For the second time in six months, Cliff Lee has slipped through the Yankees’ grasp. According to numerous reports, the off season’s mostly highly coveted free agent isn’t headed to Arlington or the Bronx, but instead is returning to Philadelphia.
The Yankees reportedly offered Lee a seven-year deal that was worth up to $154 million, but the ace lefty opted to take about $50 million less to join Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels as part of the Phillies’ powerhouse rotation. Coincidentally, just one year earlier, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays and then, in a related move, traded Lee to the Mariners in order to replenish the farm system and free up resources. Who says General Manager Ruben Amaro isn’t willing to have his cake and eat it too?
By signing Lee, Amaro has righted a wrong from last off season. Meanwhile, Brian Cashman has been left to wonder if his decision to abort a trade for Lee in July didn’t wind up costing him in December. Regardless, the Yankees general manager has now been left holding a bag of money…and there’s no one left to whom he can give it.
If the Yankees initial reaction to losing out on Lee is to be a little disorientated, you really can’t blame them. After all, you’d probably have to go all the way back to the off season of 1992 to find another player who spurned the lure of Yankee dollars. That year, the Yankees not only missed out on one, but three highly coveted targets when Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux and David Cone all showed little interest in coming to the Bronx. Of course, that year, the Yankees were coming off six straight seasons at the bottom half of the A.L. East. This time around, however, the team was only one year removed from a championship, making Lee’s rejection seem all the more improbable.
Whatever the eventual reasons for Lee’s decision, the Yankees can’t be distracted by what went wrong. Too much time has already been wasted waiting around for the indecisive lefty, and during their pursuit, the Yankees made no secret of the fact that they didn’t have a backup plan. Unfortunately, when you put all your eggs in one basket, you sometimes wind up with a mess, which is exactly what the Yankees’ offseason has become. Now, it’s time for Cashman to clean it up, but in order to do so, he’ll need to be creative.
The obvious target in the wake of losing Lee is likely to be Zack Greinke, but the Royals have always been known as a very difficult trading partner. So, even if Greinke was a fit in New York, the likelihood of reaching a reasonable deal with Kansas City wouldn’t be great. Instead, the Yankees’ best course of action would be to convince Andy Pettitte to return for one more year and then target a veteran lefty like Mark Buehrle. This way, the team could assess it needs during the first half of 2011 and react accordingly, instead of paying through the nose by acting out of desperation. In other words, Plan B might simply be another waiting game.