During a Fan Fest in Arlington on Sunday, Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg said it’s his belief that Cliff Lee was going to sign with the Yankees until Texas made one last attempt, keeping the door open just long enough for the Phillies to swoop in and land the left-hander.
“Even though Philadelphia was probably not in, they were always in the back of our mind,” Greenberg said. “I think if we wouldn’t have gone to Arkansas that last time, I think he was going to sign with the Yankees. We pried the door open a little bit to give ourselves another opportunity. And ultimately the Phillies were able to take advantage of that opportunity that we created.”
A few more notes and links on this Wednesday night.
• Hank Steinbrenner says the Yankees “have to win.” Actually, he said it a little more colorfully than that.
• David Cone is returning to the YES broadcast booth. He’ll do 25 games, according to Joel Sherman.
• Keith Law says the Yankees have the ninth-best minor league system in baseball, directly ahead of the Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers. The Royals, of course, are at the top.
• I’ve never met him, but I’ve always rooted for Rocco Baldelli to stay healthy enough to keep playing. It just wasn’t in the cards, though, and Baldelli now says he’s finished for good.
• According to a press release, the YES Network finished 2010 as the most watched regional sports network in the country for the eighth straight year.
• Just in case you missed it, Brian Cashman acknowledged yesterday that Joba Chamberlain’s injury in Texas in 2008 has significantly impacted his performance and perceived future.
We keep hearing — and I keep writing — that this winter’s free agent market offered very little in terms of rotation options. But just how true is that statement?
The Yankees focused on Cliff Lee and hoped that Andy Pettitte would decide to pitch again, and now that Lee is gone and Pettitte is still uncertain, there are few alternatives available. Should the Yankees have been more aggressive early? Have they missed out on legitimate pieces because of their pursuit of Lee?
Using the handy free agent tracker over at MLBTradeRumors — I prefer that one to the MLB.com version — I’ve listed every starting pitcher who has signed this winter. I’d say the idea of a thin market is absolutely accurate. This list offers very few sure things, and although hindsight is never fair, it’s worth looking back to the month and a half before Lee signed — and those frantic days when Lee was making his decision — to try to find missed opportunities. The Dodgers were the most aggressive team in the beginning of the offseason, re-signing Ted Lilly before he hit the open market and locking up two more starters before the end of November.
Off the board quickly
As you might expect, most of the early moves were re-signings.
This period covers the start of spring training through the Winter Meetings.
Dodgers: 1 year, $12 million
Kuroda will be 36 this season and he’s spent his entire three-year career with the Dodgers. He’s been good for them — losing record but a 3.60 ERA and a good strikeout-to-walk ratio — and it’s hard to say whether he would have been willing to leave, especially with the Dodgers making an early push.
Dodgers: 1 year, $5 million (plus vesting option)
In retrospect, this is the kind of durable starting pitcher who might have helped the back of the Yankees rotation. Nothing flashy, but Garland is consistently good for 200 innings (of course, we said the same about Javier Vazquez). His career NL ERA is 3.74. His career AL ERA is 4.47.
Jorge De La Rosa
Rockies: three years, $32 million
The Rockies had a deal to re-sign De La Rosa in place before the first of December. It was the crew at FoxSports that broke the news, and they noted that De La Rosa wanted to stay in Colorado. They also reported: “The Yankees also have checked in, as they do on most prominent free agents, but their priority is Lee.”
Cardinals: two years, $16.5 million (plus mutual option)
The Cardinals traded for Westbrook last season, then they moved quickly to re-sign him this winter. Westbrook is a bit of an injury risk, he came back from Tommy John surgery last season and pitched well, especially after moving to the National League.
Mariners: one year, $1 million
This market has no shortage of Bedard-type starters. He’s made a total of 30 starts in the past three seasons, none of them coming in 2010. The Mariners are still hoping to get something out of him, and they moved quickly to re-sign him to a non-guaranteed deal.
Marlins: one year, $7 million
No chance the Yankees were going to re-sign him. No chance Vazquez was going to try to come back. Best for everyone to move on, and that’s exactly what they did.
Padres: one year, $4 million (plus mutual option)
Harang is from San Diego. In the past three years, pitching in the NL Central, he’s gone 18-38 with a 4.71 ERA and a steadily increasing WHIP. If I’m the Yankees, I’d rather take my chances with Sergio Mitre, but that’s just me.
Within the Cliff Lee window
From the Winter Meetings through Lee’s signing with Philadelphia.
This seems to be when the Lee talks were at their peak.
Pirates: one year, $500,000 with heavy incentives (plus club option)
Olson’s first big league season showed promise, but since then he’s been pretty bad while pitching for the Nationals and Marlins. Now it’s the Pirates who have signed him. From Florida to Washington to Pittsburgh. That says a lot.
Dodgers: 1 year, $2 million
Early in his career, Padilla had some good years with the Phillies, but he’s since become a back-of-the-rotation starter capable of stringing together a few dominant outings. Injuries last season made him even more of a risk than usual, and the Dodgers might use him in the bullpen instead of the rotation.
Padres: one year, $900,000
The Yankees offered Moseley a Major League deal, but he decided to shopping for a better offer and found on in San Diego, where he could land a spot in the Padres rotation. Moseley was a solid spot starter for the Yankees last season.
Pirates: two years, $8 million
News of the agreement broke on December 8. Hard to know what to expect rom Correia. He’s spent all of his career in the NL West, and his ERA has been a roller coaster the past four years, from 3.45 to 6.05 to 3.91 to 5.40.
Astros: one year, $750,000
Last season, the young lefty won one game and had a 6.75 ERA with the Mariners. He was solid the three years before that, but he’s generally been more effective as a reliever than as a starter.
Athletics: one year, $1.5 million (plus incentives)
Harden is coming off another injury plagued season that saw him pitching out of the bullpen in September. He might fall into a bullpen role again this season. When he did pitch last season, he carried a 5.58 ERA in Texas.
After Cliff Lee
Amazing how quiet the market has been since Lee came off the board.
Jeff Francis, Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Millwood and others are still out there.
Nationals: one year, $1 million with heavy incentives
One day after Lee signed with the Phillies, Wang re-signed with the Nationals. You know the Wang story, so I’m not going to rehash it here. There were — and are — several Wang-type starters on the market.
Rangers: one year, $3 million (plus heavy incentives)
Webb has one big league start in the past two seasons. He was once among the best starting pitchers in the game, but reports this fall of a low-80s fastball in instructional league were not encouraging.
Tigers: one year, $3 million
The most recent big league starter to come off the board, Penny is one of those risk-reward starters who have been fairly prevalent in this free agent market. He pitched well but made only nine starts last season.
Essentially taking himself out of the running for Rafael Soriano, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said this afternoon that he absolutely will not make a move that costs the Yankees their top draft pick.
“I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick,” Cashman said. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our No. 1 draft pick for anyone else.”
Most Type-A free agents have already signed — including Lee — but Soriano and Grant Balfour are still on the market. The Yankees have been linked to Soriano quite often, but Cashman said it’s possible to link the Yankees to just about every free agent out there. Cashman checks on the availability and asking price of pretty much everyone — “That’s my job,” he said — but those conversations don’t necessarily go any further.
“Talking about somebody doesn’t characterize a level of interest in any guy,” Cashman said. “And obviously this winter we’ve done a lot of talking.”
The Yankees most serious discussions centered on Lee. Aside from their own free agents — Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera — it was Lee who best fit the Yankees offseason needs. The Yankees made an aggressive push, but Lee ultimately settled into a deal with the Phillies. In the weeks since Lee signed, the free agent market has gone from bad to worse.
“It wasn’t strong,” Cashman said. “It’s certainly a lot less strong since (Lee) made his decision.”
What remains at the top of the free agent market is a group of designated hitters and a group of late-inning relievers. The Yankees have no spot for a DH, and they feel no need to be overly aggressive in chasing a reliever. That said, former closers Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch are among the relievers still on the market who would not cost a draft pick.
“We’re going to show up in Tampa, and we’re going to have a team that we’re proud of,” Cashman said.
If only because I’ve gotten a surprising number of emails on this topic… In theory, the Yankees could work out some sort of sign-and-trade scenario to land a Type-A free agent without losing a draft pick. Cashman called such a move a “legal maneuver” but also acknowledged that those sort of trades are complicated and difficult to pull off. They rarely happen in baseball.
Panic and patience • 12.20.10
At some point yesterday morning, around the time the Zack Greinke news spread to major media outlets, the state of panic in the Yankees fan base seemed to reach a new peak for this offseason.
The concern was very mild when the Derek Jeter negotiations turned sour. Then the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez. Then the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford. Then Philadelphia got Cliff Lee. Then Milwaukee landed Greinke. One by one, big pieces have come off the board, and all the Yankees have done is re-sign two of their own plus a catcher who hasn’t hit in two years.
My question is this: Is the concern centered on wanting the Yankees to do something or wanting them to do anything? In other words, is there something specific Brian Cashman has done wrong and needs to fix, or are his patience and silence making things uncomfortable?
Cashman hasn’t done much, but I’m not sure he’s truly missed out on very much either. I would never argue that he’s had a good offseason, but looking at a few common complaints, it might also be too early to claim he’s had a bad one.
Top free agents got away
Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford signed before Cliff Lee, and that essentially kept the Yankees out of the running for either of them. Outfield wasn’t a priority, pitching was, and Lee might or might not have been a fair fight. Otherwise, the biggest free agents who fit with the Yankees, signed with the Yankees: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
Trade targets have gone elsewhere
There was obvious frustration yesterday when Zack Greinke landed in Milwaukee for a package of young players that did not include a single premier prospect, but the Yankees didn’t match what the Royals were looking for in up the middle talent. It’s not even certain the Yankees considered Greinke a viable option in New York. Otherwise, most completed trades have been for players who either didn’t fit for the Yankees (Adrian Gonzalez, Dan Uggla) or are infinitely replaceable (Brendan Ryan, Josh Willingham). Those deals to not make or break the Yankees season.
The lineup has not improved
The lineup didn’t need to improve. The Yankees scored the most runs in baseball last season, and that was despite down years from Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. The one position that needed a boost, catcher, has been addressed with a reasonable $4-million deal with Russell Martin. It would have been surprising to see the Yankees overhaul the lineup. Staying with more or less the same starting nine is not a shock, nor should it be a cause for concern.
The rotation still has holes
This is true. Andy Pettitte still hasn’t made a decision, and that’s as expected. Lee was supposed to make everything better, but he signed elsewhere despite a bigger offer from the Yankees. At the time, Cashman said he would be patient, that the cost in terms of both free agents and trade chips would go through the roof for a while. That was less than a week ago. In that time, who, aside from Greinke, has come off the board who would have helped the Yankees rotation?
The bullpen still has holes
Perhaps the most legitimate gripe of the Yankees offseason. The team hasn’t necessarily been stingy — it did award the second largest left-handed reliever contract of the winter — but it hasn’t been aggressive either. The relief market still has plenty of viable options, but the a lot of late-inning options have come off the board (some on surprisingly large and lengthy deals, but that’s the going rate for relievers these days).
Eduardo Nunez is the best hitter on the bench
Not to knock on Noony, but the Yankees bench remains incredibly young and inexperienced, but it should come as no shock that Cashman is taking his time finding reserves and role players. Last year he let the market for Marcus Thames fall all the way to a minor league deal, and that was arguably his best offseason signing. The Randy Winn deal, of course, didn’t work so well. The Yankees still have a very real need for a fourth outfielder, and an experienced utility man wouldn’t hurt, but there are plenty of those options available.
Associated Press photos of Crawford, Rodriguez and Kerry Wood
Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and Mark Prior are all right-handed pitchers, but more specifically, they’re all relievers. We’ll get into a little later, but let’s start at the end, with the Yankees closer.
After helping haul in some donations at today’s Holiday Food Drive, Rivera spoke briefly about his offseason discussions with the Red Sox.
“It was real,” he said. “Nothing that we sat and talked (face-to-face), but it was real. I also made sure that I thanked them because they took me into consideration. But again, this is business and the Yankees did the right thing, and I’m here.”
Of course, Rivera said he never actually planned to pitch for anyone but the Yankees. “I just had to make sure I had a job,” he said, which is either a sign of extreme paranoia, or a polite way of saying a negotiation goes both ways and leverage is a good thing.
Could this be his final contract?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I (have) always been saying that for, what, last eight, 10 years? But I’m still here.”
• Even with the Yankees looking for a starter, Brian Cashman said he does not consider Chamberlain an option in the rotation. “No,” Cashman said. “Joba’s in the pen.” So there’s that. Again.
• Prior will also go to camp as a reliever. Cashman said Prior is a “bullpen situation.” The Yankees tried to sign him the past two years, but Prior always landed elsewhere. He’s a longtime friend of assistant GM Billy Eppler.
• Rivera said none of the nagging injuries from last season are still bothering him. “Everything’s good,” he said. “It’s rested. Time heals everything. I’m fine, working out. The rest will have to wait until spring training, to throw and do everything else with the team.”
• Rivera said he might call Andy Pettitte soon, just to check on his plans for next season. If Pettitte says he’s retiring, might Rivera try to change his mind? “Yeah, I might,” Rivera said. “He will have the last word, but I might. Yes. Andy to me is one of the best lefties there is out there, so I would take him any time.”
• Of the Yankees who spoke today, Joe Girardi seems to have spoken to Pettitte most recently. “He’s still weighing his options,” Girardi said. “Obviously, we’re not going to pressure him one way or the other because whatever decision he makes, it has to be inside his heart what he wants to do. But I have talked to him, talked to him probably three or four days ago.”
• Girardi was pretty to-the-point about losing Cliff Lee: “We have to add another guy to our rotation, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
• Cashman reiterated that he’s glad the summer’s trade for Lee fell through. He’s not sure playing in New York would have convinced him to sign away from Philadelphia. “I think it would have been a rental,” he said. “We didn’t swing the bats in the ALCS whatsoever. We wouldn’t have won whether we had Cliff Lee or not. We didn’t hit a lick.”
• Cashman said he was not surprised or upset to hear Lee say he always wanted to go back to Philadelphia. Cashman does not feel “used” by the free agent process. “The job for him is to pursue every opportunity, try to evaluate it and make the best decision possible,” Cashman said. “He chose a place where he was comfortable. He’s been there before and he had a huge offer. It’s all good. It’s not a big deal. I’m very comfortable with the effort we put forth.”
• Obligatory Cashman quote about his offseason plans: “I’m pursuing any aspect to improve our club, whether it’s upon what we already have or to fix what we don’t have. How long that takes and how successful we’ll be at it remains to be seen.”
Associated Press photos
More Cliff Lee plus a few notes and links • 12.15.10
A few notable Cliff lee comments from today’s press conference in Philadelphia, all according to The Associated Press.
On the factors that helped him make the decision: “There were a lot of variables. I enjoyed my time in Texas. We had a good team and made the World Series. Sometimes making these decisions is tough. When you get your family involved and weigh all your options, it became an easy decision with this team and this pitching staff and what they’ve accomplished over the years. I like the National League. I like hitting and I like facing the pitcher instead of the designated hitter. This is a special group of guys.”
On the money and the chance to win: “It’s plenty of money. When you hit a certain point, enough’s enough. It’s just a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family’s the most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win. At this point, it’s about trying to win championships. That’s really the No. 1 thing for me. I think this team gives me the best chance to do that. That’s really it.”
On the factors that kept him out of New York: “No one came up to my wife and spit on her. Nobody poured anything on her. You go to any stadium, the opposing team stands and starts cheering, especially in the postseason, fans are going to say things to them, they’re going to do things, that’s part of it. That story was way overblown and was false and had zero to do with the whole thing. Hopefully we can put that behind us because it was a non-issue. There wasn’t anything that scared me away from New York. I wasn’t scared to play there. It was just I wanted to have all my options in front of me. Once the Phillies were there, it was relatively close to everything, it was a no-brainer for me.”
• Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees expect to hear a final decision from Andy Pettitte within a few days. He also reports that Pettitte is expected to return “because family supports it,” but Pettitte doesn’t want to be lowballed.
• Also from Heyman, the Mariners have “no interest” in trading Felix Hernandez. Sorry to shoot down those Felix-for-Melky Mesa rumors.
• Scratch Randy Choate off the list of possible left-handed relievers. He’s reportedly going to the Marlins on a two-year deal.
• Dave Miley, Butch Wynegar and Scott Aldred will be back in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season. That’s a big league staff in Triple-A, no doubt. Frank Menechino will come up from Trenton to join them as infield coach. The training staff of Darren London and Lee Tressell is also coming back.
• Down in Trenton, manager Tony Franklin is back for a fifth season. He’ll be joined by pitching coach Tommy Phelps, hitting coach Julius Matos (who held the position before Menechino), and coach Justin Pope. I assume that’s the same Justin Pope who was a first-round pick and pitched for a while in the Yankees system.
Associated Press photo from Lee’s press conference
A few notes and links after a long day • 12.14.10
Around here, it’s hard to see the Cliff Lee signing as anything but a punch to the Yankees gut, but there’s another side to this story. What’s taking place in Philadelphia is impressive, and Jayson Stark did a nice job writing about the Lee signing from the Phillies side.
I appreciate any story that includes this quote: “Holy [colorful adjective] [colorful noun].”
Brian Cashman wasn’t quite as colorful in his Phillies assessment, but he made the key point.
“They have evolved into one of the more premier franchises, and that’s a credit to Dave Montgomery,” Cashman said during this afternoon’s conference call. “It’s an attractive place to play. It’s healthy competition, and it’s good for baseball.”
Not a lot of “mystery teams” end up with the top free agent on the market. The Phillies made it happen. Give credit where it’s due. It’s a heckuva signing.
A few other links:
• Cool post over at MLBTradeRumors about the lessons of the Lee signing.
• Even before Lee signed, Jack Curry was already reporting that the Yankees did not consider Zack Greinke to be a legitimate Plan B. I talked to quite a few Yankees officials today, and one of them suggested it’s more likely the team will mix and match a few different upgrades rather than try to find a Lee replacement.
• The A’s have finalized their Hideki Matsui signing. He’ll get one year and less than $6 million.
• Austin Kearns is on the Diamondbacks radar, according to Jon Paul Morosi. So is former Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady.
• Jerry Crasnick says the Rangers have discussed signing Chien-Ming Wang.
• The Mariners have signed Royce Ring to a minor league deal. When it rains it pours, huh?
• Former Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro has signed with the Dodgers.
Associated Press photo
Patience before and after Cliff Lee • 12.14.10
Amid one report that the Rangers tried and failed to make a trade for Matt Garza last night, Brian Cashman this afternoon preached nothing but patience. He’s been using that word a lot this winter, and he seems to believe it’s as prudent as ever in the wake of Cliff Lee’s signing with Philadelphia.
“I think the first phase of this will be people trying to test us a little bit,” Cashman said. “The price tags are going to go up a little bit to see if we’ll bite because they’re going to sense blood in the water. I assure you we’re going to take patience. We’re going to pursue what we think makes sense. If it doesn’t, we’ll wait and we’ve got a good team.”
It’s easy to look back at this and think the Yankees should have been more aggressive this winter, but as I’ve written several times, it’s hard to find a completed signing or trade that made sense at the time. Nothing fit the Yankees quite the way Cliff Lee fit the Yankees.
“I’ve said he was worth waiting for,” Cashman said. “That is true. He was worth waiting for even though he’s not going to come here.”
There will obviously be plenty of second guessing in the coming days and weeks — and months — but I don’t look back and find anything the Yankees did wrong. They knew what they wanted, and they went after it. Lee also knew what he wanted, and he went after that.
Patience didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong approach.
“The one thing The Boss has taught me personally is the fact that you have to get in the arena and fight,” Cashman said. “Sometimes you win the fight, sometimes you lose the fight, you get knocked down and you have to pick yourself back up and keep fighting. The Boss is a fighter, the Yankees are fighters and I’m going to keep working. We’re not down and out at all.”
Associated Press photo
Is today the day? • 12.13.10
There is no guarantee this will be the day, but at the very least, this is the first day when it seems reasonable to think the Cliff Lee sweepstakes could come an end.
Lee took his time getting offers. Now he’s taking his time choosing a team. There’s big money on the table, a lot of years on the line, and for the Yankees there is no obvious Plan B unless Brian Cashman has a significant trick up his sleeve.
Is this is the day Cliff Lee’s destination comes into focus?
Associated Press photo
Another day of waiting? • 12.12.10
Grown tired of the Cliff Lee talk yet?
If it’s any consolation, the feeling of complete unknown seems to be the same in Texas as it is in New York. Yesterday, Nolan Ryan said he expects Lee to take the whole weekend to consider his options.
“In my opinion, they are probably weighing all their options and aren’t able to come to an easy decision,” Ryan told MLB.com. “I don’t know how you would read that.”
It seems no knows how to read that.
The Yankees are generally believed to have offered more money, but let’s face it, Lee is going to make plenty of money no matter where he plays. There doesn’t seem to be a bad option for him. The only question is, which situation does he prefer?
And how much longer before he makes up his mind?