Let’s face it, these have been the Cliff Lee Meetings. Major League Baseball is only playing a secondary role.
When Joe Girardi sat for his Winter Meetings press conference, this afternoon, the first bundle of questions were about the most obvious topic.
According to Girardi, Cliff Lee has been “on (the Yankees) radar screen for a while.” Adding him to the rotation is “pretty important” because Lee is a “guy that wins” and even though no deal has been reached, Lee is “someone that we’ll continue to pursue.”
So, clearly Girardi broke some new ground on the Lee front.
Actually, the most interesting Lee tidbit might have been the fact Girardi has not been involved in the conversations at all. “I’ll talk to Cash and see what he wants me to do,” Girardi said. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same non-information.
Lee is good. The Yankees need a starter. The pursuit is ongoing. That’s the bottom line.
And for whatever it’s worth, I gladly would have given Pete Caldera my seat in front of Girardi’s table if I’d known standing behind Girardi would have gotten me in the Associated Press photo. Live and learn.
Other notes from the Yankees manager:
• On the possibility of Lee landing elsewhere: “We have explored options. And I do feel that there are some options out there. Obviously, as I’ve said all along, Cliff Lee is the complete package. It was a guy that we tried to trade for at the deadline. It’s a guy that we followed very closely. But the one thing that the Yankees always do if something doesn’t work out, they always have other options, and they’ll consider other options.”
• No surprise, but Girardi clearly indicated that one of those other options might include Carl Crawford. “We have a very good outfield,” Girardi said. “But it’s something that you look at all the pieces that are out there and you make decisions. Does it fit with your team or doesn’t it fit maybe your Plan A doesn’t go according to plan, and you go to something else.”
• As expected, Girardi said Jesus Montero will have to earn a job in spring training. “He’s going to have to earn the job as a catcher,” Girardi said. The DH spot is taken, but the Yankees are currently prepared to give their top prospect a long and legitimate look in spring training. He’s never caught a 162-game schedule, but Girardi said he doesn’t think of Montero as being limited in the number of games he’ll catch. He’ll get breaks like any catcher, but he won’t go into the season with a planned limit.
• Jorge Posada was told to prepare himself as a catcher, but with the understanding that the bulk of his time will likely come at DH. “He understands,” Girardi said. “But I still think that he wants to catch. I mean, that is his first love, that is his first passion. To me this gives him a chance to extend his career, stay healthy, and be productive for us.”
• Girardi said it’s not time to commit to any sort of lineup for next season. Asked specifically about Derek Jeter’s spot in the order, Girardi said: “I think you have to evaluate your team on a daily basis, weekly basis, and monthly basis as time goes on. The one thing he did do is he hit in September for us. After we made that change with him, he hit much better. We’ll continue to work on those things.”
• Ideally, how much rest for Alex Rodriguez? Girardi said it depends on how Rodriguez feels in spring training, but as a general rule, “You try not to play him more than seven or eight days in a row,” Girardi said. “Will your day off be a DH day? Possible. Or a DH day here or maybe a DH two days later.”
• Speaking of resting Rodriguez, Girardi said the Yankees have looked into backup infield options, but he stressed that the Yankees like Ramiro Pena and/or Eduardo Nunez in that spot. He called it “an important role.” Getting someone externally may depend on “what we have left financially to sign.”
• For the eighth inning, Girardi said he believes Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson can handle the job. “I really believe the talent is there to do it,” he said. “And these guys will probably get the opportunity to do it. But you have to prove you can do it.” Much of Chamberlain’s struggles, Girardi said, came from his inconsistent slider.
• Although the Yankees project Ivan Nova as a starter, Girardi said he wouldn’t rule out Nova breaking in as a reliever. A personal observation: With Alfredo Aceves and Dustin Moseley gone, the Yankees don’t currently have many long relief options beyond Sergio Mitre.
• The Yankees have a lot of almost-ready, upper-level pitching talent (Brackman, Noesi, Betances, Banuelos, Phelps, etc.), and the team has had success in the past converting those sort of pitchers into short-term, late-inning relievers. Girardi said that’s not something the Yankees will consider directly out of spring training, but it’s possible by mid-summer. “Not immediately,” Girardi said. “Because most of them haven’t had a season or year of Triple-A, or two or three months of Triple-A. But we have been known to. A lot of clubs believe it’s easier to break a guy into the bullpen first and move him into the starting rotation as a young pitcher. If we feel they can help us in the bullpen say middle of the summer, then we’d make that switch.”
• If Nova were to make the Yankees rotation out of spring training, there would be no innings limit on him. Girardi was happy to say that.
• The Yankees have admitted to being in the market for a second left-handed reliever. “But when we go to New York, we’re going to take the 12 best pitchers no matter who they are,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photos