Via Joel Sherman -
The Yankees are just one of many teams that have begun to proceed as if Cliff Lee — not Roy Oswalt — will be the prize of the July 31 trade market.
That means they have increased their scouting attention on a pitcher they already were following closely because he projects as the best pitcher of the coming free-agent class. Remember that the Yankees had a scout on almost every start CC Sabathia made in 2008 in anticipation of the lefty’s free agency after the season.
One AL executive went so far as to say last week, “I have no doubt that the Yankees will sign Cliff Lee.”
The assumption is logical. Javier Vazquez ($11.5 million) will come off the payroll, and Andy Pettitte ($11.75 million) contemplates retirement annually. Their combined salaries are roughly what it is going to take on an annual basis to secure Lee.
There is no doubt the Yankees front office is enamored of Lee. The Yankees can imagine going forward with Lee and his former Indians teammate, Sabathia, heading the rotation followed by A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, and if he wanted to come back again, Pettitte. If not Pettitte, then the presence of horses such as Lee and Sabathia would more comfortably allow the Yankees to break in someone such as Ivan Nova as a low-cost No. 5 starter.
But having their eyes on Lee does not mean the Yankees will be at the forefront of the derby come July 31.
The Yankees often feel they get asked to pay a higher cost in trades dating to a time when George Steinbrenner was truly in charge and more apt to impetuously order a deal regardless of the cost.
I have little doubt that Cliff Lee will test the free agent market this coming off-season. And, I have little doubt that that Brian Cashman will open up the Steinbrenner Family Checkbook and throw an obscene amount of money in an offer to Lee. Lastly, I suspect that Lee doesn’t care where he signs – and just wants as much money as he can get when he’s on the market.
So, it sure sounds like Cliff Lee will be a Yankee in 2011. But, I have to wonder…if the Yankees hadn’t screwed up on Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Ross Ohlendorf, Gerrit Cole, Jeremy Bleich, Andrew Brackman, Alan Horne, Ryan Pope, Humberto Sanchez, Christian Garcia and Dellin Betances would it be necessary to throw gobs of dough at Cliff Lee this winter?