As the Yankees await Cliff Lee’s decision (unless the Marlins are the “mystery team”, at least we know he won’t be taking his talents to South Beach), one thing has become abundantly clear. There is no Plan B.
Putting all of your eggs in one basket usually isn’t the best strategy, but this offseason the Yankees have one clear cut need and Lee is the only viable solution. From that standpoint, you can’t blame Brian Cashman for having such a singular focus. However, if he fails to reel in his big fish, more than a few people in Yankeeland won’t be so understanding.
During the 2007 offseason, the Yankees were heavily involved in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, but Cashman ultimately decided that the combined cost of money and prospects was too prohibitive. As things turned out, that decision proved to be a wise one because even though the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, they were able to retain Phil Hughes and sign C.C. Sabathia the following offseason. Both men not only contributed to a championship in 2009, but remain as the only two reliable starters heading into the 2011 season. But, what would have happened if Sabathia decided to turn down the Yankees’ offer? How then would Cashman’s decision have been viewed (especially if he would up signing Derek Lowe instead)?
This offseason, Cashman is faced with a similar dilemma. Even though Lee’s Rangers booted the Yankees from the ALCS, his decision to hold onto wunderkind Jesus Montero will likely be lauded if the Yankees eventually land the ace lefty in free agency. Should Lee decide to return to Texas, however, history may not be so kind.
Let’s journey back to July 8 (amusingly, the same day LeBron James made his infamous “Decision”) for a moment. According to numerous published reports, the Yankees had acquired Lee from the Mariners for Montero and a package of secondary prospects. The deal was so close to being consummated that Lee even reached out to Sabathia for advice on where to look for a house. The next morning, however, the nomadic lefty found himself headed not to New York, but to Texas. Why? Because the Mariners became concerned about an injury to minor league second baseman David Adams and Cashman refused to substitute Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova in the deal.
Although it was first reported that the Mariners backed out of the deal, later clarification revealed that it was actually Cashman who turned them away. Although no one could blame him for being shy about dealing Montero, the fact of the matter is he had already decided to part with the Yankees’ top prospect. In other words, it was really Nunez or Nova who held up the deal.
Compromising the team’s championship chances in one season is sacrifice enough, but if the Yankees fail to sign Lee as a free agent, the opportunity cost will increase exponentially. Presumably, had the Yankees completed the deal for Lee last July, re-signing him would have been much more of a formality. Although many had viewed Lee’s eventual migration to the Bronx as a foregone conclusion, the Yankees are now on the verge of losing out completely. Had Cashman known how difficult it would be to sign Lee, one wonders if he would have allowed Nunez or Nova to scuttle the original deal?
Even if he isn’t able to sign Lee, Cashman can still serendipitously come out smelling like a rose if Montero quickly emerges and comes close to realizing his potential. If that doesn’t happen, however, he’ll likely be given an amount of blame equal to the credit he received for the series of events culminating in the Sabathia acquisition. Although he has no control over Lee’s eventual decision, allowing him to have a good experience in Texas is a worthy second guess. Also open to valid recriminations is Cashman’s failure to be more active for a pitcher like Dan Haren, who if acquired last season would have lessened or even eliminated the need for Lee.
To this point, we’ve dealt with the worst case scenario, but it remains just as likely that the Yankees will be able to sign Lee, in which case Cashman will once again hit the jackpot. After all, putting all those eggs together comes with risk, but it can also offer a great reward. Never afraid to take a chance, Cashman is now in the position of waiting to see how his gamble will payoff. Although he would have liked the process to be over easy, the bottom line is he now needs to hope his offseason plans don’t wind up scrambled.