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Is losing out on Lee a blessing for Yanks?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 14, 2010 05:55 PM

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Playing a Cliff Lee fallout edition of nine innings while daydreaming that I'll someday have the opportunity to settle for $100 million . . .

Thumbnail image for leefinn6.jpg1. Don't get me wrong, I love that Lee left the Yankees' giant sacks of cash on the table to take slightly smaller giant sacks of cash from the Phillies. I love that the players' union is no doubt so aggravated that Michael Weiner combed his hair in a rage. I love that it's entirely possible that some Bleacher Buttafuoco turned his wife against New York with some poorly placed expletives and/or expectoration. I love that a player actually went to a place where he knew he'd be happy. I love that the Yankees didn't add another superb southpaw to take on the Red Sox' lefty-heavy lineup.

But -- you knew there would be a but -- I don't think missing out on him is that devastating for the Yankees.

Yes, they were desperate to get Lee for good and obvious reasons. He's awesome right now, (check out that 185-18 K/BB ratio last season) with his excellent (if Lincecum-damaged) postseason history, and he would have given the Yankees a killer 1-2 punch with CC Sabathia at the top of a rotation that is left with question marks and past bad decisions today.

Brian Cashman probably was forced by Randy Levine and the Sons of Steinbrenner to rappel out of his office window last night after the rejection letter arrived. But seven years and $154 million, for a pitcher who will be 33 next summer, one who is reliant on plus-plus command rather than overpowering stuff, one who has had back issues off and on and had a 6.29 ERA as recently as 2007, one whose most similar comp and age 30 and 31 is Denny Neagle? Is he really worth it, or is a just someone who synchronized his peak and free agency perfectly? Maybe I'm more skeptical of Lee than I should be . . . but I can't help it. I am skeptical.

Signing Lee might have helped the Yankees win a championship or two the next couple of years. But there's also a chance that contract could have become extremely regrettable before it was halfway completed, when he's 36 years old. Ultimately, I'm glad we won't be able to find out which way the plot and his career would have turned in New York. He's the Phillies' high-risk, high-reward gamble now.

2. It's not that the point eludes me when it's pointed out -- as it has been frequently in the past 24 hours or so -- that Lee is the first primo free agent coveted by Yankees who has rejected them since Greg Maddux after the '92 season. But sometimes the context is lacking when the reference is made.

The 1992 Yankees were a mess. They went 76-86. Melido Perez was the ace. Sam Militello was the hope. Danny Tartabull was their best hitter. Kevin Maas, their version of Phil Plantier, was the DH. Andy Stankiewicz started at shortstop, while their future franchise shortstop began his pro career by batting .210 and making 21 errors in 57 games in rookie ball.

The franchise lacked all of the cachet it has now. All they had was history, because their present was lousy and the future uncertain. Maddux said no to the money, but who can blame him for not foreseeing the turnaround that was coming? The division belonged to the Blue Jays then.

3. Joe Pawlikowski at FanGraphs came up with a creative and fairly comprehensive list of pitchers the Yankees might pursue after losing out on Lee.

(No Mark Prior, however. Wasn't that the obvious Plan B here? I think it was. Well-played, Cashman, you sly devil. Well-played.)

An interesting name Pawlikowski noted that I haven't read elsewhere: Derek Lowe. Not sure that would be the shrewdest move for the Yankees -- he's owed $30 million over the next two seasons, will turn 38 this summer, and has had respective adjusted ERAs of 88 and 98 over the past two seasons while pitching in the National League. Here's hoping it doesn't happen. I wouldn't want to see him succeed with the Yankees, but I wouldn't want to see him fail, either. I'd prefer that this remains my last crisp recollection of Lowe pitching at Yankee Stadium.

4. The same goes for Zack Greinke. I don't want to see him turn into a puddle pitching in a big market, which some suspect would happen given his well-documented history with social anxiety disorder. And I don't want to see him dealt to the Bronx for DH-in-waiting Jesus Montero and a couple of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's finest and pitch like he did two years ago, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, led the league in ERA (2.16), WAR (9.0, baseball-reference version), and WHIP 0.95), and had the 33d best adjusted ERA in baseball history. You want an imaginary trade that just might work -- and would be a good place for Greinke to pitch for a fine team without a ton of stress -- that doesn't result in him ending up in Pinstripes? How about dealing him to St. Louis for La Russa nemesis Colby Rasmus, an arm or two, and a couple of low OBP lost causes that Dayton Moore seems to collect?

pavanocarl.jpg5. It's tempting to make (yet another weak) joke about how a reconciliation with Carl Pavano might be the best option for the Yankees right now. But then I remember that he very well could have been the Red Sox' $40 million mistake, take a deep breath, and appreciate a bullet dodged. OK, that, and I already used my best material on Twitter.

6. Roger Clemens is not one for subtle messages, but it is a nice touch wearing a pinstriped suit to a recent court appearance. Even at age 48 and in a wee bit of trouble, we'd almost think he'd be in line for a spot in the 2011 Yankees rotation if not for . . . well, let's just say he looks like he swallowed the other four members of the most recent So-Called Greatest Rotation Ever. Oh my goodness gracious.

7. Other than bringing in a living, breathing reminder for Daniel Nava that he did indeed hit a home run in the big leagues, the only possible explanation for the Red Sox having genuine interest in Phillies righthanded afterthought Joe Blanton is that Curt Young, his pitching coach during his three-plus seasons in Oakland, vouched for something about him. For what it's worth -- and it's worth probably no more than a "huh" -- Young is seventh on Blanton's player similarity comps.

8. Can anyone tell me whether ESPN has interrupted its Brett Favre football funeral coverage to acknowledge Lee's deal with the Phillies yet? I switched over to the MLB Network before he could finish telling us how unselfish he is. (Then again, the MLB Network didn't have anything live, just a couple of cut-ins. But at least it was showing baseball.)

borasscottfinn.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The lesson we take from all of the Lee shenanigans: Sometimes the mystery team does exist . . . though we will continue to reserve our right to skepticism when the player is a Scott Boras client.

And yes, that is the one and the same pictured right there on a 1977 St. Petersburg Cardinals minor league card. If Boras was at all then like he is now, is there any doubt he took his .288 career batting average, his .708 OPS, his five homers in 1,330 plate appearances in Single A and Double A, added in his .904 career fielding percentage at third base, and presented Cardinals management with reams of creatively interpreted data suggesting he was indeed the second coming of Ken Boyer?

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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