Cliff Lee: What If the New York Yankees Don't Sign the Ace?
I'm sure Cliff Lee had a nice little weekend in Arkansas, doing whatever it is that people in Arkansas do.
Couples boar hunting with Kristen? Smoking a pipe on a porch? Waiting out a tornado in the cellar?
My understanding of landlocked American states is extremely limited.
And while I may be ignorant in the ways of the "The Natural State" (thanks Wikipedia!), I do know that Arkansas' best pitcher didn't announce this weekend where he'll be playing baseball for the next seven years.
From the reports we've heard, it's down to the Yankees, Rangers and a third "mystery" team (which I assume is the Jets, who plan to convert Lee into a quarterback).
If you're beginning to worry that Lee won't be standing on a podium beside a beaming Brian Cashman this week, you may be onto something. Every day that passes with no commitment makes you wonder if the Yankees have been trumped.
Which leads itself to the next question: What happens if the Yankees don't sign Cliff Lee?
I'm sure it would unfold in a series of stages.
- Stage 1: Outrage: Cashman would be blasted, with extra scrutiny given to his inability to complete the trade for Lee last July. Fans will demand to know how the Yankees could be outspent, and if they weren't, how the negotiation process failed despite the financial edge. There will be pitchforks and torches involved with a lot of people using the Google Earth application to find Cash's house. Not pretty.
- Stage 2: Panic: This is when all the mongos call Mike Francesa with ludicrous trade offers—"Ivan Nova and one Legends Seat ticket for Roy Halladay"—prompting Francesa to say things like "Yaawwre laaawwwst" and "Youwwwre out of yawr mind" before giving the hand wave. Zack Greinke will be brought up often during this stage, his acute discomfort in the spotlight and past psychological issues conveniently brushed aside.
- Stage 3: Resignation: This will be particularly rough if Cashman—working under the assumption he isn't iced during Stage One—is unable to make a move that satiates the fanbase. There will be talk of the Red Sox winning 120 games. Yankees fans will be wholly depressed, but will still be infinitely happier than catatonic Mets fans.
Do the Yankees need to sign Cliff Lee to win the AL East?
It's easy to forget that the Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball last year. That could be considered an achievement when you factor in all that went wrong:
Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson flopped. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada regressed. Andy Pettitte got hurt. Mark Teixeira mysteriously struggled, and A.J. Burnett...well, let's just say poor A.J. went off the grid on us.
All those issues, and the Yankees still won 95 games, posting more victories than all but two teams. They even won a postseason series, in a sweep no less.
But this is the Yankees we're talking about, where success isn't judged by scrappy ALDS conquests. The Boss may be dead but his doctrine lives on: Anything less than a World Series title is considered failure.
The Yankees have a very good team as it stands now. They can compete with the Red Sox right now, even with Boston's improvements. Can the argument be made that the Red Sox have become the favorites in the AL East? Sure, but that doesn't mean they're going to blow the division away by July. If the Yankees stay upright, they'll compete.
Lee is not the only chance the Yankees have of making it back to the World Series. As good as he is I'm sure there will be people in the organization that will feel like they dodged a bullet. It's all about perspective. If they fail to land Lee, that doesn't mean they need to decimate their farm system just to say they got somebody this winter. A little patience could go a long way.
Cashman knows this. At least, I hope he does. But Yankees fans should understand it, too. They may lose the battle for Lee, but that won't guarantee they lose the war.
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