Like I said, I don’t see the two teams matching up for a deal given Chicago’s needs.

Joe Torre at the managers’ press conference

Today at the Winter Meetings Major League Baseball held a press conference to honor four long-time managers who announced their retirements in 2010: Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston, and Bobby Cox. Unfortunately, Cox was not able to attend. Long-time Braves GM and current club president John Schuerholz took his place. I have video for all of them, but they’re taking a while to upload. The Torre one, of course, is the most relevant to our interests.

You can’t see it in the video, but he’s rocking his World Series ring. In fact, the only one who wasn’t was Lou.

Feinsand: Nats to offer Lee seven-year contract

Via Mark Feinsand, the Nationals are preparing to offer Cliff Lee a seven-year contract, someplace the Yankees don’t appear to be willing to go. Jon Heyman adds that contract length is very important to Lee, and it’s hard to believe someone would match seven years, let alone exceed it. That said, Adam Kilgore spoke to some people in the Nats’ front office that shot the report right down. “Not happening” and “zero chance” were the quotes du jour.

Update (12:25 p.m.): Jon Heyman reports that the Nationals are not interested in Lee and won’t be offering him seven years. Team to make offer, team later denies it. News at 11.

Yankees checked in on Harden

Via Jon Paul Morosi, the Yankees are one of several teams that have checked in a free agent righty Rich Harden. Harden’s talent is obvious, but at this point it’s pretty clear that he won’t ever reach the ceiling so many projected. He’s been on the disabled list eight times in the last five seasons, dealing with everything from shoulder and elbow and hip strains to back soreness to a sore glute. Even beyond that though, Harden’s walked five guys for every nine innings pitched, and he’s an extreme fly ball guy (close to 50% over the last three years). The Yanks might be looking at a reliever, but still, pass. Just doesn’t fit.

The Clifton and Carsten comparison

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

One of the game’s preeminent left-handed starters is a free agent, and he’s very much on the Yanks’ radar. In fact, it’s been an open secret for nearly a year that the Yankees have wanted to pursue this pitcher once he hits the open market, but there are fears that another team could step in. Rumors are that he enjoys playing close to home. Rumors are that if his home town team gives him the right contract, he’d gladly take it over a similar offer from the Yankees. Rumors are he wants more years than the Yanks want to give him, and that could be the so-called dealbreaker.

It’s beginning to sound a lot like CC, isn’t it? Clifton Phifer Lee and Carsten Charles Sabathia have been good friends since their days on the Indians. While the two didn’t come up together, they were teammates from 2002 until 2008, and if Brian Cashman and the Yankees have their way, the two lefties will again don the same uniforms.

The similarities in their free agent storylines are uncannily similar, and that’s no coincidence. In each case, the Yanks made it known that they wanted the pitcher in question, and in each case, the player’s side is playing it coy. Ultimately, it will come down to the dollars. If the Yankees overwhelm every other offer, as they have the resources to do, Lee will be in the Bronx come April. The pressure from the Players Union as well as the allure of the dollars is too strong to overcome whatever ties Lee built up over just three months in Texas.

But as the back of my mind is a question about the Lee and Sabathia sagas: Do we want them to end the same way? Do we truly want Lee to sign a six- or possibly seven-year mega-deal for Sabathia bucks?

For starters, a few key years separate Sabathia from Lee. When CC signed with the Yanks, he had just finished his age 27 season. It was the ideal time for him to hit free agency, and he signed a contract that could cover up through and including his age 34 season. Lee, on the other hand, just threw his age 31 season. A six-year deal would lock him up through his age 37 season and a seven-year deal through age 38. In baseball years, that’s a significant difference.

In Newsday today, Ken Davidoff opines on the Yanks’ choice. It’s quite the conundrum, he says:

Common sense tells you that the Yankees, who appear increasingly desperate to sign the lefthander, will be the team to step up to six. In doing so, they’ll ensure that Lee turns away the Rangers, for whom he enjoyed playing so much.

And baseball wisdom tells you that the Yankees, by doing so, again would be sacrificing long-term viability for the sake of a short-term gain. It’s a practice they’ve exhibited too often, even since Brian Cashman took full control of the baseball operations after the 2005 season.

On the one hand, the Yanks have been willing to let players go. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon were both dispatched from New York amidst fan outcry, but the team didn’t suffer without them. On the other hand, though, the Yankees are saddled with A-Rod‘s monster contract, with A.J. Burnett‘s right arm, with three or four years of 37-and-counting Derek Jeter at 27-and-counting dollars. The team is paying more and more now to win later without focusing too much on the downside of that strategy.

One day, it’ll come back to bite the Yanks. Maybe in 2013 or 2014, we’ll suffer through a mediocre year of aging players who must play out the final few years of their careers and mega-contracts. Maybe we’ll regret this spending spree. Will another World Series make it all OK? That, said Davidoff, is “tomorrow’s problem.” Today, we worry about what it will take to land Lee, misgivings and all.