Cliff Lee Loss and the New York Yankees: Doom, Gloom and a Trip to the Playoffs

Bronx Baseball DailySenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22:  (2nd from L-R) Kerry Wood #39, Mariano Rivera #42, Derek Jeter #2, and Andy Pettitte #46 of the New York Yankees look on from the dugout during Game Six of the ALCS against the Texas Rangers during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Yankees lost out on their top offseason priority in Cliff Lee yesterday and let’s face it – it hurts. He wasn’t just part of the plan for them this offseason, he was the plan. So what does this mean?

The first thing it means is that Andy Pettitte is about to get a lot richer. Pettitte has been said to have been leaning toward retirement all offseason, but now that Lee is out of the picture for the Yankees he becomes extremely important. If he does retire, the Yankees would be set to go into 2011 with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre in their rotation. Not pretty and considering how the Red Sox have improved this offseason, the AL East titled could be crossed off. So expect Pettitte to get a call from GM Brian Cashman soon.

For now let’s assume Pettitte is coming back though. The Yankees still have a rotation hole to fill. If they do that internally they could use Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre. They could transition Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation, but both Cashman and Joe Girardi have stated that he is a reliever only going forward. Hector Noesi is also a possibility as well. Out of the Killer B’s (Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, and Manuel Banuelos) only Brackman is even close enough to be considered out of spring training and even he is a longshot.

Let’s face it though, these are the Yankees, they hate missing the playoffs and the last time they went with a rookie in the rotation, 2008, they missed the playoffs. So they will try to make a trade to bolster the rotation. Zack Greinke is the biggest name out there, but so far they seem uninterested in him. There aren’t a whole lot of obvious choices out there that are readily available after him though so another No. 1 type is out of the picture. Maybe guys like Derek Lowe, Mark Buehrle, or even Chris Carpenter are possible so the Yankees could go that route.

Any trades they make would either deplete the farm system, add a lot of money to the payroll, or both so if Pettitte does return they may look to try one of the younger guys and use the money they had tabbed for Lee to stock the bullpen. They could still add Kerry Wood and another impact arm or two. This would make it less risky to go with a guy like Nova. They also could then wait for a pitcher to hit the trade market that they really like instead of one that they are merely settling for. I’m talking about guys like Josh Johnson or similar pitchers who aren’t expected to be traded this offseason but could sometime in the future.

It is possible they could dip into the free agent market for a pitcher on a one-year deal or sign a high risk type as a stop gap and hope that the Killer B’s develop by next season. There are some intriguing free agent pitchers left like Brian Bannister, Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, and even Brandon Webb to name a few (Mark Prior too if you want to get really daring). Each of these guys individually aren’t very impressive, but if one or two were signed then maybe one of them would stick and have a big season for the Yankees. The Yankees have already expressed interest in Harden and Prior.

So far though we’ve assumed that Pettitte was coming back. If he doesn’t though that’s when Lee signing with the Phillies will really hurt. The Yankees could miss the playoffs in 2011 or Cashman will make multiple trades or signings that could potentially negatively impact the longterm health of the franchise or both.

If Pettitte retires then the Yankees will feel more pressure to trade for Greinke. This could work out well if they trade some prospects, guess right on which to deal, and he pitches wonderfully. It could also work out badly if they deal Brett Gardner, Jesus Montero, one of the Killer B’s, and more and Greinke folds under the pressure of New York. Then not only will the Yankees empty the farm, but they could be doing it for a pitcher who doesn’t even help.

Even if they make a trade that doesn’t blow up in their faces they could still be dealing away pieces that turn out to be real gems. Then for years we’ll be cursing Lee’s name while Betances strikes out 10 batters a game for the St Louis Cardinals for the next six years.

If Pettitte retires and they try to go the free agent route to avoid dealing their top talent it could burn them too. That may come in the form of short deals that just don’t work out. It may also come in the fact that the Yankees feel pressure to add veteran talent and have to over spend in either money or years for mediocre pitchers. Down the road that would take away roster flexibility and even block paths for pitchers like the aforementioned Killer B’s.

Sorry if this sounds a little gloom and doom. I’m just running through scenarios here. Realistically if I had to guess I’d imagine that things don’t go so poorly for the Yankees.

They’ll probably express to Pettitte how important he is to the team and he’ll re-sign for something like $12 million. They’ll spend some money and improve the bullpen and bench. Then they’ll essentially be returning in 2011 with the same team that in 2010 won 95 games and coasted into the playoffs. Sure the Red Sox have gotten better, but it is only marginally as they did lose big bats in Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. The Rays also lost a long list of players and have taken a big step backward. If they get some unexpected contributions from rookies they may have no problem making the playoffs in 2011.

The 2010 team was just two games from a trip to the World Series and the 2011 team could look very similar. Add Montero to that, get a bounce back season from Jeter, and health down the stretch from Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Pettitte and the 2011 Yankees could beat anybody including the Red Sox.

All we can do at this point is wait for the rest of the offseason to unfold, hope that Pettitte has one more good season in him, and hope that the rest of the moves Cashman makes are smart for both the short-term and long-term success of the team. Isn’t that what we do every year though?

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