Yanks' Plan B after Cliff Lee is patience
Cliff Lee's decision to spurn the Yankees' seven-year, $148 million offer in favor of returning to the Philadelphia Phillies for perhaps as much as $48 million less hasn't left New York brass desperate.
"Where do we go from here? Plan B is patience," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We'll engage the remaining free-agent and trade market and pursue what interests us at the level we feel is appropriate."
While Lee's decision came as a shock to just about everyone in baseball, the Yankees weren't that surprised.
Two sources within the Yankees' organization who insisted on anonymity told ESPNNewYork.com Tuesday morning that it was clear to them by Sunday that if Lee hadn't already accepted their offer, he probably never would.
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"I'm not angry," Cashman said. "He had to make a very tough, difficult personal decision and he's made it now. So we'll move forward. There's time on the clock left and we'll try to use that time wisely."
And at least one member of the Yankees' front office had recommended pulling Lee's offer from the table to free up money for other acquisitions.
The team didn't go that route, but it was clear in talking to Yankees insiders that the organization was neither surprised nor particularly disturbed by Lee's choice. In fact, there was a sense of relief that Lee was out of the American League and, with the Yankees and Phillies not scheduled to play during the regular season, could not torment them again until the World Series.
"Maybe this is all for the better," one of the sources said. "Do you really want to give a seven-year deal to a guy who doesn't want to be here?"
Cashman explained the call he received with the news.
"I heard from [agent] Darek Braunecker I would say close to midnight. It was a short conversation. He just said they're going to go in a different direction," Cashman said. "I didn't ask him with who. I told him I appreciated the phone call, and thanks, and that was it. I hung the phone up and called Hal Steinbrenner and conveyed the news, which at that point I didn't think was a surprise to any of us given the last few days with the process slowing down to a halt and a new team entering the picture. That's how it went."
Neither of the sources would divulge what the Yankees would do as an alternate plan, although one said once Lee's decision became known around the league shortly after midnight, the team fielded calls from several teams looking to make trades for pitchers.
The team didn't land a pitcher immediately, but a source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that the Yankees did agree to a deal with catcher Russell Martin.
The other Yankees source acknowledged the team might now step up its efforts to convince Andy Pettitte to pitch in 2011.
"Obviously it would help if Pettitte came back," the source said. "But it wouldn't do any good to Brett Favre his ass and drag him back if he really doesn't want to play."
Cashman said the decision is Pettitte's.
"He's at the point right now where he has to decide if he wants to play or not. He knows if he puts himself in play, we'd love to talk to him," he said. "I think the pull of the potential retirement is a little stronger than normal. It's a very deep and personal decision for him. Andy's been a great Yankee and I can't tell you if he's gonna pitch or not. He has not officially retired. He has not officially decided to play either.
"Basically, he's let us know, 'go do your business as if I'm not in play right now. You guys do what you have to do, I don't want to hold you up.' Andy cares deeply about the New York Yankees -- he wants what's best for us."
So the Yankees are left where they were at the end of the season, with an exclamation point (CC Sabathia) at the front of their rotation followed by a series of question marks.
Last week, Cashman refused to rule out a run at Carl Pavano, after Lee the second-best starting pitcher in an admittedly weak free-agent crop. "I hate to speak in absolutes," he said. "But it's not something we've looked at."
Other free agents haven't particularly impressed Cashman.
"I don't think we would have been participating on any level in this free-agent market other than Cliff Lee," he said. "There's very few of those caliber players who become available so when they do, you have to stand up and pay attention if you have the means to do so."
And now that the courtship is over, Cashman doesn't sound like a man in a state of panic.
"It's not like we're in a rush to do anything," he said. "We have a great team, we have a great situation. We have an ace in the rotation in CC Sabathia, we have a nice 23-year-old starter who won 18 games in Phil Hughes. We finished close to getting to the World Series this past year. We were world champs two years ago, and we intend to fight hard to get back there again. We're in this thing to win it. We're going to keep working at it. That's all."
The possibility of trading for Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke has been discussed, although one of the Yankees insiders said it was highly unlikely the team would risk trading any of its high-level prospects for a pitcher with a well-documented history of social anxiety disorders.
"I doubt he would be a good fit playing in New York," the source said. "His disorder isn't like Randy Johnson's. He doesn't lash out, he turns inward like a turtle. I can't imagine him performing well in this atmosphere."
The Yankees presented two offers to Lee -- one for six years at $23 million a year and one for seven years at a little over $21 million a year -- last Wednesday. According to both sources, pessimism regarding Lee began to creep into the Yankees' front office over the weekend when they had yet to hear a response from Lee or his agent and rumors began to emerge that a "mystery team" had entered the picture.
"All year long we had reports about how much he wanted to come here," one source said. "He was telling everyone how much he wanted to play for the Yankees. Well, the Yankees had the best offer on the table for him. Why wasn't he taking it? It became obvious over the weekend that he wasn't going to come here."
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At that point, the Yankees began to suspect the Phillies might be involved, a prospect that didn't exactly sadden them. "At least he didn't go to Texas or Boston," one of the sources said.
And both used the same word -- "celebrate" -- to describe the rarity of an athlete opting for less money in favor of playing for a particular team.
"Obviously he wasn't all about the money, which is refreshing," said one of the sources. "He left a lot of it on the table."
"I think we should celebrate the fact that a guy took less money to go to a place he loves," the other said. "I honestly don't think he or his wife were afraid of New York, just that they enjoyed their experience in Philadelphia to such an extent that they would rather go there for a lot less money."
The very idea of such a thing might seem like a surprise to most people. The Yankees, however, didn't sound very surprised by the news. In fact, they sounded as if it was exactly what they expected to hear and now they go back about their business.
"One player doesn't dictate what happens, not in this sport, anyway," Cashman said. "It certainly can affect a lot and we clearly put our best foot forward. We are certainly disappointed that we couldn't close it out but we also recognize there are a lot of different ways to climb that mountain. I have no regrets and don't look back at anything different I could have done. I think we did everything we could do. We move forward, that's it, and hopefully put our team in position to win a world championship next year. Anybody who doesn't believe in us, we have a chance between now and next September to prove them wrong."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.
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