When Brain Cashman awoke this morning there was no sign of Cliff Lee under the tree. Lee spurned $50 million dollars from the New York Yankees to return to a team that had traded him a year ago.
Before that the “Greinke That Stole Christmas,” (Zack of Kansas City) told the Yankees he would not pitch under the glare of the bright lights because of his anxiety disorder. He chose instead to be traded to a team that prides its city’s heritage in beer.
Toss back a few after a bad outing, Zack? Good luck!
It seems like everybody on the Yankees’ pitching shopping list was stolen away in the dead of night by bargain hunters out on Black Friday.
Even the “smartest frat boy in baseball,” Theo Epstein, had scooped up outfielder Carl Crawford and arranged a trade with the Red Sox farm team in San Diego to get Adrian Gonzalez and was crowing about it like his most successful panty raid.
The poor elf, Cashman, was left what appeared to the proverbial lump of coal in his stocking.
The Yankees only have a catcher Russell Martin, lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano and old friend Luis Vizcaino even is aboard via a minor-league deal.
That hardly looks like a mother lode of talent.
However, the Yankees do seem to return the nucleus of what was a very good baseball team in 2010. Every position in the starting lineup looks set.
The starting pitching staff would pretty good if Andy Pettitte decides to give it one more try.
Yet the Yankees are discovering there is a move afoot around baseball to keep quality pitching out of their hands. It started a few years ago when small-market teams began locking up their young pitchers with multi-year deals.
Over the years Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson among others were signed to lengthy deals to keep them out of the clutches of money rich teams like the Yankees.
Cash-strapped franchises invested what money they had in scouting and they plucked the best pitchers they could find in the early rounds of the major-league draft every year. The Yankees, because they are contenders every year, had to take what was left.
But the Yankees might have found a few gems along the way. Phil Hughes finally developed into the pitcher the Yankees hoped he would be last season. At age 24, Hughes appears ready to take a step forward in 2011.
Late last season the Yankees called up a rookie right-hander in Ivan Nova. At age 23, nova proved to much better than the Yankees thought he was. He seemed unfazed by pitching to great hitters and he never looked overmatched.
Perhaps the Yankees could use Pettitte and another starter such as Joe Blanton, who the Phillies are looking to dump along with his $8 million salary. But Nova could prove to be more valuable in 2011 as the season moves along.
The Yankees also have another star in their minor-league system. He is 22-year-old Dellin Betances. At 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, Betances has the look of CC Sabathia’s little brother. In the Florida State League, Betances made 14 starts for Tampa and was 8-1 with a sparkling 1.77 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 71 innings.
Betances was promoted to Double-A Trenton and made three starts with no record and a 3.77 ERA. Scouts say he is on a fast track to the majors and could be in the Yankees’ rotation by 2012.
The Yankees are also impressed with Hector Noesi, who began 2010 as a teammate of Betances at Tampa. Noesi was 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA in eight starts before being promoted to Trenton.
Noesi, 23, was 8-4 with a 3.10 ERA there in 16 starts. Although he does not have the strikeout stuff like Betances, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander has an assortment of pitches and excellent control.
In 160 innings, ending up with a brief stop at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Noesi only walked 28 batters. Though scouts rate Betances higher, Noesi is among the best minor-league pitchers in baseball.
Noesi will get a long look in spring training but is likely headed back to Scranton. Betances likely will begin 2011 at Trenton but is not expected to stay there long.
The Yankees also like 24-year-old right-hander David Pope, who was a combined 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 25 starts between Trenton and Scranton. Pope also showed command with 141 strikeouts and 36 walks in 158 2/3 innings.
These three pitchers show the Yankees have the makings of young talent on the way to the big leagues either with the Yankees or possible trade value to obtain veteran pitching the Yankees might need in 2011.
Either way, maybe Lee, Greinke and the other teams who seem so determined to keep good pitching out of the hands of the Yankees may actually be doing the Yankees a big favor.