It appears that the Yankees have some growing competition for the offseason's most-coveted prize, Cliff Lee. The Nationals are among the teams very interested in the 32-year-old left-hander, and word going around now is the Astros might be, too. The Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Phillies are among other teams believed to have already put in a phone call to Lee, who is said to have loved his time in Texas, too. Despite all the suitors, does anyone really see any team but the Yankees as the favorite to sign Lee?
Indeed, Yankees GM Brian Cashman flew to Arkansas on Tuesday night and is meeting with Lee on Wednesday. The visit is supposed to be simply a meet and greet, but an offer at that time is possible.
Still, says Lee agent Darek Braunecker, "It's too early to draw any conclusions. It makes no sense to rule anybody out at this point." And who's to argue with a man who got $82.5 million for the notoriously inconsistent A.J. Burnett? But ultimately, there should be a very limited number of teams that can seriously contend in this stratosphere.
Lee is said by sources to be looking to repeat his good friend CC Sabathia's $161 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees, numbers that could all but eliminate every team but the Yankees, who are very happy to have imported Sabathia at that price.
The Dodgers and Phillies look like particular long shots due to a mixed-up ownership situation (Dodgers) and a stance against going beyond three years for pitchers (Phillies). Other teams may make a bit more sense, but ultimately, it's pretty hard to imagine any of the serious suitors getting into it with the Yankees beyond the incumbent Rangers, who are led by the ultra-competitive Nolan Ryan.
Armed with a new $80-million-a-year TV deal (which is great but still a pittance compared to the Yankees' YES empire), no state income tax and new part-owner Ryan, the Rangers pose the greatest threat to a Yankees-Lee marriage. Though Lee was said by friends to not be celebrating his midseason trade to Texas (after an apparent deal to the Yankees fell through), the move worked out splendidly as Lee helped the Rangers knock out the Yankees en route to the World Series.
The Rangers, though, don't really have the money to compete with the Yankees. Further, the Yankees need Lee, and they haven't lost out on any of the free agents they truly felt they needed since the winter of 1992-93, when they finished second or worse for Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, David Cone and many others. That was before the Yankees became the dynastic Yankees again, of course.
But the Yankees' desperation has to be clear by now. There are several reasons for this:
1. There is no good second choice. They know that Royals ace Zack Greinke won't accept a trade to New York (nor would they want to force the big city on him, anyway) and that the next-best free-agent pitchers are Jorge de la Rosa and Carl Pavano. While De La Rosa's a talented pitcher, he's nowhere near Lee's stratosphere (as for Pavano, there's no need to get into that for obvious reasons).
2. They can afford it. Yankee revenues are crazy high (though they aren't exactly known as teams don't reveal them); we do know that the franchise was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion by
3. Javier Vazquez, who didn't work out again in New York, is gone. Burnett is a major question mark following his abysmal season. And Andy Pettitte remains uncertain to return (though the suspicion is that he might).
4. Lee kills the Yankees. The Yankees once signed Pavano, Tony Womack and others after they had a good moment or two against them. But Lee frightens them after having his way with them the past two postseasons.
Though a few New York's fans didn't necessarily help the Yankees' efforts with their loutish behavior around Lee's wife, Kristin, in the ALCS, a bad moment with a few Yankees fans is unlikely to persuade them to go elsewhere. "That story was blown out of proportion," Braunecker said. "It's not like she's hypersensitive. She's been with him in Philadelphia and all over, been with him from the get-go. It really was that one time, just a couple clowns ... probably intoxicated. I don't know if that will have any bearing on [the decision]."
Lee has said he has enjoyed his time in Texas, and there's no reason to doubt that. And he does seem to fit nicely into their clubhouse. But folks believe that while he enjoyed the proximity to Little Rock, Ark. (it's a 4½-hour car ride away), on some level it isn't always optimal to be so close to home.
The Padres and agent John Boggs both have handled the Adrian Gonzalez situation well. Gonzalez asked to be paid in the category of Mark Teixeira (and also Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard, who, Boggs pointed out, "signed as a controlled player" for $25 million a year) in a recent meeting with Padres' higher-ups, and nobody can blame him for that. But the Padres plainly told him that they won't do that. GM Jed Hoyer said he never made an offer, as the two sides were nowhere close. "Why throw something out there you know is going to be rejected?" Hoyer said in a phone interview. "It's so clear we're so far apart in what we're thinking. He really does want to take a shot at a Teixeira contract."
While that isn't a deal, everyone at least knows where they stand.
Rather than sugarcoat things for Padres fans, Hoyer took the unusual step of plainly stating that they will not be extending Gonzalez and that he might even entertain trade offers, and no one can blame the Padres for that, either. There's no sense stringing fans along when the chances are next to nil of Gonzalez staying in San Diego beyond 2011. "I don't want to perpetuate [false hope]," Hoyer said. San Diego may be a little mellower than most places, but Hoyer's honesty played as well as could be expected. In other words, there was no uprising.
Hoyer expects Gonzalez to begin the season with the Padres and hoped that he could keep him all year. But he made no promises. "I think he'll be here to start the season," said Hoyer. "And hopefully, he'll be here at the end, because that would mean we had another good season." If not, he will be one whopper of a July prize for someone. The Red Sox long have eyed Gonzalez, but he would also work well for the Mariners and many others. The Padres had extensive talks with the Dodgers a couple of years back, as well.
Though the $22 million that Gonzalez is seeking is a lot, it is in line with the category of elite hitter that Gonzalez has been. Though coming off his fourth straight 30-plus homer, 99-plus RBI season, Gonzalez will be vastly underpaid at $5.9 million this year without complaint. He didn't say it aloud but he has told people that he also doesn't want to repeat the Jake Peavy scenario, in which Peavy signed a big deal that quickly became an albatross. The Padres are believed to be have been willing to pay Gonzalez a total contract for about half the Teixeira and Mauer deals (both were eight for $180 million), maybe something around $90 million for six years -- though Hoyer wouldn't confirm that.
"They said they're not in a financial position to [pay close to what was requested], or let's put it this way, they chose not to," said Boggs. The Padres, whose $40 million payroll is expected to rise only slightly this season, are one of the small-market teams that intend to not commit a large percentage of their payroll to one player. And that makes sense, too.
• The Orioles, Nationals and Pirates are said to be aggressive players early in free agency. Good for them.
• Jorge Posada was told in a face-to-face meeting by Cashman that he's going to DH, according to Joel Sherman of the
• Any thought that Sabathia might opt out after next year are out the window after seeing his New Jersey spread in
• Padres GM Hoyer said he tried to keep top exec Paul DePodesta but knew from the start that DePodesta couldn't refuse the Mets' new GM, Sandy Alderson, a longtime friend. DePodesta, the Mets' new VP of player development and scouting, reached an agreement to remain living in San Diego and is thought to be receiving a salary of close to $1 million a year from the Mets (Alderson's salary is rumored to be close to $3 million in what is thought to be baseball's most expensive front office). Mets holdover Wayne Krivsky, who has a year to go on his contract, and the newly-hired J.P. Ricciardi also are former GMs. Omar Minaya, the outgoing GM is still being paid more than $1 million for two more years, but hasn't decided what he'll do. Minaya's friends are being fired or leaving, but he has affection for Fred Wilpon and doesn't' appear to have completely ruled out a role with the Mets. John Ricco was seen as a future GM but it's unclear where he is on the depth chart now.
• While the Mets are loaded with front office people, they are down on scouts, with Russ Bove and Duane Larson fired and Bob Johnson bolting for the Braves. Scouting director Rudy Terrasas has a year to go on his contract.
• Terry Collins looks like a possible favorite for the Mets' managerial job, but Clint Hurdle, Don Wakamatsu and Bob Melvin all have major league experience and seem to fill the requirements. Alderson has interviewed several others without big league managing experience, but those seem less likely. (Just look at his front office. Nearly everyone has been a GM.) Alderson has ruled out Bobby Valentine as a candidate. Fan favorite Wally Backman is getting a second interview, reported Bob Klapisch and Steve Popper in the
• Hurdle is seen as the favorite in Pittsburgh if he doesn't get the Mets job. But if things don't work out there, either, the Pirates are likely to turn to interim bench coach Jeff Banister.
• Hisanori Takahashi is gone, and one person said there's a sentiment among some Mets people that Pedro Feliciano is "worn out," (if he is, you couldn't really blame him after leading the league in appearances the past three seasons, with 86, 88 and 92, respectively), so he may go, too. That means that the only proven entity in the Mets' bullpen may be embattled closer Francisco Rodriguez, whom the Mets would likely avoid using to finish 55 games, as that would trigger a $17 million option.
• It appears likely that the Mets will wait to see Jose Reyes play a large chunk of this coming season before getting serious about a long-term deal.
• Word is that Brad Penny is in "the best shape of his life." That shouldn't be a surprise since the free agent is engaged to
• Oakland's bid for Hisashi Iwakuma was about $17 million for someone whom one scout described as an "unexceptional pitcher." The A's have made good pitching choices before, so perhaps opinions should be reserved for now, though.
• Star infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Chiba Lotte Marines is expected to post soon. He hit a career-best .346 this year, raising his lifetime average to .293. He was also very impressive in the WBC in 2006. One Japanese scout said, "His talent will translate," though suggested that Nishioka's productivity may depend to some degree on his being in the right environment.
• The Gold Glove awards weren't perfect again. While Derek Jeter deserved his fourth award last year, Elvis Andrus or Alexei Ramirez probably would have been better choices this year. Jeter was very solid (only six errors, 94 DPs) but doesn't have the range of those other two now. In any case, Jeter gets more ammunition for his contract talks. UZR aficionados were flabbergasted at the choice, but don't blame the writers. These awards are voted on by managers and coaches.
• Edgar Renteria told Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes that he's willing to play second base to continue his career, Though a World Series MVP would have been a nice way to go out, it appears that the World Series got Renteria's competitive juices flowing. Renteria was also hurt much of the year, so perhaps he wasn't at his best. Not until the end, anyway.