Well, the “little elf” has delivered Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to the Yankees. Can he now fulfill the team’s wish list with a left-hander Cliff Lee?
General manager Brian Cashman, who took time to rappel down the Landmark building in Stamford, CT, playing the part of an elf in their Christmas celebration this weekend, heads to the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, FL, with a sack full of money ready to hand to Lee.
Lee, after all, is the top free-agent pitcher on everybody’s winter shopping list. The question is can the Yankees’ offer provide Lee “comfort and joy?”
As this blog predicted, the Yankees were able to forge a compromise deal with Jeter. He has reportedly agreed to a three-year, $51 million dollar deal that includes a player option for a fourth season.
Jeter’s deal, which is pending a physical and likely will be announced this week, calls for deferred money and the player option can increase up to $8 million based on Jeter’s performance in the first three years.
The most Jeter could earn under the contract is $65 million and it includes a $3 million buyout in 2014.
Both the Yankees and Jeter managed to save face on a month-long negotiation that did have some unexpected moments of drama. Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, called the tact the Yankees were taking toward their team captain “baffling.”
Earlier, Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner hinted the negotiations with Jeter might become “messy.”
But with Jeter back in the fold, it appears both sides are happy and Jeter will be ready for another championship run in 2011.
The same can be said for Mariano Rivera, who has agreed to a two-year deal that is reportedly worth $15 million per season. The funny thing is the offer was the same one Rivera received from the Yankees’ chief rival, the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox, who apparently are making no secret of their desire to replace closer Jonathan Papelbon before he becomes a free agent next season, thought they could somehow spirit away the best closer in baseball history from the team who signed him and brought him to the big leagues.
Rivera said he appreciated the Boston offer and he said he “respected” the Red Sox organization but added, “the Yankees did what they were supposed to do, and that was the end of that.”
Rivera’s two-year deal, which he hinted likely may be last contract, is also awaiting a physical and a formal announcement.
Cashman flew into Orlando Sunday night in advance of the meetings so, as he said, could hit the ground running on Monday. In addition to Lee, the Yankees have reportedly expressed an interest in signing former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Carl Crawford.
The Yankees have apparently changed their mind about not tampering with their outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher and believe Crawford, 29, could add a solid hitter, a consummate base-stealer and excellent defensive outfielder to the team.
Crawford is coming off a 2010 season in which he hit .307 with a career-high 19 home runs and a career-best 90 RBIs. He also finished third in the American League with 47 stolen bases.
The Yankees, if they are serious about signing Crawford, would be competing with the Red Sox and the California Angels for the speedy left-fielder. With outfielder Jayson Werth off the free-agent market due to his signing by the Washington Nationals, Crawford is the best remaining position player prize left in the winter free-agent pool.
The Yankees may also have an interest in Crawford to drive up his price on the Red Sox as payback for their attempts to “steal” Rivera. The Yankees also could be looking to use either Gardner or Granderson in a trade to acquire a pitcher — either a starter who could replace Andy Pettitte should he retire or a reliever who could setup for Rivera since the Yankees allowed Kerry Wood to seek a role a closer for another team.
But the real focus beginning Monday morning will be the Yankees desire for Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner who is seeking a five-year deal worth as much $125 million. The Texas Rangers appear to be the team most likely to get into a bidding war for the lefty.
Lee, 32, was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA in a season between the Seattle Mariners and the Rangers. Lee has defeated the Yankees in three consecutive postseason starts. He was undefeated in all eight of his postseason starts until San Francisco beat him in both of his World Series starts as the Giants won the 2010 World Series over the Rangers.
The Yankees have two huge advantages going into the negotiations for the crafty veteran left-hander. No. 1, they have the deepest pockets. In a meeting a month ago in Lee’s Arkansas hometown, Cashman told Lee and his agent that the Yankees would top any offer he is made this winter.
No. 2, the Yankees already have signed Lee’s best friend in ace left-hander CC Sabathia, who was a teammate of Lee’s from 2002 to 2008. In fact, when the Yankees thought they were close to a deal with the Mariners to acquire Lee at the July 31 trade deadline, Lee called Sabathia to inquire about schools in the New York area.
The Rangers, who no longer have the deep pockets of Tom Hicks, are hoping to at least be able to stay in the same vicinity of the Yankees’ best offer and hope that Lee will prefer a smaller stage in Arlington, TX, for a bit less money.
The Angels are also interested in Lee, but they have targeted Crawford as more important to them because the team floundered in the absence of speedy Chone Figgins, who signed last winter with the Seattle Mariners.
Now the elf (Cashman) can make some very good boys and good girls who root for the Yankees very happy at Christmas by placing Lee under their big Christmas tree stadium in the Bronx. That would certainly be the best sanitary stocking stuffer Cashman could possible provide.