Yankees Will Have To Be Patient With Lee This Winter
SOME HOT STOVE NUGGETS
CLIFF LEE CHASE . . . If you Yankee fans were expecting the first contact between general manager Brian Cashman and Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker to end up with a Lee signature on a contract you are overly optimistic. The Major League Player’s Association does not disallow it, but it frowns upon top-tier free agents from signing too early because they prefer low-level and mid-level free agents push the prices up rather than have the top-tier free agents push the prices down. Lee will take his time and he may end up as Matt Holliday did last winter by not signing until January. But my understanding is the Yankees intend to make Lee an offer the Rangers will not want to match.
WRITING OFF DEREK JETER? . . . Yes, it is starting again. Yankee haters have been blogging that the Yankees would be better off letting Jeter go rather than sign a player who apparently can’t hit, field, run or feed himself anymore at age 36. There is no doubt Jeter had his worst season as a pro. But I doubt anyone in baseball is truly writing Jeter off. They tried that in 2008 and he only hit .334 and won his fifth championship ring in 2009. Jeter and his agent might be seeking a long-term deal — perhaps six years. But what Jeter likely envisions is a contract that will allow him to play into his 40s if he wants to challenge Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. But the deal also would allow him to remain with the team either as a coach, player-coach or personal services ambassador for the team. Jeter could eventually end up as the team’s manager as some point so it might be a good deal for the Yankees to lock him up for six years. You write Jeter off at your own peril.
SIGN THEM ALL . . . I have also read a lot of Yankee fans crying the Yankees should have kept Kerry Wood and they need to sign Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford AND Cliff Lee. I got news for you fans: It is not going to happen. The Yankees are going to put their big dollars toward signing Lee. They then will try to get Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter signed. They then plan to ask Andy Pettitte if he wants to keep pitching. Only then will they assess what money they have left to put towards Crawford or Werth. The problem is that with Brett Gardner’s emergence last season, the Yankees might be forced to unload Curtis Granderson’s hefty contract, which has three years left on it. That is the only way they could justify signing Crawford or Werth. It is unlikely either player will end up in pinstripes. As for Wood, the Yankees knew that he would prefer to go back to closing and likely for a contending team. The Yankees always address their bullpen needs last and they will do so very late in the winter. Signing Rivera is the first step. They may have their eyes on lefty Scott Downs as a replacement for Wood. Downs has closed but mostly has been a setup man in Toronto. The fact he is left-handed is a bonus. Downs would address the need for a quality lefty and a setup man in one nice package. He also will not command a huge amount of dollars. But he will have a lot of suitors too.
MONTERO AS A STARTER? . . . The Yankees are absolutely convinced that Jesus Montero will hit in the major leagues and he could potentially be a superstar with the bat. The only caveat with the 20-year-old Montero is his defense behind the plate. Well, former catchers like Tony Pena and Joe Girardi and others in the organization now believe Montero is a better defensive catcher than 38-year-old Jorge Posada. So the plan this winter is to get Montero ready for the major leagues. They won’t say it because they will not want to put any pressure on the young catcher, but the Yankees would like him to have a hot spring and take over as the starting catcher. The Yankees then could use Posada as its primary DH and he would also be an emergency third catcher behind Francisco Cervelli. That is, if Cervelli keeps his job. Word is the Yankees are looking at bringing Jose Molina back because Cervelli’s throwing in 2010 left a lot to be desired.
CANO MOVING UP? . . . After Robinson Cano’s breakout 2010 possible-MVP season, the Yankees are toying with the idea of moving him into the No. 3 spot in the batting order next season. Ideally, the Yankees would like Cano there because he is the best hitter on the team and Mark Teixeira would provide “protection” for Alex Rodriguez in the No. 5 spot. The Yankees also want Gardner to lead off. However, they do not think it could work because Jeter hits to many ground balls that could be double plays batting second. So Jeter likely will lead off and Gardner mostly will bat ninth.
SUPER NOVA . . . The Yankees are very happy with the way 23-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova pitched in his rookie season in 2010. They still believe he could develop into a very good starting pitcher. However, with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in the rotation and the possibility that Lee and Pettitte may round out the starting five, the Yankees are thinking Nova has a better chance of contributing in the bullpen. Nova seemed to struggle the second time through the batting order as a starter, which suggests he could be very effective as middle-inning reliever next season. He also gives the Yankees insurance in case a starter is injured.
THE ZACK FALLBACK . . . With all the attention of the Yankees’ pursuit of Lee, what is not being considered is the Yankees’ fallback position in case Lee signs elsewhere. The Yankees have their eyes on a trade for Royals right-hander Zack Greinke should Lee somehow get away. The Royals would be willing to part with their ace if they could get four prospects that could rebuild their team. The Yankees might have to dangle Montero, Nova and Joba Chamberlain just to get the Royals interested. The Royals also would be looking at young shortstop Eduardo Nunez and might take him instead of Montero.