The New York Yankees have danced this dance before. Both through trade pursuits and the free agency dynamic, the team has always loved Cliff Lee. The team pursued him when he was being dangled by the Seattle Mariners back in 2010, and again during Lee’s free agency courting that off-season. Unfortunately for the Bombers, Lee failed to land in the Bronx either time, and has proven at different points in his career, to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side. A recent report appearing in the Gospel Herald suggests that Lee might become available as the July non-waiver deadline approaches.
The Yankees, who have been decimated by injuries to their starting rotation, could and should be willing to take on the heavy contract dollars remaining to acquire Lee. Unlike Lee’s former teammate in Cleveland, and current Yankee albatross C.C. Sabathia, Lee utilizes location and mixing up speeds to keep hitters off-balance. With a season-ending injury to Ivan Nova (Tommy John), a possible season-ending injury to Michael Pineda (shoulder/back), and Sabathia’s body continuing to break down (knee), Lee would be an ideal fit, one who has seen the postseason, and knows what it takes to be successful when the chips are down.
The Yankees are one of the few teams in baseball that a. are in desperate need of a starting pitcher and b. can afford to take on a substantial amount of payroll to improve the team’s chances. Lee currently has three more years and $77.5 million dollars remaining on his current deal. If the Philadelphia Phillies, who are bringing up the rear of the National League East, determine they are going into full rebuilding mode and wish to start unloading pieces for financial relief, Lee could possibly be had. Yankees’ managing partner Hal Steinbrenner back in mid-May was quoted as saying:
“[We're] always willing to look at options come July. Come the trade deadline,” Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said as he departed the quarterly owners’ meetings at Major League Baseball’s Manhattan headquarters. “And I think we’ve shown that. Some years we’ve done stuff, like last year with [Alfonso] Soriano. Some years we haven’t. But we’re not going to ever lay down and die. We’re going to do what we need to do to stay in.”
The Yankees while thin on major league-ready prospects, and thick on cash, could open up the wallet if they believe that Lee could put them over the top in the highly-competitive AL East. They head into play Wednesday down 3 1/2 games behind Toronto, with no guarantee that Sabathia returns to his former Cy Young-winning self, along with doubts about Michael Pineda‘s future pitching period. Chase Whitley has been a pleasant surprise, while rookie Masahiro Tanaka has to be the odds-on favorite to not only start for the American League in this season’s All-Star Game, but has to be the leader for the AL Cy Young Award.
While there has been no formal indication from the team, it can’t bode well for general manager Brian Cashman nor manager Joe Girardi to have the Bombers sitting at home during October for a second straight season after breaking the bank on free agents Tanaka, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees chose to spread the money around on several free agents rather than retaining second baseman Robinson Cano. Second base has been a glaring weakness for a team that hasn’t hit up to it’s capabilities this season. The team could also be shopping for a bat to go along with an arm. If the Phils decide to blow up their core, perhaps second baseman Chase Utley might be of some interest as well.
Pairing Lee with Tanaka, and assuming that Hiroki Kuroda bounces back and continues to improve on a rough first two months of the season, could push the Yankees over the top in the AL East. The only question is, do the Yankees want to add ANOTHER aging arm, and if so, at what cost? Cash? Prospect? Both?