In the words of Brian Cashman…

He's climbin' in your window, snatchin' yo' free agents up. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Now that the baseball world has debated Orlando and everyone is back at home, the Yankees are going to wait. For another day or two or three, Cliff Lee will take center stage as team executives in the Bronx and Arlington wait for the left to make his move. He has a new offer in hand from the Rangers and is now at the point where he must make a decision. Solicit a round of final offers; pick a team.

In an off-season filled with “reality potions” and other zingers, Brian Cashman isn’t disappointing anyone. I don’t envy him his job. If the Yanks win, detractors say it’s because Cashman just signs the checks. If the Yanks lose, it’s his fault they fell two wins short of the World Series. At least he has a sense of humor about himself.

In Orlando this week, Cashman spoke to the gaggle of reporters, and his quotes were blunt and even witty. He started these moments of honesty during the Derek Jeter saga. “Iconic off-the-field value doesn’t translate in my world,” he said.

And what exactly is his world? “I know my title is general manager,” he said this week, “but I consider myself the director of spending of the New York Yankees. I don’t make it. I spend it.”

As for his current situation, he too had a witty remark for it. It is, he said, like “Hannibal Lecter in a straightjacket. Waiting on this Cliff Lee thing, it’s kind of restricting my movements a little bit.”

When pushed for explanation by reporters this morning, he offered up one that rings true. “I wouldn’t say hostage,” he said. “It’s just you have to wait. He’s a premiere free agent and so he’s worth waiting for. So somebody will be happy and somebody will be disappointed. I’d rather be the happy one than the disappointed one. But either way, life will go on so we’ll let the process play out.”

Life will go on, and the process will play out. Many Yankee fans who comment here, who spend their days on Twitter, who call into Michael Kay’s and Mike Francesa’s radio shows, think life will not go on if Cliff Lee re-signs with the Rangers. But it will because the Yankees keep their hand in every pot. They might be hesitant to throw Zack Greinke into the New York mix, but Plan B exists. It’s out there; it’s in the works.

Cashman spoke, in general terms, about that aspect of his job as well. “Sometimes it” — meaning the team’s plans and involvement with other free agents — “could change altogether. Sometimes it could get to the point where it doesn’t make sense. It goes both ways,” Cashman said. “There’s a period of time where certain things make sense, and then sometimes those things become out of reach and don’t make sense, because of the market. There’s an ebb and flow to this stuff every year. We’ve had many a players we’ve had interest in but not at the levels that they were commanding.”

That last line shows you what a general manager should be doing. The Yankees know they could use some help behind the plate; they know they need another southpaw reliever; they know their starting rotation is perilously weak. But they also know that the outfield can be very good without a long-term commitment, and they know what chits they have to trade. It’s frustrating to see the Cliff Lee happenings go down so slowly, but it’s all part of the plan.

CC: Not opting out ‘an easy decision’

So check it out. CC Sabathia hit up Madison Square Garden last night to catch the Knicks down the Raptors, and he wound up on the Boost Mobile Celebrity Row video segment of MSG’s broadcast. The first question Jill Marting asked was about the opt out. “Big news for you,” she said. “You decided not to opt out of your contract. Tell us why?”

CC responded: “I signed up for seven years, and it’s a good organization. We have a chance to win a championship every year. I think that was an easy decision.”

At face value, I’m inclined to believe Sabathia. He hasn’t said that he intends not to opt out; he seems to be saying that he flat-out isn’t opting out. If he is true to his word, CC would become the first big-name player to receive an opt-out and not exercise it. J.D. Drew, A.J. Burnett and Alex Rodriguez all cashed in their opt-out clauses, and if Cliff Lee is on the verge of a seven-year deal, CC would be sacrificing money and long-term job security if he foregoes the opt-out. It’s still unclear, as Joe said yesterday, if CC is truly saying much of anything.

Later on during the interview, CC said he’s not going to Nick Swisher‘s wedding to Joanna Garcia this weekend because he can’t get a babysitter to watch his four kids. His mother, he said, wouldn’t fly out to do it. So take that at face value too. The opt-out doesn’t come due until the end of the 2011 season, and I’d be shocked if CC doesn’t use to get more years, more money or both from the Yanks.

A hat tip to @StadiumInsider on Twitter for tracking down this video clip.

Open Thread: So Long, Orlando

The lobby at The Dolphin, where all the magic happened.

The 2010 Winter Meetings are officially closed for business, and Joe and I are currently on our way back home. We want to take a second to thank everyone we came into contact this week, both new acquaintances and old friends.

The New York  writers were welcoming and helpful as always, especially Erik Boland, Chad Jennings, Andrew Marchand, and Marc Carig. Jack Curry was awesome as well. Then there’s the FanGraphs crew (Dave Cameron, Eno Sarris, and the dark overlord Dave Appelman who bought us not one but two amazing dinners), the ESPN gang (Amanda Rykoff, Keith Law, Jason Collette, Tommy Rancel), and then a laundry list of others (in no particular order): Craig Calcaterra (NBC), Maury Brown (Biz of Baseball), Andrew Johnson (AOL FanHouse), Alex Speier (WEEI),  Eric Hahmann (DRays Bay), Michael Fishman (Yanks’ director of quantitative analysis), the dude Glen that we met eating lunch that was part of the Texas Rangers ownership group, the other guy whose name I can’t remember that was wearing a 2000 Yankees World Series ring and now coaches in the Diamondbacks system that we met having drinks, Jayson Werth who we rode the elevator with minutes before his press conference but didn’t talk to because his family was with him, and the staff at both The Dolphin and Yacht Club resorts. My only regret is not eating more of those undercooked chocolate chip cookies. There’s a good chance I’ve forgotten someone, but I apologize if I did. We’ll be at next year’s meetings in Dallas, which will hopefully be just as awesome.

Oh, and of course, we can’t forget the readers. Thanks for the great although sometimes maddening week. As a reward, I present to you this open thread. The Isles, Rangers, and Nets are all in action, plus you’ve got the Colts and Titans on the NFL Network. Talk about whatever your heart desires, just be cool about it.

Yanks gamble on two in Rule 5 Draft

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The Yankees selected two players in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft, taking lefty reliever Robert Fish from the Angels and righty reliever Daniel Turpen (above) from the Red Sox. Neither player cracked their former teams’ top 30 prospects list in the 2010 edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook, but that’s par for the course in the Rule 5. The Sox originally acquired Turpen from the Giants at this year’s trade deadline in exchange for former Yankee farmhand Ramon Ramirez, and his name also popped up in the Adrian Gonzalez talks, which is not terribly interesting or relevant.

Turpen is the more polished and lower ceilinged prospect of the two. The 24-year-old Oregon State product was an eighth round pick in 2010 after a three-year career as a swingman, squeezed out of the rotation by some of the higher upside arms the perennial College World Series contenders boasted. Turpen’s strikeout rate jumped in the pros, from 5.3 per nine in school to 7.5 as a paid player, somewhat surprising for a generic sinker-slider guy. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder sits 92-94 from a low arm slot according to BA’s Jim Callis, making him a ground ball pitcher that’s tough against righties but suspect against lefties. Over the last two seasons, Turpen’s posted a 2.77 ERA (3.27 FIP) in 136.2 relief innings over the last two seasons.

Fish, 23 in January, is the more intriguing of the two. He was a sixth round pick out of a California high school back in 2006 and spent the next two-and-a-half years as a nondescript starter (4.76 ERA, 4.34 FIP in 300.2 IP). The Angels shifted him to the bullpen at the start of the 2010 season, and although his ERA (8.93) is ugly, the peripherals at the Double-A level were fine (10.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9). Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted that Fish (listed at 6-foot-3, 225 lbs.) is a lefty that hits 95 and can miss bats, evidenced by his 9.1 K/9 in the minors. Back in May, Halos Heaven (ugh) noted that BA graded both his curveball and changeup as average pitches, though scouting reports change over time, so don’t take that to heart. Here’s some video from this past April…

The Yankees tried to trade up in the draft so they could take righty Elvin Rodriguez from the Mets, but they were unable to get it done and he landed with the Nationals. Both Fish and Turpen will compete for bullpen jobs in Spring Training, but it’s unlikely either will stick. They almost never do. Fish will battle minor league free agent pickups Andy Sisco and Neal Cotts for the second lefty job, but his chances of making the team go right out the window if the Yankees sign someone like Pedro Feliciano, Scott Downs, or (please please please) Randy Choate. Turpen will have to outperform players like Ryan Pope and Romulo Sanchez, who are long shots as it is.

I wouldn’t expect much out of the two newest Yankees, but there’s no harm in rolling the dice on some interesting arms and seeing what sticks. With teams paying close to $5M per WAR this offseason, the Yanks would need to get just one one-hundredth of a win out of each player to justify the $50,000 selection cost, and that’s basically one scoreless inning at the big league level. The rate of return is extremely high if a Rule 5 guy sticks, even if he’s nothing more than a specialist reliever like Fish and Turpen.

Yanks offer Lee variety of deals

It appears that the Yankees have gotten creative in their pursuit of Cliff Lee. Jon Heyman reported this morning that the Yankees offered Lee a seventh year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Joel Sherman has the full breakdown of what the Yankees are offering their No. 1 off-season target:

The Yankee offers work on a scale in which the shorter the term offered the higher the annual average value. It is believed the bids work something like this: five years for $125 million, six years for $144 million and seven years for $161 million or $25 million a year, $24 million a year and $23 million a year.

Sherman goes on to say that these aren’t final offers, but rather starting points for negotiations. He brings up the possibility of Lee choosing the 5/125 deal, but working out one or two player options. Whatever the case, it appears that the Yankees are being as flexible as possible in order to accommodate Lee.

The Rangers are currently heading to Arkansas to make their final stand for Lee. I’m not sure they’ll match any of these offers, though. There’s a chance Lee could choose the comfortability of Texas over New York, but it’s tough to count on that. The Yankees have made it clear that they will do what it takes. It’s hard to not feel optimistic about landing Lee at this point.

Yanks inquire on Francisco Liriano

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Think there’s no Plan B in the case the Yankees don’t land Cliff Lee? That does not appear to be the case. In his media session yesterday Joe Girardi said that they had a list of five players that they’d consider in that scenario, and according to Joel Sherman one of those players is Francisco Liriano:

Several teams have called Minnesota to inquire about the availability of ace Francisco Liriano , including the Yankees, who are making sure of what is available in case they don’t land Cliff Lee . But a Twins official said the team is focused on upgrading the front of the rotation and could not imagine how they would let Liriano go unless it were a trade that led to obtaining another high-end starter.

This does strike me as a bit odd, for the same reasons mentioned in the final sentence. Why would the Twins trade their best starter when they’ll be right in the AL Central hunt? It’s nice to hear that the Yanks are calling around for viable alternatives, but as I found when I sought the mystery pitcher, there just isn’t much that figures to be available.

Sherman goes on to mention the White Sox, who are right up against their budget limit after re-signing Paul Konerko, as a possible trade partner. While they almost certainly won’t trade John Danks, they do have Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd. The rotation situation is tough for them, since Jake Peavy will miss the start of the season and his recovery is not guaranteed, but if they want to save some cash they could trade a starter and hope that Chris Sale makes an impact in the rotation. Again, considering the moves the White Sox made this winter, I think they’re more focused on fielding the best possible team than freeing up payroll.

(Unless, of course, they have a move in mind that would improve the team and require a bit more payroll.)

With a seventh year tacked onto the Cliff Lee offer, the Yanks have to be the favorites right now. But they’re not resting comfortably. It’s good to see them looking around the league and inquiring on top-end pitchers. They do have a few nice trade chips, including Jesus Montero, so they have room to maneuver. What will be even more interesting is if they land Lee and continue shopping for a top-end pitcher. But we’ll worry about that after the weekend, when Lee will supposedly make his decision.