Commentary

Yankees' Plan B involves A.J.

After whiffing on Lee, Bronx Bombers may need Burnett to be their Stoudemire

Updated: December 14, 2010, 3:03 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

With Cliff Lee leaving millions of Yankee dollars on the table, Andy Pettitte just gained some serious leverage as he decides whether he will retire.

As the New York Yankees go into Plan B mode, Pettitte's return is the first order of business, but there is no Amare Stoudemire waiting for them in free agency as there was for the Knicks.

Initially, the Yankees will look from within for their Amare (read Phil Hughes building on his All-Star season and A.J. Burnett rebuilding his career) while they improve their bullpen to become as dominant at the end of the games as Lee is at the beginning. So Kerry Wood's return has become more likely.

The Yankees envision having a shutdown bullpen in which David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain could grow into strong roles in the sixth and seventh, Wood would take care of the eighth and Mariano Rivera would be his old reliable self.

As for the starting rotation, the Yankees might not add a big-time starting arm right now, because the next-best free-agent starter is Carl Pavano and, if you are reading this, you probably have little doubt as to why the Yankees would not want him back. The Royals' Zack Greinke is on the trade market, but his anxiety issues make it doubtful the Yankees would give up the huge haul Kansas City is seeking. Maybe the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter becomes an option in the short term, but St. Louis will be asking for huge prices here in December.

[+] EnlargeAJ Burnett
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett wanted to be in New York. Now, the Yankees need him to be better than he was in 2010.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has said over and over that he has cast a wide net, and he is eager to show the world what he can do. No matter how the Yankees spin it, they are disappointed to have been spurned by Lee. They offered $150 million and he said no.

Now, they will probably need to show some patience. If they can get Pettitte to return, they could have Ivan Nova as their fifth starter as they wait for their young minor league arms to develop.

Meanwhile, they will wait for the next premium starter to emerge and jump on it. These are not George Steinbrenner's Yankees. These are the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees -- so a patient approach is much more likely.

Jesus Montero becomes even more important. The Yankees could soon sign Russell Martin to catch. If Martin is up for the job, then Montero becomes trade bait again. With Austin Romine viewed as a better defensive option and a strong hitter, the Yankees have depth to deal from the catching position.

They almost traded Montero to the Mariners for Cliff Lee in July. If they had included Nova or Eduardo Nunez, then this story would be very different. Lee would have come to the Bronx, and he might have loved it.

Instead, the Yankees must turn to Burnett. From Cashman to manager Joe Girardi to new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the Yankees are trying to get Burnett's head right after he somehow went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA for the $200 million Yankees. Burnett -- who has the same agent as Lee, Darek Braunecker -- is entering the third season of his five-year, $82.5 million contract.

Braunecker said when Burnett was a free agent before the 2009 season, he singled in on the Yankees. That was the only place he wanted to be. The Braves upped the ante. But Burnett always wanted to be in the Bronx, and that's where he ended up.

Lee didn't want to come to New York, which means Burnett is big part of Plan B. A.J. might have to be the Yankees' Amare until the next big-time starter is available for the Yankees to try to pounce on.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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