The Yankees missed on acquiring Cliff Lee over the summer when the Rangers swooped in with a deal that the Mariners preferred, and they lost him for a second time last night when the Phillies came out of nowhere to pluck him from both New York and Texas. Philadelphia inked him to a five-year, $120 million contract that also has vesting options and a potential buyout, turning down New York’s six-year, $132 million offer with a seventh, player option season attached to the end.
Lee is an excellent pitcher, and one of the game’s finest, but that does not mean New York got hosed here. Before Philadelphia signed him, I was planning on writing a piece on why we, as Red Sox fans, should be rooting for New York to get Lee: on a long-term deal for a pitcher his age (Lee would be 38 by the time the deal the Yanks offered him ended) and at the money he commanded, he may not have been a risk the Yankees could afford to lump in with the ones they already have bankrolled–CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Lee would have combined for nearly $63 million alone heading into 2013, and they would have accounted for half of the roster (and dollars) under contract. That doesn’t matter so much now, but the question of who the Yankees will get to improve their rotation instead does.
The remaining free agent list for starters doesn’t offer much in the way of solace–Carl Pavano, who is a Type A free agent and will cost the Yankees their first-round pick in the 2011 draft, isn’t a stellar option, and he may be the most attractive one left. Pavano needs to maintain his excellent control to succeed–in his 420 1/3 innings from 2009-2010, the righty punched out just 5.7 per nine and just 4.8 last season–and Yankee Stadium may not be a prime locale for him. Pavano has been worse against lefties in his career, and with the lefty-heavy lineup in Boston and the recent iteration of the Bombers’ home one of the better spots in the majors for lefty power hitters, things could get problematic, especially if his control falters. Since he’s already 35, that wouldn’t be a stretch either. Let’s not even get into the fact New York might not like the idea of The Pavano Experiment 2, though they did try it the same thing with Javier Vazquez in 2010.
After that, they are down to reclamation projects like Brandon Webb, or John Maine, or Jeremy Bonderman, none of which seems like the player New York would go after with their resources. The Yanks will likely make a trade to fill that spot–Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted that the White Sox may be willing to move either Edwin Jackson or Gavin Floyd for prospects, and, though the connection seems tenuous, Ricky Nolasco was mentioned as a target as well. Matt Garza is being shopped by the Rays, and could be had (but at a cost in terms of prospects, given he is still arb-eligible). Joe Blanton needs to be moved for financial purposes now that the Phils have Lee–the Red Sox are either targeting him or not interested at all, depending on who you ask, so chances are good he is available if nothing else. Blanton is about as average as you can get, but he would fill the void if the Yankees can’t get anything else, or at least until they can upgrade the spot later–they are sitting on the $22 million a year they had earmarked for Lee, and that money will end up being put to use for something the club needs.
Internally, there are options, but there isn’t anyone with enough impact to convince the front office to avoid spending the aforementioned budget. Yankee’s GM Brian Cashman is on the record saying that Joba Chamberlain is a reliever and not a starter, which more than likely takes him out of the running. Ivan Nova wasn’t great in limited duty in 2010, but he had a strong showing at Triple-A and, honestly, could probably do a pretty good Blanton impression if the Yankees forced him into service. Otherwise, it’s all young pitchers who need development time more than they need major league exposure, at least from the Yankees’ point of view. [More on that last point here, courtesy of BP colleague Steven Goldman]
There is one other area of worry for New York–Andy Pettitte may not return. Pettitte has been attempting to retire for what seems like a decade, but this time, he may be serious. The groin injury from 2010 is something that is expected to nag at him in 2011 as well, and, if the Yankees had signed Lee, there was a better chance of him toughing it out rather than finally spending a summer with his family at home in Texas. That is not to say that they have now lost out on acquiring Lee and will need to replace Pettitte as well, but if that does happen, remember how limited the starting pitcher options are for New York already.
With their resources and trade chips, the Yankees will get through this, and will still field a team that competes for a playoff spot. The Red Sox are stronger heading into 2011, but they were also the superior team heading into 2010 as well–all it takes is a major injury (or, in Boston’s case, a flood of them) to tip the scales in the favor of one of the other juggernauts of the American League East–let’s not forget that it was Tampa Bay, not the Sox or Yanks, who won the East in 2010. All Lee choosing Philly over New York does is give them the flexibility to patch themselves up later, and I wouldn’t bet on them missing their next target a third-straight time.