In celebration of Cliff Lee’s series-clinching complete game, we turn to two mailbag questions regarding the connection between him and the Yankees.
WWJMD ask: With a good post-season, can we consider Hughes the #2 starter going into 2011? If so and if Andy returns, wouldn’t it be better to go after a middle of the rotation starter instead of Lee and use the money saved towards the bench and contract extensions?
Do we really need a third veteran free agent starter signed multi-year well into their 30’s? I like Lee but at most on a Halladay-type deal and only if the yankees find a way to cut losses on Burnett (even if it means cutting him or eating his salary through trade). The team needs to start making room for young talent, hopefully by 2012 implementing hughes chamberlain and some of the “B’s” in the rotation. The opportunity cost of having a stale unflexible starting staff is high as seen through the mid-2000’s.
To the Hughes question, I’d say no. Among the current crop of Yankees pitchers there’s a good chance he’ll be second best in 2011. But, because the best pitcher in baseball hits the free agent market, there’s a better chance that he’ll be third best.
The rest of the question, and the entire second question, run counter to what we hear from the most vocal fans. Every day, but especially on days that Lee pitches, we hear clamoring for his presence in pinstripes. He is over 30 and will require a costly contract, but that’s what any team will have to pay. Why not the Yankees?
It’s true that even without Lee the Yankees should have a formidable rotation in 2011. Sabathia will return as the top man, and if Phil Hughes can build on his 2010 he could be an excellent second option. Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett will likely come next. That leaves one spot open for competition. We’d see guys like Ivan Nova, Joba Chamberlain, and even perhaps some of the AAA guys like David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell, get a shot at that last spot. Or, as the first reader suggests, they could sign a mid-rotation arm.
In a recent mailbag we explored alternatives to Cliff Lee and came up empty. Today I’ll throw out one alternative as a mid-rotation arm: Jorge De La Rosa. In the past few years, as he has entered his prime, he has developed as a pitcher. This year he started to throw his changeup more often, and according to pitch type values it has gotten better in each of the last three years. His fastball isn’t great, but he still throws 93, 94, which teams will always find attractive, especially from a left-handed pitcher. He also has a good slider that he breaks out as his third pitch.
Still, he’s no Cliff Lee. Slotting him in behind Sabathia gives the Yankees the kind of rotation they thought they had in 2009. It also affords them some depth, since those guys who otherwise would have competed for a rotation spot will now be stored in the bullpen or in AAA. As we saw this season, and even last, depth can become important mid-season when one guy or another goes on DL. The Yanks should have a few options to replace any injured starter in 2011.
To the point of saving money, why would the Yankees do that? Their No. 1 resource is their capital. The issue of signing bench guys isn’t necessarily money. It’s convincing a bench player to sit while Cano, Jeter, Teixeira, and A-Rod take the field almost every day. Trading for bench guys is the way to go. We’ve seen that work in the past few years. Plus, bench guys aren’t typically expensive. If they are, chances are the Yanks don’t want him on the bench.
The point in the second question about making room for young talent is something the Yankees should certainly consider, but ultimately it shouldn’t be a consideration when making Lee an offer. We’re all hyped about Banuelos, Brackman, and Betances. But we all know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that the Yanks would be extremely lucky to have even one of them work out. Prospects are a crapshoot. Some get hurt, some don’t continue to develop, some flop at the major league level. You can wish on a prospect, but you shouldn’t let one, or three, get in the way of signing baseball’s best pitcher.
Even then, I’m not sure it’s a long-term issue. There is little chance that any of the three is ready before 2012. By that point Andy Pettitte will almost certainly retire. For all we know, Sabathia could opt out and leave (even though he’s indicated that he won’t). Burnett will have just two years left on his deal. Someone could get hurt. There will be spots open in the rotation. There’s no need to pass on Lee just to create another one. If they do that, they could run into the other problem of the 00s: a complete dearth of quality pitchers.
Also, there is a maybe a 0.5 percent chance that Burnett pitches anywhere else next season. You don’t eat $52 million on a guy who can come back and help you next season.