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Posts Tagged ‘Cliff Lee’

Ubaldo Jimenez

Some things are a given in life. The sun rises in the east. Commuter trains in New York are overstuffed and never run on time. The Yankees always make a trade in July.

Only, this year that last one might not happen.

It’s not for lack of need. The starting line-up is solid and the bench features guys who could start for better than half the teams in baseball. But the pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen, is loaded with question marks. CC Sabathia is an unqualified ace; Mariano Rivera remains the king of closers and David Robertson has turned into one of the game’s most reliable set-up men. But the rest of the staff doesn’t inspire confidence on a daily basis.

The Yankees are plagued by the fact that among the presumed LCS teams, they’re the only team without a bona-fide number 2 starter. The Red Sox feature Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The Phillies send Roy Halladay
and Cliff Lee. The Giants have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The Yankees keep hoping that AJ Burnett will be that number two guy – but after 2 ½ seasons of watching him implode at the most inopportune times, I can’t think of anyone who truly thinks he is. Bartolo Colon, based on his performance this year (7-6, 3.29 ERA, 8K/9) is probably the current #2, but he’s already thrown more innings than over the past 4 seasons combined and you have to worry about how much longer he can continue. Freddy Garcia keeps pulling magic acts on the mound, but his xFIP is nearly a half-run higher than his ERA; you get the feeling that sooner or later his luck is going to run out. Phil Hughes exploded on the scene in the first half of 2010, but since then he’s been less than a pedestrian pitcher (7-7, 5.76 ERA). Ivan Nova was sent back the minors earlier and despite showing signs of improvement when he was with the big club, he is nowhere near being a number two starter.

Likewise, the bullpen has a few holes. Rafael Soriano was brought in to be the primary set-up man, but he’s spent most of the season on the DL and was largely ineffective before getting hurt. Boone Logan is the supposed lefty specialist, but left handers are tuning him up to a 138 OPS+. While Cory Wade and Luis Ayala have been reasonably pleasant surprises, neither has experienced this level of success before. And heaven help us all if the abysmal Sergio Mitre is reactivated and added to the post-season roster.

So, like I said, the Yankees certainly have needs. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be anyone available in the trade market that can fill those needs. There’s been a lot of discussion regarding Ubaldo Jimenez, but the Rockies
asking price (3 or 4 of the Yanks blue chip prospects) is insane. Jimenez had a terrific first half of 2010. Otherwise, he’s a sub-.500 pitcher with a career ERA of 3.87 – while pitching in the offensively challenged NL West. If Brian Cashman adds him at tomorrow’s deadline, I’ll be underwhelmed. The other starters rumored to be on the market also aren’t overly impressive. They range from the oft-injured Erik Bedard to the recalcitrant Hiroki Kuroda
to baseball’s version of a spoiled two-year old, Carlos Zambrano. In short, barring some sort of unexpected blockbuster, there simply isn’t anyone available who provides an upgrade over what the Yanks currently have on hand.

In terms of bullpen help, the Yanks are certainly looking for a left hander – but good luck finding anyone. The Orioles probably want to rid themselves of Mike Gonzales and his bloated contract, but he has had zero success in the AL. The A’s might be willing to part with Brian Fuentes, but I can’t imagine the Yankees assuming around $8.5 million in contract for a guy who has actually been worse against lefties than Logan. The only other name I’ve seen available is the Cubs John Grabow. Like Fuentes and Gonzales, he’s been more piñata than pitcher.

So, there you have it. Unlike past deadlines, this one is looking pretty quiet for the Yankee front office.

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The AL West shapes up as a showdown of pitching vs. offense, with the team that used to set the standard now entrenched as an also-ran and a rebuilding effort in the Great Northwest. In what should be essentially a two-team race, the nod goes to the A’s and their young guns.

Oakland surprised many by posting the best rotation ERA in the league last season. Despite trading Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City this offseason, the A’s still look to have easily the best rotation in their division, while adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to what was an already impressive bullpen may give the team the best top-to-bottom staff in the league. Given their ages, one can only expect the rotation, led by Brett Anderson and strike-out machine Gio Gonzalez to continue to improve. While the offense is still underwhelming, adding Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to the under-rated Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki should provide enough punch to lead the A’s to their first division title since 2006.

The defending league champions will miss the departed Vladimir Guerrero‘s bat, but that’s not the piece that looks to derail the Texas Rangers bid to repeat. Losing Cliff Lee and not replacing him with anyone has led them to scramble to find starters from their relief corps and a few reclamation projects, such as Brandon Webb. The Rangers will still hit – any team that includes Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler will score runs. Adding Mike Napoli should help, but the Adrian Beltre signing is one of those “buyer beware” type deals: Beltre’s bat has a history of coming alive only in contract years, although his glove work remains impeccable. Expect Texas to be involved in a lot of 10-8 type games.

The Angels once were considered the standard of excellence in the division, making the playoffs 6 times in an 8 year span from 2002 – 2009. Last year, the team finished below .500 and they’ll struggle to reach that mark again this year. Provided Scott Kazmir can recapture some lost magic and Joel Piniero can continue to wiggle out of jams, the rotation looks to be better than average. But the once-feared bullpen is no longer a sure thing, now led by the erratic Fernando Rodney as the closer. The line-up is ill-suited to playing manager Mike Scioscia‘s style, featuring aging players now playing out of position – with the curious addition of Vernon Wells joining former stars Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, as well as rookie Peter Bourjos in the outfield rotation. The Angels will be further hampered by 1B Kendry Morales uncertain status; reports suggest he may not return until May from last season’s freakish broken leg.

Finally, there’s the Mariners. Last year’s pre-season Cinderella pick collapsed by April 30th and went downhill from there. At least, this season doesn’t bring those types of expectations to Seattle – which is a good thing. If Erik Bedard is healthy again, he could prove a nice one-two pairing with reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. CF Franklin Gutierrez seemed to regress last year, but the talent is still there and he may have experienced the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Seattle fans will also be able to root for Ichiro Suzuki to make it 11 consecutive seasons with 200+ hits and 25+ steals, a feat never before accomplished in major league baseball.

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The 2011 Yankees work out during Spring Training

It’s that time of year. Spring training games are underway and baseball fans everywhere are having heated discussions about who will finish where. It’s kind of silly, really. As any Yankee fan can tell you, “You can’t predict baseball.” Still, we make the effort – never mind that mid-season injuries, trades and call-ups always alter the picture. Add in the players who have break-out years (seriously, who thought Jose Bautista would slug 54 homers in 2010?) or unexpectedly terrible ones (think Carlos Lee), and predicting anything this time of year becomes an exercise in futility. But it is a fun exercise, so here I go.

I’ll start by posting the expected finish of team, including record. How did I come to this? I ran 100 season simulations, based on a program I originally wrote for picking football games. Of course, this assumes I’ve correctly guessed every team’s roster on Opening Day and that nobody suffers a significant injury. It’s worked well for me in picking the NFL (as those of you who followed my picks on Twitter last year probably know), but this is the first time I’ve ever tried it in baseball. By the way, the division names double as links, you can hit them to get to a more in-depth prognostication.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees,     105-57    0 GB
  2. Boston Red Sox,     105-57    0 GB
  3. Tampa Bay Rays    95-67    10 GB
  4. Baltimore Orioles    94-68    11 GB
  5. Toronto Blue Jays    67-95    38 GB

AL Central

  1. Minnesota Twins    87-75    0 GB
  2. Chicago White Sox    84-78     3 GB
  3. Detroit Tigers        71-91    16 GB
  4. Kansas City Royals    55-97    32 GB
  5. Cleveland Indians    45-107    42 GB

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s        97-95     0 GB
  2. Texas Rangers        85-77    12 GB
  3. Anaheim Angels    83-79    14 GB
  4. Seattle Mariners    64-98    33 GB

Yes, the AL East is that good. And yes, Cleveland is that bad.

Season’s biggest surprise: The Oriole starting rotation. I know, you probably think I lost my mind. But the O’s may have the best stable of young arms in the league, with Jake Arrieta (25), Brian Matusz (24), Brad Bergesen (25) and Chris Tillman(23). Add in a resurgent Justin Duchscherer and the steady Jeremy Guthrie, and that’s a lot of promise.

Season’s biggest bust: Texas. They’re really going to miss not re-signing Cliff Lee. Not to mention the whole Michael Young saga is a great case study in how to blow up team chemistry.

MVP candidate: Robinson Cano. If you thought last year was special, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

CY Young Candidate: Since this award seems given to somebody from a losing team lately, I’ll stay with the trend. Here’s a vote for Joakim Soria.

As always, I look forward to your feedback. And…PLAY BALL!!!

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Randy Levine -Chuck Greenberg

The Yankees organization and Chuck Greenberg are at it again. This time around, Levine calls Greenberg “delusional”. As Francesa was saying the other day on his show, why is Levine wasting his time with this guy? The Sports Pope went on to call him a “clown” and said “nobody takes him seriously.” This was the same guy who summed up all Yankees fans during the postseason as “awful” and an “embarassment.”

All this “delusional” talk came about when Greenberg started running his mouth at Rangers’ Fan Fest last Sunday. He 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. While we would have preferred that he would have chosen to go with us, we’re real pleased that he’s going to the other league.”

Levine’s Response:

“I think Chuck is delusional,” Levine said. “He’s been in the game a few minutes, but it seems to be that he thinks he knows what everybody else is thinking. He should really let Cliff Lee speak for himself.”

“If he really wants to impress us then he can get the Rangers off of welfare and show how they can be revenue-sharing payers, rather than recipients for three years in row, without financing from Major League Baseball,” Levine said Friday.

Greenberg refused to comment after Levine struck back. Maybe Randy finally shut him up. Although, I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of him. (more…)

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With the recent acquisition of Rafael Soriano, the seemingly ageless question of whether Joba Chamberlain should be moved back into the starting rotation has resurfaced. It’s a question that has plagued the Yankees ever since Joba exploded on the scene as Mariano’s set-up man in the second half of the 2007 season.

Really, nobody thought the question would be a topic of discussion heading into this season. Joba was given a shot at the #5 spot last spring and lost to Phil Hughes. Going into this offseason, he seemed destined to be given a legitimate chance at earning the 8th inning role, despite his erratic pitching in 2010. After all, the Yankees were the consensus pick to land Cliff LeeAndy Pettitte wasn’t supposed to semi-retire. There wasn’t any room for Joba in the rotation and 8th inning duties looked to be a battle between him and David Robertson.

My, what a difference a few months and one type A free agent signing can bring. Now the 8th inning role is filled and the 7th inning features Joba, Robertson, Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano, while the rotation features world-beaters Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. Given the way the pitching staff has suddenly been reshuffled, it’s no wonder the question of Joba’s proper role has resurfaced.

There are plenty of statistical reasons for making Joba a starter again. Mike Axisa of RAB has the usual arguments listed here. There’s also another reason moving Joba to the rotation makes sense: as currently constucted, the ‘pen doesn’t have a long man – the guy you bring in when the starter blows up in the 3rd or 4th inning. Last year, that role was filled by Mitre and Chad Gaudin. The rotation as currently set, with three guys who have a history of falling apart early in starts (not only Nova and Mitre, but the volatile and erratic AJ Burnett), that role looks to be more important than ever this year. After all, the back end of the pen is solid. The middle looks solid – but all six of the guys the team is counting on will wilt in the second half if they’re logging 1/2 of the teams innings.

The argument against Joba starting boils down to two problems: first, how healthy is his shoulder? Second, will he ever display the consistency to be effective over 7+ innings every five days – or is he more of an AJ-lite?

As to the question of health, we’ll never know unless Joba is returned to the rotation, it seems. Last year, his average fastball clocked in around 94-95mph, ending a three year decline in velocity. But, Joba also threw fewer pitches than in any full-season – 30% fewer. Was the increased velocity the result of a lighter workload not taxing that injured shoulder? If returned to the rotation, how will tripling his pitch count affect his velocity and control? (Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs)

The maturity question is another one that’s hard to gauge at this point. If it’s true that being bounced around from one role to another makes a pitcher great, then Joba should be ready to become the next Bob Gibson. But all the evidence thus far points to pitcher who has difficulty controlling his emotions, which is the principle reason he was relegated to the pen in the first place.

Of course, the Yankees could sign a back-of-the-rotation type over the next 4 weeks (Justin Duchsherer, perhaps?), relegating Mitre back to the pen or Nova back to the minors and rendering the whole question moot.

For now.

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Jon Heyman (Via Twitter):   “#yankees agree to terms with rafael soriano”

With the organization failing to land a big name starting pitcher in Cliff Lee, Cashman knew it would be very important to have a lock down bullpen. With the addition of Soriano, the Yankees would have a lethal 1-2 combo at the back end of the bullpen with the great Mariano Rivera. Let’s not forget the Yankees also aquired Pedro Feliciano earlier this off-season.

Update: 9:05PM ET: Heyman reports the deal is $35 million for 3 yrs, which comes out to $11.67M per year. That’s a hefty sum for a setup man, but you could also argue that he was the best closer in baseball last season.

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31 days until pitchers and catchers report, and Andy Pettitte has yet to decide whether he wants to pitch in 2011. He announced he may sort of, maybe, pitch for half of 2011. In my humble effort to help the Yankees’ 3rd winningest pitcher of all-time make up his mind, I offer 5 reasons he should stop hanging out in his pj’s and get on a plane to Tampa.

  1. You stand to make one final, massive payday. If reports are true, the Yanks had penciled in $22 million for Cliff Lee. We all know that Lee walked away from that and headed to the land of cheese steaks instead, and the Yanks haven’t even begun to spend any of that money. My guess is you can safely tell Cashman & Company to fork over $17 million or so for one final season.
  2. New York loves a winner. There’s absolutely no way coming back can ruin your career reputation. If the team stays in contention, you’ll be the man who saved the season in many eyes. If the team falters and you have a great season, you’ll get to retire with your adoring fans thanking you for one final hurrah. Even if everything goes horribly wrong (team misses playoffs and you don’t play particularly well), everyone will remember you as a great pitcher who came back one final time and gave it your all, but couldn’t outrun Father Time any more.
  3. The Yankees need you! This might be stating the obvious, but they really do. Right now, the rotation projects to CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. It may not be the worst rotation in history, but it certainly comes close. Injecting an Andy Pettitte gives the Yankees two proven starters and gets Mitre back into the bullpen.
  4. Solidify those HOF credentials. Your regular season numbers are probably close to being good enough to getting you into the Hall of Fame, and your post-season pitching should get you over the top (hey, you’re mentioned in the same breath with Whitey Ford and Catfish Hunter when it comes to big game pitching!). But another 15 regular season wins and you’ll pass Herb Pennock, Amos Rusie, Joe McGinty, Vic WillisJuan Marichal, Carl Hubbell, and Bob Gibson – all of whom are already enshrined. Another 150 strikeouts gets you past Marichal, Early Wynn, Rube WaddellRobin Roberts and Sandy Koufax. I know you’ve never been the type to worry about how baseball history views you, but a plaque in Cooperstown is a fitting way to cap off a great career.
  5. Nobody wants their last year to be an injury plagued one. If 2010 is your final season, I can’t imagine it’s the way you envisioned closing your career. Spending 2 1/2 months on the DL and then still not healthy enough to pitch at 100% in the playoffs. (Although, that 80% you gave us was better than the other 3 starters combined). Come on back and show everyone what Andy Pettitte at 100% for a full season can do.

Well, there you go. Just let me know when to send the limo around for you – I’ve got the jet all warmed up and the auto-pilot set for Yankee Stadium.

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The One that Got Away

For those of you haven’t heard, Cliff Lee surprised just about everyone by deciding to sign with the Phillies. The move is an unqualified disaster for the Yankees and Brian Cashman, who had bet the farm (and the team’s immediate future) on signing the ace lefty. Combined with Boston’s wheeling and dealing, and Andy Pettitte’s possible (and likely) retirement, the Yanks may not be in serious contention for a playoff spot: Boston hasn’t only improved themselves, but so have the Tigers, Twins and White Sox. The Yankees look like they’re headed into the season with a two man rotation. (CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes),  a depleted bench and shaky bullpen. Ouch.

So, what to do now?

1. Trade for for a starter: use some of the Yankees minor-league depth to acquire a proven, front-end starter. Unfortunately, two best rumored to be available, Zack Greinke and Carlos Zambrano, are both head cases. Greinke is a former Cy Young winner. He’s rumored to want out of Kansas City. He’s young. He’s also had problems handling stress – and suddenly being cast as the “savior” of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees has a good chance of stopping his 2011 season before it starts. Not too mention that KC would want half of the Yankees farm sytem in return. Zambrano has top of the rotation stuff and the “Big Z” certainly has delivered both wins and quality starts in the past. But he’s also the poster child for petulance – and does anyone really think Larry Rothschild wants to be reunited with the Cubs ace?
2. Promote Ivan Nova and Hector Noesi: the last time the team slotted two rookies into the rotation was in 2008. Enough said on that idea. Although it may be the only option left.
3. Sign Carl Pavano: stopped laughing yet? Remember, this is the same front office that sent a popular outfielder and LH relief prospect to bring in a past failure who would eat innings, coming off a good season. That didn’t work out so well, but Cashman may well be considering the idea. After all, none of us thought he’d bring back Javier Vazquez, either.
4. Put Joba Chamberlain back in the rotation: no matter how much they say otherwise, this team loves jerking the kid around. He’s been everything from Mo’s heir to doghouse sitter so far. As much as they’ve been saying that Joba is in the pen for 2011, no doubt the brass has to be seriously reconsidering that idea at the moment.
5. Ride it out and wait for 2012: there are some big time prospects headed this way in 2012. Players like Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, Austin Romine and Brandon Laird. It smacks of the late 80s Yankees, who kept buying stop-gap major leaguers while waiting for the farm to deliver. (Anyone remember how Roberto Kelly was going to save the franchise?)

6. Stockpile relievers, realizing that half of the team’s innings need to come from the ‘pen: great idea, except free-agent relievers rarely work out as intended. The only high-upside reliever left on the market is Rafael Soriano and it’s hard to see the Yankees singing another closer.

Then, there’s my personal favorite…

7. Bring in a player personnel guy. Cashman has proven astute on the business side of baseball and made the Steinbrenner family a ton of money, so its no wonder they love the guy. But his personnel moves leave a lot to be desired. Its simply insane that the team with the highest payroll has holes, and this one now needs a 4th and 5th starter, a set-up reliever, a 4th outfielder and utility infielder. When you look at the players he’s brought in versus who he’s let go, well… that’s a whole other post.

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According to George King, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have agreed to a three year contract valued at up to $51 million:

The Yankees and Derek Jeter will finalize a three-year deal today after hammering out the final details on a contract that will pay the captain between $15 million and $17 million a year, according to a person briefed on the situation.

The contract includes a tricky option for a fourth season, neither a vesting situation nor a club option. It is linked to what happens across the three guaranteed years.

The deal with the 36-year-old shortstop ends a month of negotiations that at times became strained, smothered the Yankees’ universe, and divided the fan base.

 

So, with Derek and Mo now happily back in the fold, Brian Cashman can focus on getting Cliff Lee’s name on a contract and potentially adding another bat, perhaps Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. One of the keys to both Yankee greats contracts is that they agreed to defer money – which figures to help Cashman immensely by giving him even deeper pockets as heads to the Winter Meetings on Monday.

 


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Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Brian Cashman that the holiday season is one of good tidings and cheer. In particular, Cashman seems to have amped up his inner Scrooge when it comes to a pair of Yankee stalwarts, men who’ve symbolized everything the Yankees are now and hope to be in the future. Quite frankly, the posturing is baffling: he runs a billion-dollar franchise in large part because of these players, not in spite of them. As much as any executive hates to admit, the Yankees truly do have two franchise players – men who mean much more to the Yankees brand than the new Stadium or even the Steinbrenner family. Men who are as iconic to the Yankees as the pinstriped uniforms with the interlocking NY they wear.

I’m talking, of course, about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

While the Yankees reportedly offered Cliff Lee megabucks (6 years, $140 million), they’ve offered Jeter and Mo peanuts. Lee is undoubtedly a wise investment for a team with a hole as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel in the starting rotation. But would Lee even consider the Yankees without the 14 post-season appearances since 1995? That is what Jeter and Mo mean to this franchise. Before their arrival in the Bronx, the Yankees had once again returned to the sort of losing remembered form the late 1960’s: a team that couldn’t hit, couldn’t field and couldn’t pitch. Rather than playing to a packed house every game, the echoes were often louder than the cheers at Yankee Stadium. How bad was it? Imagine being able to walk up to a ticket window on game day and getting tickets, 3rd base dugout, field level. Against the Red Sox. Yes, you could do it in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

The handling of Jeter’s contract couldn’t get much more bizarre. They’ve reportedly refused to offer arbitration, for fear the captain would accept and the Yankees would be on the hook for roughly $25 million in 2011.Their opening offer, reportedly 3 years for $45 million, is supposedly based on evaluating him the same way a team would evaluate Jimmy Rollins or Hanley Ramirez. This isn’t to knock either of those guys, but they are not in the same class as Jeter. Ramirez is the best player on his team. Rollins is an all-star and former World Champion. But neither is the face of their respective franchise, neither has legions of fans who care little about baseball but live and die with their play and neither is the biggest draw in the biggest sports market in the country. Cashman’s concern is that at 37, Jeter’s play is deteriorating and the .270 performance of last year may be more realistic than his career .314 average. Whatever, Brian – get over it. There aren’t too many middle infielders who hit .270 and score 100 runs, either. Even at his reduced level of play, Jeter’s performance alone makes him an all-star caliber player. Add in the fact that the guy is a leader, both on and off the field – that the Yankees are just another good club without him; that the guy is proven winner and the kind of player New Yorkers love and other fans love to hate. But those pesky intangibles you apparently want to ignore mean more to your bottom line than your ego wants to admit, and you had better pay him for them.

Then there’s the matter of Mariano Rivera, the Greatest Post-Season Closer Ever. Mo would reportedly be perfectly happy to sign a two-year deal for around $36 million. In all, that seems a perfectly reasonable expectation for the man who owns nearly every record for relievers. Mariano is like a fine wine – he just keeps getting better with age. He has been and continues to remain baseball’s ultimate weapon; bring him in and the game is over. And unlike so many other 9th inning specialists, the greater the pressure, the better he performs. It’s been that way for the past 15 seasons in the Bronx and Mo shows no sign of slowing down. So why hasn’t Cashman done what should have been his easiest contract negotiation of this offseason and signed him already? Is he hoping to talk Mo down to $15 million for one year? Are the peanuts really that expensive in your supermarket, Brian?

When Cashman let Johnny Damon walk last year, I wasn’t happy about it but I could understand and even appreciate the motives. (Although I did rip him for even thinking Nick Johnson was a suitable replacement.) But giving Jeter and Rivera the Damon Treatment is unimaginable. The idea that you only pay any free agent based on future performance is laughable, especially for the Yankees and Brian Cashman. Otherwise, Carl Pavano would have been paid in Topps cards and hot dogs. In the case of Jeter and Rivera, you have to pay them for what they’ve meant to the franchise, the city and (in Cashmans’ case) your own career. If you really think the Yankees would be a billion-dollar franchise without them, then send them on their way. But stop quibbling over a few million dollars as if you’re trying to rebuild the Royals or A’s – if you honestly understand what those two mean to the team. And if you honestly don’t, then maybe it’s time for you to pack your bags and head elsewhere.

UPDATED 4:22pm: Of course, right after I posted this, Wallace Matthews at ESPN reported that Cashman thinks Jeter isn’t all that valuable, either as a player or as a commodity:

“We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com. “We’ve encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it works.”

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From the Hot Stove Tracker:

“Yahoo! Sports, citing an industry source, reports the Yankees have offered free-agent SP Cliff Lee a six-year, $140 million contract but that Lee is holding out for a seventh year. Neither side would confirm the numbers to Yahoo!’s Tim Brown. The $23.3 million average cited in Brown’s report is slightly higher than the $23 million per season that the Yankees gave SP CC Sabathia in the 2008 offseason (in a seven-year agreement), and the $22.9 million that the Mets gave SP Johan Santana in 2008 (in a six-year pact). Many people expect Lee to eventually sign with the Yankees, but the Rangers have signaled they will try to keep Lee and match the Yankees’ offers.”
 
 Texas Rangers Starting Pitcher Cliff Lee Smiling

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Item 1: Derek Jeter will be a Yankee in 2011 and get paid like the Derek Jeter of 2000, not 2010. At least that’s the scuttlebutt coming from Wallace Matthews of ESPN. The good news is that no other teams have even bothered contacting Casey Close, Jeter’s agent. Nor do they have any plans on doing so, since they would rather pay Jeter on a Marco Scutaro type contract, not a Derek Jeter type contract. (On an aside,why does every sportswriter want to compare Jeter to Scutaro? If Jeter isn’t offended by that comparison, then he’s made of sterner stuff than I imagined).  Even though Hal Steinbrenner sounded a note of hardball negotiations last week, Matthews’ sources think it’s more bluster than anything else. As he wrote,

“…although the Yankees appear to hold most of the leverage in this one, both sources agreed they are unlikely to wield very much of it.”

The even better news is that it dashes Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle’s hopes of putting Jeter into a Giants uniform.

Item 2: Baseball’s latest arms war, better known as the Cliff Lee bidding war, has begun. As expected, Brian Cashman was on the phone with Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, first thing Sunday morning. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), the general managers for several other teams were also burning up Braunecker’s minutes on Sunday. Those teams are reputed to be the Rangers and Phillies – and then several long-shot candidates, including the Nationals, Brewers and Cubs. Given the financial situations of those last three teams and the fact that Lee is expected to get a contract somewhere north of 6 years/$125M, I doubt you can consider them serious contenders. That leaves the Yanks, Phillies and Rangers battling it out. Regardless, Braunecker has been busy telling everyone and anyone not to expect anything soon:

“Historically, these deals take some time,” Braunecker told the Daily News in a telephone interview Monday. “When you look at the calendar and we’re already into the second week of November; we don’t handicap the timing of this stuff, but we don’t anticipate this happening too quickly.”

The Rangers desperately need Lee back, since without him they don’t make it to the World Series last year. Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg has made no secret that he has every intention of bidding high. Ruben Amaro of the Phillies has to be kicking himself (and is being kicked bythe Philly press) for trading Lee away last off-season for what was basically nothing. And the Yankees really don’t have a plan B for 2011 without Lee. There aren’t really any internal options now, although one of the “Killer Bs” (Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manny Banuelos) may be ready for a late-season call up. This dovetails neatly into…

Item 3: Has anyone heard from Andy Pettitte? Not really – and the Yankees aren’t figuring to hear from Andy before Thanksgiving. Although I love Andy for what he’s done in the past and think he can still be an extremely effective pitcher in 2011, he is beginning to remind me of Brett Favre. As much as the Yankees would love to have Cliff Lee in pinstripes, if neither he nor Pettitte are around in 2011, the Yankees rotation looks to be paper thin. Pettitte is the key, since regardless of what happens with Lee, if he decides not to come back then the team is stuck with Ivan Nova or a journeyman (quick: how fast can you say Dustin Moseley?) in the 5 spot. Neither can be particularly enticing. Although I can say that possibility would give Joe Girardi’s binder a heck of a workout.

Item 4: And finally, speaking of giving the Girardi Binder a workout, the pages would be burned out by May if Mariano Rivera doesn’t wear pinstripes in 2011. Fortunately, nobody really expects that to happen. But it does appear that Rivera’s contract has taken a back seat to those of Jeter and Pettitte, which has to give Yankee fans everywhere at least momentary heart palpitations.

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