With Lee gone, Yankees preaching patience
Cashman not panicking after missing out on left-hander
NEW YORK -- During his determined offseason pursuit of Cliff Lee, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman identified the ace left-hander as "someone that's worth waiting for." On Tuesday afternoon, about 12 hours after finding out Lee had slipped through his fingers and agreed to a deal with the Phillies instead, Cashman preached a similar sentiment moving forward.
"Our Plan B is patience," Cashman uttered several times during a half-hour conference call with the media.
Lee stunned the Yankees -- and the entire baseball world, frankly -- by choosing to sign a five-year deal, $120 million contract with the Phillies, a deal which includes a sixth-year vesting option that could push the value to about $135 million. All along, it was New York and Texas that were deemed the clear front-runners for Lee's services, but Philadelphia swooped in as that third "mystery team" and pulled off the biggest shock of an offseason full of them.
"We put our best foot forward," Cashman said, "and I'm very comfortable with how we went after the process."
Cashman said he didn't feel Yankees prestige took a hit with Lee opting for another club, even though he was New York's clear No. 1 target from the get-go, and all the money in the world didn't land him in the Bronx.
"We've lost out on players, we've secured players," Cashman said. "It's the nature of the beast. I've been disappointed before. I've missed out on trades, I've secured trades. No, I don't feel that there's any loss of prestige.
"We have to climb back down the mountain and get a new trail. It's as simple as that."
Since Lee went elsewhere, many now believe the Yankees have a hole in their rotation. Behind ace CC Sabathia and young 18-game winner Phil Hughes, New York has a shaky A.J. Burnett and no clear options thereafter, besides maybe Ivan Nova.
"I don't think we have a lot of holes," Cashman said. "I just don't."
The Yankees were the first team to meet with Lee at his Little Rock, Ark., home this offseason, and they went on to offer him a six-year, $138 million contract, with a vesting option that increased the value to $154 million, according to ESPN.com.
But close to midnight ET on Monday, Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, called Cashman to tell him Lee was headed in another direction. Cashman then relayed the news to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, and with that, the Lee sweepstakes was over.
Many thoughts must've raced through Cashman's mind at that point, but one of them, he said, was "not anger."
"Listen, first and foremost, I appreciate the fact that the Steinbrenners allow us to step up and make a substantial offer to try and improve our club significantly," said Cashman. "[I] appreciate the dialogue with Darek Braunecker I had throughout the process, [and I] appreciate [his wife] Kristen and Cliff allowing us to meet in Little Rock. I said he was worth waiting for. That is true, he is worth waiting for, even though he's not going to come here."
Since the Yankees missed out on Lee twice -- they also failed to acquire him from the Mariners in July -- it's now hard to immediately pinpoint available starting-pitching fixes.
One could be Andy Pettitte, though.
The 38-year-old still hasn't decided about retirement one way or another, but Cashman doesn't believe Lee's situation affects Pettitte's decision. If Pettitte wants to return, he could command more money than he previously would've, considering the Yankees' current situation.
But Cashman reiterated that the Yankees have set no timetable for Pettitte to make his decision, and he said that retirement is perhaps a stronger possibility now for the veteran lefty than in previous years.
"I think the pull of potential retirement feels stronger than normal, but I think it's always strong, especially early [in the offseason] for him," Cashman said. "Again, it's a very deep and personal decision for him. Andy is just a great Yankee, and I can't tell you if he's going to pitch again or not. It's really a very personal decision that he'll have to make, and he's in the process of making it."
Other than Pettitte, the top two available starting-pitching options aren't deemed fits with the Yankees (though, as Monday night showed, anything can happen).
Royals ace Zack Greinke has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors this offseason, but because of his previous bouts with social anxiety disorder and general manager Dayton Moore's perceived asking price, many have speculated that the former American League Cy Young Award winner wouldn't be a fit in New York. The second-best free agent available is Carl Pavano, but it's hard to foresee a situation where the Yankees would go down that road again.
Other trade options may come up -- perhaps Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson or, in what would be a funny twist, Joe Blanton -- but the free-agent pool looks pretty scarce after Lee and Pavano.
Perhaps that's why Cashman is preaching patience.
"I think that the first phase is people probably trying to test us a little bit to see if the price tags will probably go up a little bit, to see if we'll bite, because there's blood in the water," Cashman said. "I assure you we're going to take patience, we're going to pursue what we think makes sense. If it doesn't, we'll wait."
The Yankees, sources told MLB.com, have come to terms on an agreement with free-agent catcher Russell Martin -- though the deal is contingent upon him passing a physical, and Cashman did not comment on the potential signing. With Martin in the fold, speculation will no doubt ensue about New York dangling top catching prospect Jesus Montero in hopes of acquiring front-line starting pitching.
But, speaking in generalities, Cashman said including Montero in a deal would be "a rare situation for me," adding, "We'll be very, very careful."
Rather than pout about Lee or talk specifically about potential outside options, Cashman took a positive approach with his current rotation. He lauded Sabathia and Hughes as his two top starters, and he expressed confidence in Burnett.
"I think A.J. Burnett is going to turn [it] around and come back for us," said Cashman.
But most of all, Cashman preached patience -- even though that's a character trait the Yankees rarely display.
"Is it perfect? No," Cashman said regarding his starting staff. "Can it be improved on? Yes. Will it be easy to do so? No. But we're up for that. We're constantly trying to improve upon ourselves, and there's a lot of different ways to do that. So we'll assess what's available, we'll deal with it and do the best we can.
"I have to continue to stress that Plan B is patience."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.