Rationalizing a tough decision

The Yankees and Cliff Lee just can’t seem to avoid each other. The 32-year-old lefty nearly found himself in pinstripes on July 9, 2010 before the Seattle Mariners backed out of a deal with the Yanks. Brian Cashman then pushed hard to land Lee during the winter, but as we know, his offer fell short not because of money but because Lee simply wanted to go to Philadelphia. It sent shockwaves through baseball and had a deep impact on the Yanks’ winter.

Since that fateful day when the Phillies emerged as the mystery team intent on locking up a starter they wanted but didn’t need for a lot of dollars, both Cliff Lee and his wife have tried to rationalize the decision. Perhaps they truly wanted to be in Philadelphia because Cliff enjoyed his time there and his wife liked the city. Perhaps they are trying to justify leaving dollars, even a few, on the table. Whatever the case may be, their public statements have ranged from strange to flat-out mind-bogglingly wrong.

In Wednesday’s podcast, Joe and Mike went to town on Lee after his latest statements. They weren’t alone. So too did Brian Cashman, and it helps to put these latest words about the Yankees — in Lee’s mind, an old time — in context.

Since arriving in the City of Brotherly Love, Lee has done his part to mention the edge Philadelphia has over New York City at nearly every turn. In December, Lee’s wife Kristen seemed to take some responsibility for the designer. She was upset at Yankee fans’ behavior during the ALCS (as though Philly fans are the model of polite) and also said she appreciated the city’s amenities. “We liked the easy travel on a train for our kids to other cities and the good cultural experience for them here,” she said. “It was fun to live in a city and have a whole different lifestyle than in Arkansas.”

Of course, New Yorkers took this personally. If the Lees truly wanted a “whole different lifestyle” than in Arkansas, they needed to look no further than New York City. We have more trains and more “cultural experiences” than Philadelphia. If anything, it was a rationalization. Fine.

But Cliff wouldn’t let it lie. While speaking with a Philadelphia radio station last week, he again brought up the Yankees and placed them third behind the Phillies and Rangers in the off-season sweepstakes. Why? Because as he put it, “some of the Yankeee guys are getting older.” Of course, everyone is always getting older.

Lee continued in this strange vein: “Texas probably finished second to be honest with you. Just as far as the quality of the team and the chance to win a World Series ring, I think they’re a better team. That’s just my opinion. The Yankees can do anything at any moment to improve and they’re not afraid to go do things. That was part of the decision-making process, too, but I felt like with what the Red Sox had done and it seems like some of the Yankee guys are getting older, but I liked the Rangers.”

Brian Cashman responded vehemently. “Clearly I’ve made an effort to make the team younger,” he said to The Post. He added, “Some of our core guys that we have relied on have gotten up there, but we have a group of young players that we’re excited about. All we care about is being called champions. You can say anything else you want about us. When you call us old, that’s fine.”

As many others pointed out on Wednesday, Lee is simply wrong. The Yankees, on average, are a year younger than the Phillies, and whereas the Yanks have an aging left side of the infield, Placido Polanco is three months younger than A-Rod. Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins might be younger than Derek Jeter but doesn’t play like it, and Chase Utley’s knee appears to be on the verge of giving out on him. The age difference is an illusion brought on by the Core Four media narrative, and nothing more.

Ultimately, Lee’s words don’t matter that much. He didn’t want to come to New York, and he didn’t come to New York. He also gave up job security and dollars to go to Philadelphia. If he has to talk his way out of it at our expense, so be it. When the dust settles, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Yanks with as many if not more World Series rings than the Phillies over the course of Lee’s contract. As with any baseball dispute, this one will be resolved on the field.

Yanks send down Brackman, five others

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have optioned Andrew Brackman, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, Kevin Russo, Steve Garrison, and Ryan Pope to various levels of the minor leagues. All six guys are on the 40-man roster, and the actual level they were assigned to isn’t important. They’re just paper moves for the time being. By my count, there’s still 40 players in camp, but that doesn’t count the injured Frankie Cervelli, Reegie Corona, and Colin Curtis.

Yankees watched Millwood throw today

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees were the only team to watch Kevin Millwood work out at UC-Irvine today. They clocked his fastball at just 85 mph, though Millwood says he still wants a guaranteed big league contract. The Yankees continue to maintain interest in nothing but a minor league pact. Given the way Ivan Nova threw tonight (six no-hit innings) and how Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have been throwing in camp (not great but good enough), the Yankees have zero reason to cave into Millwood’s demands. The name value does nothing for me.

ST Open Thread: The A-Team

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For the first time all spring, Joe Girardi is trotting the A-lineup out there, starting all of the regulars in what is their expected Opening Day batting order spot. Of course those guys won’t play the full game, but Girardi did say that he was going to start tinkering with some lineup arrangements after yesterday’s off-day. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll get a look at Brett Gardner leading off with Derek Jeter batting second. He won’t bat eighth or ninth, so don’t get your hopes up.

On the mound will be Ivan Nova, who’s scheduled for 75 or so pitches. and could conceivably get five innings of work in. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Available Pitchers: Ivan Nova, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Mark Prior, and David Robertson. Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, and Romulo Sanchez are also in the house in case of emergency.

Available Position Players: Jesus Montero (C), Eric Chavez (1B), Doug Bernier (2B), Ramiro Pena (SS), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Eduardo Nunez (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF), Jordan Parraz (RF), and Andruw Jones (DH).

In other news, Sergio Mitre threw 26 pitches in the bullpen and felt “perfect.” He’d been battling some kind of oblique issue, but it appears all is (on its way to being) well. The game starts at 7:05pm ET and is being broadcast on YES. Smile, the regular season starts two weeks from tomorrow.

Opening Day payroll currently at $189M

For the first time since 2007, the Yankees are expected to the begin the regular season with an Opening Day payroll below $200M. Dan Barbarisi hears from the team that the current payroll is right around $189M, but will jump to $192-193M if/when guys like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Eric Chavez are added to the roster. Rafael Soriano‘s salary essentially replaces Andy Pettitte‘s, so the team still has $20-something million bucks burning a hole in their pocket after Cliff Lee joined those youngsters in Philadelphia. It’s too bad they can’t just buy players from other teams.

The RAB Radio Show: March 16, 2011

Cliff Lee already ticked off Yanks fans by snubbing them in favor of the Phillies. That’s fine. It’s part of the game. But insulting the Yankees using criteria that is actually more critical of the Phillies? This, sir, means war.

And we couldn’t get through the radio show without mentioning Manny Banuelos. I’m clearly baiting Mike here.

Also, new theme music!

Podcast run time 29:09

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich.

Yankees on Felix’s no-trade list

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are one of ten teams listed in Felix Hernandez’s no-trade clause. Others include the Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, and Phillies, so Felix clearly can’t handle the pressure of a big market. Am I doing this right? That’s how it worked for Zack Greinke, no?

Anyway, the reason big market teams are on everyone’s no-trade clause is because they are the clubs that can offer the most in exchange for waiving it. If a player wants an extension or an option picked up as a condition of accepting a trade, well the big market teams can give it to them. It’s that simple, it’s all about maximizing leverage. Should the Yankees and Mariners ever get in serious talks about Felix, the NTC will be the smallest of obstacles.