Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies: Why the New York Yankees Win This Deal

Jess K. ColemanContributor IDecember 14, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 01:  (L-R) Bengie Molina #11 and Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers talk on the mound against the San Francisco Giants in Game Five of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Everyday on the way to school, I pick up a copy of AM New York, a local newspaper in New York City. While sifting through the pages, I see an article entitled “Yankees wait on Cliff Lee.” Just then, my phone vibrated. It was an e-mail from my fellow writer Steve Lenox. “I was right,” he said, and went on discussing the Cliff Lee deal.

Startled and confused, I started looking around for an answer. The subway conductor then walked through the doors of the train and saw I was reading about Lee and the Yankees. “Don’t read that junk,” he said. “He signed with Philly.” Relieved, I leaned back in my seat, and went on with my ride.

Bad reporting on behalf of AM New York is part of it, but things happened extremely fast. Within a few hours of us even finding out that the Phillies were involved, Lee was gone. And the newspapers couldn’t even keep up.

I got to school only to be approached by five or six people all screaming. “It’s over,” they all said. “The Yanks are done.” Disgusted, I calmly explained to them how ridiculous they sounded.

Account for all free-agent signings so far this offseason, and the Yankees still have a payroll of $190 million. That is the highest in the Majors, and the Yankees expectations have not changed whatsoever.

Now, it is true that the Yankees could use some pitching help. But here is how I see it: If Andy Pettitte returns, the Yankees will have the same rotation they had two years ago when they won the World Series, with the addition of Phil Hughes, who won 18 games last season. Cliff Lee happened to be on the team they beat.

“A.J. Burnett? Really?” I heard that a lot today. It is borderline criminal to talk positively about Burnett in New York.

But why can’t he have a comeback season? Why can’t a veteran pitcher who led the league in strikeouts three seasons ago, and led the Yankees to a championship two seasons ago have a comeback season?

Another bright spot is the signing of Russell Martin to a one-year deal today, according to MLB.com. He may not be Lee, but having 28-year-old, two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner behind the plate can’t hurt. Especially considering the backups are Francisco Cervelli and Jesus Montero.

Furthermore, the Phillies are not done dealing. Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki points out that the Phillies are going to need to clear some payroll space to compensate for Lee’s massive deal. Joe Blanton is someone the Phillies are looking to move, and it wouldn’t hurt for the Yankees to add a 30-year-old with plenty of experience in a big city. He would only cost $17 million over the next two seasons.

And, make no mistake, bringing Lee aboard for seven years was not something the Yankees were particularly thrilled about. If they were, they would have thrown a lot more money at him—and, trust me, they could have. In the end, the Yankees realized it wouldn’t be too smart to sign a pitcher through age 39 and up to age 40, especially considering he has only had three good seasons in a nine-season career.

Having a payroll below $200 million is not such a terrible notion either. The Yankees will have a lot more flexibility in the future to make big deals, and still have a great chance to win in the short-run. 

Nevertheless, the sun will rise tomorrow. The Yankees are still a great team, and still have very high expectations. They won with this team in 2009, and they can win with it in 2011.

If you told me the Yankees would go into the 2011 season with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, and possibly Andy Pettitte, I don’t think I would be very worried.

What a day. And I never even got to remind people that there are two months left in the offseason.

Listen to Jess on What's on Second: The Seamheads.com Radio Hour Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter   @jesskcoleman or send him an e-mail at jess@jesskcoleman.com.


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