Cliff Lee: Is It Time for the Yankees To Give Lee a Deadline?
While the baseball world continues to wait and wait and wait for free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee to make his decision, the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers remain the only two teams in line to sign him.
The Yankees started with a very strong, six-year, $140 million offer which was then increased to seven-years, $161 million just hours after Carl Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox.
A contingent of representatives from the Texas Rangers met with Lee and his agent on Thursday and presented Lee with a series of differently structured offers.
Some lean towards Texas as the likely landing spot for Lee, given their proximity to Lee's home in Arkansas, his history with the team last season and the lack of a state income tax in Texas, while others point to the Yankees' wallet and tremendous need for starting pitching as their advantages.
But after weeks of waiting, there is still no word from Lee.
So is it time for the Yankees to advance their position and put the pressure on Lee by giving him a deadline?
Recently, the Yankees made an offer to free-agent catcher Russell Martin and have told him they view him as a "starting catcher."
Most likely, the Yankees really do view Martin as their potential starting catcher to work alongside rookie phenom Jesus Montero, who the Yankees expect to compete for the catcher's position in Spring Training.
Where will Cliff Lee sign?
But if the Yankees do sign Martin, it also gives them the flexibility to then package Montero in a trade for another starting pitcher—most likely Zack Greinke.
The question of whether or not Greinke, who has suffered from anxiety disorder in the past, can pitch or wants to pitch in New York aside, a trade is probably the Yankees' plan B should Lee sign with Texas.
So given the fact that the Yankees can trade for a pitcher whether they sign Martin or not (but much more easily if they do sign Martin), does telling Lee their offer comes off the table in say, a week really make the current situation worse?
During the Winter Meetings, the Yankees spoke with Carl Crawford, presumably because he was their plan B should they fail to sign Lee. As soon as Crawford signed with the Red Sox (seven-years, $142 million), that plan went out the window and all focus shifted back to signing Lee.
But how much longer can the Yankees afford to wait?
Reports are coming out now that both the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals, who also signed free agent Jayson Werth to a seven-year deal this offseason, are aggressively pursuing a trade for Greinke.
If Greinke is traded before the Yankees hear from Lee, that's yet another plan B gone (plan C really). If that happens and Lee also signs with Texas, the Yankees will have been completely embarrassed this offseason.
Should the Yankees give Lee a deadline?
By giving Lee a deadline to accept their offer, they at least leave themselves with the flexibility to explore other options.
It wouldn't really hurt their position, as they have already offered Lee the most money, and it remains to be seen how the Baseball Players Association will react should Lee choose to pitch for Texas for less money.
It's time for the Yankees to take a harder line with Lee. They've already made it painfully clear to the entire baseball world they want to sign Lee, so they have nothing else to prove. Give Lee a deadline. Force his hand and make him choose, because the longer he drags his feet, the fewer options the Yankees will have.
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