Friday, December 31, 2010

Pettitte posturing? Looking at the wait from a different angle

The Pearl River Hotel is the type of dusty old Irish pub where you don't wonder when the daytime regulars got to the bar, you wonder if they've ever actually left. Outsiders are met with steely glances of suspicion while the jukebox's only practical use is as a coat hanger.

It's not a place you go to meet your future wife or win a fist-pumping competition. Rather, The Hotel (as it's colloquially known) exists for the same reason all the best pubs do--to celebrate the art of conversation.

Naturally, this is where I wound up with friends on Wednesday afternoon, just four obsessive Yankee fans throwing back Guinness and trying to make sense of Andy Pettitte's end game.

Mark Teixeira was in the headlines, appearing in the type of story that exists only in the late-December vortex where the term "newsworthy" is at its loosest.

Teixeira, we were told, had been in contact with Pettitte via text message, the first baseman reiterating the widely reported belief that his teammate was leaning toward retirement.

"I think, like everyone else [thinks], if he's leaning one way, he's probably leaning towards retiring," he said.

Aware that Teixeira—with the notable exception of his right hamstring—is made up entirely of metal, wiring, and other composite parts, I viewed his ability to read Pettitte's tone through electronic communication as gospel.

It was another troubling sign for a Yankee team desperately in need of its security blanket.

My buddy Howie, a Penn alum still in denial that his beloved Quakers were defeated last month by the Manhattan Jaspers and their one-armed center, theorized that Teixeira and others were simply doing their buddy a solid, driving up the veteran's asking price via the bluff.

It's a hopeful theory for a Yankee fan, explaining away Pettitte's waffling as nothing more than contract posturing. But with a stunning amount of money accumulated over a 15-year career—not to mention those Dove: Journey To Comfort residuals still rolling in—can you imagine Pettitte consciously ratcheting up the drama over a couple million dollars?

That said, from a pure business standpoint it's difficult to understate how far Pettitte's stock has risen since the moment Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. In one night, Pettitte went from a player the Yankees wanted to come back to a player the Yankees needed to come back.

Pettitte is sitting in his rocking chair in Deer Park holding a straight flush.

To their credit, the Yankees have taken the right path as Pettitte silently deliberates. Management has set no deadlines, issued no "take it or leave it" ultimatums. Hank Steinbrenner has been locked away in the club's panic room with all the smokes and bourbon he can handle.

"I think he knows we need him. I think he knows how much we respect him. What a great leader he is. I think all his teammates have echoed it," Yankees president Randy Levine told "But he's a great Yankee. He's a very, very mature person and he's got a great family and we've got to give him a chance to make his own decision."

There's no need to put a deadline on Pettitte, because the Yankees don't really have a backup plan anyway. They're either screwed...or not screwed. Not the most comfortable situation to be in I'm sure, but such is life in this the strangest of offseasons of the once-unconquerable Evil Empire.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cashman passes on Webb as patience plan rolls on

The Texas Rangers signed Brandon Webb this week, a move classified by some in the baseball world as a "smart gamble" given the veteran pitcher's Cy Young Award pedigree and outstanding goatee.

Still, others regarded the signing as a "stretch" or "risk", or to tie it in with the counterpoint, a "stupid gamble" given Webb a) hasn't pitched in two years and b) has a right shoulder that could trade war stories with Hideki Matsui's knees and Don Mattingly's back.

It's likely Brian Cashman has had his fill of war stories after rolling the dice on Nick Johnson a year ago. The Rangers failed to retain Cliff Lee, then chose a Plan B that really deserved to be a Plan M.

It gives you some perspective on how paper-thin the market is this winter. After Lee went to the Phillies, Cashman preached that the Yankees' Plan B was patience. As Zack Greinke and now Webb found new homes, we're learning that the GM was a man of his word.

Consider yourself warned Yankees fans: Barring an unforeseen blockbuster trade, the team you see now may very well be the team that shows up at spring training—give or take a Pettitte. As frustrating as this may seem, it should be understood that this is ultimately a good thing.

This probably wouldn't be the case if Cashman weren't so confident in his job security. Had he been entering the final year of his contract, or had the Yankees still been riding a championship drought, he may have been inclined to guarantee Lee an seventh year at higher value, hand $150M over to Carl Crawford or roll the dice on Greinke or Webb.

But this is the Teflon Cash we're talking about. He cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Even as a host of poor moves led to 10/20 and various other playoff meltdowns, his job has remained secure. The '09 title reaffirmed the club's confidence in him, even when detractors argued that handing over massive checks to CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira didn't require much in the way of tactical brilliance.

Cashman knows he can sit tight, wait out this crap market and hope for better situation to present itself by the trade deadline.

The Rangers are rolling the dice that a former star pitcher with an 82 MPH-fastball can fill the void in their rotation. It was a risk Cashman had no interest taking, just as he passed on finding out if Greinke could stand tall in the New York spotlight.

The Yankees and their general manager are banking that the horses already in place can keep the club in contention before acceptable reinforcements arrive. Is it a sexy gamble? Most definitely not. But it's not a stupid one, either.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Andy Pettitte Stays Silent: Is it time to worry?

Andy Pettitte has been saying he's going to retire for longer than he hasn't.

It's become an annual event by now. The season ends, the leaves change color, and No. 46 says he's going home. He's like the frustrated buddy in your fantasy football league who professes that each season will be his last. In the end, he always comes back. Just like Pettitte.

His waffling started as far back as his pre-Astros sabbatical in the early 2000s. He was often asked his opinion on the longevity of then-teammate and friend Roger Clemens, and his reaction was always the same. Pettitte would profess his respect and admiration for Clemens, then tag his commentary by insisting that would never be him.

A decade later, Pettitte is 38 and not much younger than Clemens was when he was burying people with splitters in the World Series. A lot has transpired since then: Pettitte won 21 games for New York in 2003, ditched eternal non-believer Steinbrenner to play for the Astros for three years, returned to New York, copped to HGH use, and began a playing under a succession of one-off contracts with the Yankees.

So when Pettitte hinted that he was strongly considering retirement following the Yankees' ALCS loss to the Rangers in October, fans who followed the pitcher before his hair went salt-and-pepper didn't pay it much attention. Sure, the easy life in Deer Park sounds pristine, but the competitor in Pettitte has always won out. There will always be time to sit on the porch of his ranch in Texas—the chance to handcuff David Ortiz on a 2-2 cutter doesn't last forever.

And yet, a look at Pettitte's offseason timeline suggests that this year may be different. In 2007, Pettitte re-upped on Dec. 12. In 2008, Pettitte and New York negotiated through December before reaching a deal in January. In 2009, he signed on Dec. 9. We're now knocking on the door of Christmas Day and we haven't heard a peep. Hmmmm...

Even the most optimistic Yankees fan—and trust me, I'm up there—would be unable to rationalize what Pettitte retiring would mean for the Yankees. Especially this year, when Joe Girardi's present opening day rotation can best be described as CC, Hughes, and a Whole Lot of Bad News.

Even at his advanced age, Pettitte is the glue of the Yankees' pitching staff, the guy you most want on the mound when the team desperately needs a pick-up. God put Andy Pettitte on this Earth to stop three-game losing streaks.

Ironically, it may be the competitor in Pettitte that has brought him to the crossroads. He was legitimately spooked by the groin tear that wrecked his season last summer, an injury he was unable to shake even after he returned to the mound. Maybe Pettitte doesn't want to be baseball's answer to Brett Favre—the star who returns against his better judgment and lives to regret it.

When Mickey Mantle was asked why he hadn't lived a healthier lifestyle, he explained that males in his family died young, so what was the use? Never mind the fact that before the Mantle name was synonymous with 500-foot home runs it was known for inhaling deadly fumes in coal mines. This was Mantle's way of dealing with his insecurity.

I've always wondered if Pettitte's insistence that he'd retire young was nothing more than a mental security blanket. Nobody thought Pettitte's troublesome left elbow had 1,500 innings in it, let alone 3,000. Like Mantle, he dealt with an uncomfortable reality by creating his own narrative.

Which takes us back to the battle in Pettitte's mind, which likely rages every morning after he drops his son off at school. The elbow that had Pettitte terrified his entire career has never quit on him. Who is he to quit on the elbow?

If you're a fan, you have to hope the competitor in Pettitte decides he still has something to prove. Because without him, the panic button gets pushed before the Yankees ever report to spring training.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Did Yankees make the right move by letting Greinke get away?

Zack Greinke was traded to the Brewers for a host of minor league prospects on Sunday, and if that doesn't do much for you, don't sweat it. Nobody else seemed to care much either.

Viewed through the prism of pure talent, Greinke should have been seen as every bit Lee's equal in terms of desirability this offseason. They're both Cy Young award winners, each gifted with pitching repertoires that straddle the fine line between power and finesse.

The 32-year-old Lee's appeal is primarily derived from his success in the postseason, a stage that Greinke, 27, has never had the opportunity to perform on. Can't exactly fault him for that.

And yet when Lee chose the Phillies last week, you never heard a peep about the Yankees getting involved in the Greinke trade talks. Even if the Giants didn't pull a Chernobyl before our eyes against the Eagles on Sunday, it's unlikely sports talk radio would be burning up with calls for Brian Cashman's head for letting Greinke get away.

Of course, this can all be traced back to concerns about Greinke's mental makeup. He left baseball for a time in 2006 and was subsequently treated for depression and social anxiety disorder. For a guy who once said that every day felt like a gray day, it was deduced that New York and Zack Greinke was a nasty mix.

SI's Joe Posnanski wrote a tremendous piece about Greinke, who he covered since Kansas City drafted him ahead of Prince Fielder in 2002. Posnanski was sympathetic to Greinke's obtuse nature, and warned that it was unwise to assume what's going on in the pitcher's head since even those that have known him for years have no idea.

Sure, Greinke could completely wilt the first time he gives up a home run at Yankee Stadium, shrinking from the spotlight faster than Rivers Cuomo after releasing Pinkerton. But is it fair to assume it? More to the point, was it the right move for the Yankees to pass on one of the league's great young pitchers based on the assumption he'd fail mentally?

That's the $1,000,000 question, and even if Greinke wins 60 games for the Brewers the next three years, we'll never know the answer. Like trying to get inside Greinke's head, it's impossible.

The Yankees have watched Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers, Kevin Brown, Denny Neagle, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, Jared Wright, Carl Pavano, and yes, A.J. Burnett all fail on the mound after attaining success elsewhere. In most of those cases, the pressures of New York were cited as a primary factor.

It's hard to fault the Yankees for being gun shy, not when you factor in this history and what it would have cost them in prospects to land Greinke. But as this most frustrating of offseasons rolls on, you wonder what the next move is.

Brian Cashman said last week that Plan B was patience. It's a good and logical practice in theory, but in reality, other teams got better this month while the Yankees spun their wheels.

Patience has its place, but sooner or later the Yankees are going to have to make their play. The clock is ticking.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yankees have Rivera, but Soriano deserves look

As the Derek Jeter contract negotiations degenerated into a very public he-said she-said battle of egos, Mariano Rivera and his representation quietly went about the business of re-upping with the only team he has ever known.

The two sides soon agreed on a two-year, $30 million deal, the news made official via press release. Apparently, an awkward press conference where the player appeared to be wondering if he could choke his GM to death and get away with it was deemed unnecessary.

And while many in the media, and even Brian Cashman himself, questioned whether the 36-year-old Jeter still deserved superstar money, no one said a peep about Rivera, a man five years Jeter's senior who relies exclusively on a young man's pitch.

There will never be an Al Leiter-like reinvention of Mariano Rivera. You're not going to see Mo shaking off signs and battling through innings like Eddie Harris in Major League. Once Rivera's inimitable cutter goes, so too does the G.O.A.T.

Of course, how the two Yankee lifers performed in their walk years had a lot to do with how their contract negotiations played out. While Jeter was coming off the worst season of his career, Rivera had a year that was in many ways nearly identical to its predecessor.

The numbers tell the story:

2009: 66.1
2010: 61

2009: 48
2010: 39

2009: 1.76
2010: 1.80

2009: 13
2010: 12

2009: 13
2010: 14

2009: 72
2010: 45

2009: 0.91
2010: 0.83

2009: 44
2010: 33

Three things jump out at you here:

1) This guy is freaking amazing.

2) The disparity in saves proves how misleading that statistic can be. In this case, the Yankees played an inordinate amount of games in 2010 where they badly beat an opponent. Blowout victories mean less save chances. In fact, Rivera actually finished the same amount of games (55) in both '09 and '10. That tells you the Yankees were going to him in non-save situations just to get him work.

3) OK, this is the one where the pitchforks come out. If you watched Rivera last season, you saw subtle signs of slippage.

(Ducking Molotov cocktails)

Let me explain. It wasn't anything that could be seen on the surface, but Rivera didn't possess the same ability to overpower an opponent. This is evident in the strikeout totals, which dipped significantly. Rivera's 6.8 K/9 ratio was at its lowest point in three years, dropping three full strikeouts from the year before.

That's not to take anything away from Rivera's '10 season, which was magnificent and in some ways better than the year before. But in his ability to make batters miss, he wasn't nearly as dominant. As unique as Mo is, you can't expect that to get better given his age.

Enter Rafael Soriano. The reliever had a breakout 2010 season with the Rays, just in time to hit free agency. With Kerry Wood taking a discount to return to the Cubs, the Yankees have a glaring need for an eighth-inning guy and also the $140M earmarked for Cliff Lee just burning a hole through their pocket.

If I'm the Yankees, I'm on the phone with Soriano's agent yesterday.

"Brian Cashman here. OK, full disclosure: We can't give you the closer's least not now. But we can give you a four-year deal that pays you like the best closer in the league. We see you as Mariano's setup man, but we also envision you getting save chances since we don't plan on using Mo in back-to-back days and we can't rule out the possibility that he misses time due to injury. You will be both his understudy and successor."

It's a good pitch, but I'm not sure it works. The personality type of a closer—Rivera being a notable exception—oozes more machismo than Razor Ramon. These guys like to be El Hombre. It's entirely probable that Soriano's first prerequisite for a prospective suitor (other than being willing to hand over gobs of money) is that he be the hero in the back of the 'pen.

But it's worth kicking the tires on anyway. There were reports earlier Thursday that the Yankees were doing just that, but later we were being told New York wasn't interested. I think that's a mistake, for all the reasons I've brought up above, but also this: If the Yankees aren't going to have a dominant rotation—and lord Jesus, it's not looking that way—they should be doing everything in their power to put together a lights-out bullpen.

As we learned way back in 1996, being able to shorten a game to seven innings has the knack of turning a merely good team into a championship one.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee and the Yankees: Loss, Rejection, and the Art of Moving On

Rejection never feels good.

We've all experienced it before, whether it be at the workplace, playground, or singles bar around the corner. Everyone gets their ego bruised from time to time ... even the New York Yankees.

We just witnessed Cliff Lee treat the Bronx Bombers like the pimple-faced freshman who asked the prettiest senior to homecoming. She had no intention of accepting the offer, but she didn't want to break his heart either. So she just let it sit ... and sit ... and sit. The freshman held out hope...until the crushing sight of his dream girl slow dancing with the star quarterback.

When it comes to free agency, the Yankees are always the star quarterback. That's their thing. Teams like the Angels and Brewers and Athletics, they're the scrappy underdog that can't compete. To see the Phillies take the alpha dog role while the Yankees scrambled for their Proactiv? It was almost surreal.

Predictably, things were pretty gloom and doom in Yankee Universe the day after The Decision. Red Sox and Phillies fans—charmers that they are—pounded their chests while gallows humor about the signings of Mark Prior and Russell Martin flew across Twitter like a loogie at Kristen Lee.

Make no mistake, Lee's surprising choice has sent reverberations throughout the sport. Some thoughts on The Decision:

Cliff ain't LeBron

Sure, there are parallels. Like LeBron, Lee was the biggest fish in the free agent market. Like LeBron, he had several clubs vying for his services, including his most-recent team and a celebrated New York franchise. Like LeBron, he left money on the table to join a team with an established superstar already in place. But the comparison ends for one crucial reason: Lee didn't stab the Rangers in the back. He was nothing more than a hired gun in Arlington, and he never made promises the way LeBron did to Cleveland. He even called Nolan Ryan to personally inform him of his decision. This was essentially the opposite of announcing his intentions on live television as a horde of confused inner-city children looked on. Man, that was weird.

Don't discount the wife factor

It seemed like just another stupid media creation at first, but the more that comes out, the more it sounds like Kristen Lee's dislike of New York played a pivotal role here. This seems pretty ridiculous, but consider the source. Cliff and Kristen are middle school sweethearts from Arkansas. Seriously, what the hell is that? When I was 13, the only thing I cared about was Donnie Baseball and Naked Gun movies. Cliff Lee was locking it down? Ugh. After Kristen's unfortunate ALCS experience at the Stadium she probably made The Decision on the spot. Am I not-so-subtly implying that Cliff ain't exactly "driving the bus" here? You bet I am. Bitter, table of one!

Take it easy on Cash

Like many of you, I haven't been Brian Cashman's biggest fan of late. He's become the Eddie Murphy of GMs over the past 12 months—attaching himself to bomb after bomb after bomb. And while Cash has certainly taken some wrong turns—Yankees clubhouse personnel are still trying to figure out how to get Nick Johnson through the door frame—he appeared to do everything in his power to get Lee in pinstripes. As for those who point to the failed attempt to land the pitcher via trade in July, why should we assume Lee wouldn't have turned around and headed back to Philadelphia anyway? When Jesus Montero hits .340 with 38 homers and 120 RBI in 2013, you will hail the man as a visionary.

The race for the AL East ain't over 'til it's over

There's no way to spin Lee's signing as anything other than bad news for the least in the the short-term. New York has a glaring weakness in their starting rotation behind CC Sabathia, and Lee was the ideal solution. But as I alluded to Monday, it's not like we're about to be shuttled back to the Stump Merrill era or something. And here's another news flash: The Red Sox aren't as good as people seem to think. Their rotation has serious question marks (Beckett and Lackey anyone?) and their bullpen is a mess. They're going to be good, but this isn't the '86 team reincarnate. (Whoops, poor example.)

Yankees have played the bridesmaid before

The Yankees have developed a reputation as baseball's most successful team during free agency, but that hasn't always been the case. The team struggled mightily in the 80s to lure top stars as anti-Steinbrenner sentiment swelled. Fast forward to the 1992-93 offseason to find the best parallel to today. That year the Yankees went hard after free agent pitcher Greg Maddux, who spurned the Yankees—or more specifically, New York City—to sign with the Braves for $8 million less. Undaunted, dynasty architect Gene Michael went back to work, "settling" for a crafty left-hander by the name of Jimmy Key. The veteran went 35-10 over the next two seasons, capping his time in pinstripes with a win over Maddux and the Braves in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series.

Is there a Jimmy Key lurking somewhere on the market right now? Time for Brian Cashman to make less like Norbit and more like Beverly Hills Cop and find out.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What if the Yankees don't sign Cliff Lee?

I'm sure Cliff Lee had a nice little weekend in Arkansas, doing whatever it is that people in Arkansas do.

Couples boar hunted with Kristen? Smoked a pipe on a porch? Waited out a tornado in the cellar?

My understanding of land-locked American states is extremely limited.

And while I may be ignorant in the ways of the "The Natural State" (thanks Wikipedia!), I do know that Arkansas' best pitcher didn't announce this weekend where he'll be playing baseball for the next seven years.

From the reports we've heard, it's down to the Yankees, Rangers, and a third "mystery" team (which I assume is the Jets, who plan to convert Lee into a quarterback).

If you're beginning to worry that Lee won't be standing on a podium beside a beaming Brian Cashman this week, you may be onto something. Every day that passes with no commitment makes you wonder if the Yankees have been trumped.

Which leads itself to the next question: What happens if the Yankees don't sign Cliff Lee?

I'm sure it would unfold in a series of stages.

  • Stage 1: Outrage: Cashman would be blasted, with extra scrutiny given to his inability to complete the trade for Lee last July. Fans will demand to know how the Yankees could be outspent, and if they weren't, how the negotiation process failed despite the financial edge. There will be pitchforks and torches involved with a lot of people using the Google Earth application to find Cash's house. Not pretty.
  • Stage 2: Panic: This is when all the mongos call Mike Francesa with ludicrous trade offers — "Ivan Nova and one Legends Seat ticket for Roy Halladay" — prompting Francesa to say things like "Yaawwre laaawwwst" and "Youwwwre out of yawr mind" before giving the hand wave. Zack Greinke will be brought up often during this stage, his acute discomfort in the spotlight and past psychological issues conveniently brushed aside.
  • Stage 3: Resignation. This will be particularly rough if Cashman — working under the assumption he isn't iced during Stage One — is unable to make a move that satiates the fanbase. There will be talk of the Red Sox winning 120 games. Yankees fans will be wholly depressed, but will still be infinitely happier than catatonic Mets fans.
It's easy to forget that the Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball last year. That could be considered an achievement when you factor in all that went wrong: Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson flopped. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada regressed. Andy Pettitte got hurt. Mark Teixeira mysteriously struggled. And A.J. Burnett ... well, let's just say poor A.J. went off the grid on us.

All those issues, and the Yankees still won 95 games, posting more victories than all but two teams. They even won a postseason series, in a sweep no less.

But this is the Yankees we're talking about, where success isn't judged by scrappy ALDS conquests. The Boss may be dead but his doctrine lives on: Anything less than a World Series title is considered failure.

The Yankees have a very good team as it stands now. They can compete with the Red Sox right now, even with Boston's improvements. Can the argument be made that the Red Sox are become the favorite in the AL East? Sure, but that doesn't mean they're going to blow the division away by July. If the Yankees stay upright, they'll compete.

Lee is not the only chance the Yankees have of making it back to the World Series. As good as he is, I'm sure there will be people in the organization that will feel like they dodged a bullet. It's all about perspective. If they fail to land Lee, that doesn't mean they need to decimate their farm system just to say they got somebody this winter. A little patience could go a long way.

Cashman knows this. At least, I hope he does. But Yankees fans should understand it, too. They may lose the battle for Lee, but that won't guarantee they lose the war.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Boxed-in Yankees lean on 'Win Now! Worry Later!' strategy

The Yankees know full well that offering Cliff Lee a seven-year guaranteed contract is a bad idea. At least, I think they do.

Lee will turn 33 during the 2011 season. Signing him to a deal that would conceivably pay him over $20 million the year he turns 40 doesn't exactly reek of fiscal responsibility.

No, it doesn't approach the mind-numbing idiocy of Alex Rodriguez's contract. The foolishness of that deal — home run "milestone" escalators and all — will be remembered by historians the same way they recall Napoleon's decision to invade Russia in the dead of winter. Thanks Hank!

A better parallel may be Jason Giambi, another established veteran star the Yankees signed to a multi-year contract using the "Win now! Worry later!" strategy. Nearly 31 and having packed on roughly 80 pounds of muscle mass during the second Clinton administration, New York ignored the red flags and signed the Oakland MVP to a seven-year, $120 million deal nine years ago this Monday.

The Big G had his moments in pinstripes, but his PED non-admission admission combined with a steady decline in production made it a regrettable contract by its halfway point.

It's certainly conceivable the Yankees would feel the same way about Lee's deal.

For a more positive outlook, point to Mike Mussina, who began a six-year, $88.5 million deal with New York when he was 32, the same age Lee is now. Mussina never won a ring with the Yankees, but was more or less as good as advertised, even winning 20 games in his final season. He also drank Mountain Dew by the case and weirded out lughead teammates with his high intelligence, but that's neither here nor there.

And while past signings have produced mixed results, there's no disputing that the Yankees find themselves in a precarious position as things currently stand. Their biggest rival has turned the winter meetings into a personal playground, adding two (twenty-something) All-Stars in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford who stand to shift the balance of power in the American League.

There's no way to sugarcoat it — the Yankees need Lee just to keep up with Boston. Other than Crawford himself, no one benefited from the outfielder's mega-deal with Evil Empire (NESN Division) more than Lee did. It made the Yankees desperate, the exact scenario every blue chip star dreams of when he reaches free agency.

To further complicate matters for the Yankees, the clock is ticking. Derek Jeter is 36. A-Rod is 35. Jorge Posada is 39. Mariano Rivera is 41. Andy Pettitte (assuming his return) is 38. A.J. Burnett will be 34.

The bill is coming due. Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but there's an urgency to contend now before their high-priced veterans become liabilities. The "Win now! Worry later!" roster makeup will eventually send New York into a rebuilding period of some kind. Signing Lee gives you the best shot for a title in your core's glaucoma golden years.

And if Lee doesn't sign with New York? Well, that's when Cash gets on the horn with Carl Pavano's people.

And that's when I donate my body to the Human Centipede doctor.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Captain Candid: Derek Jeter Opens Up on Contract Odyssey

Stop the presses: Derek Jeter said something interesting.

We've waited a long time for this; sat through 15 years of interviews and press conferences devoid of even the slightest semblance of insight or intimacy. It's been a decade and a half of stock quotes lifted from the Professional Athlete Handbook of Clichés, the forward written, naturally, by Derek Sanderson Jeter.

Everyone from Peter Gammons to Suzyn Waldman, from Bob Costas to Sweeny Murti have attempted to get Jeter to divulge something ... anything. No dice.

Vanilla is the flavor of the captain's ice cream. Frankly, who can blame him?

Vanilla doesn't provoke follow-up questions. Vanilla doesn't create friction with your manager. Vanilla doesn't lead to animosity with the media. Vanilla keeps you off the back page.

It's something A-Rod took years to understand. Jeter knew it from the first time he walked in the Yankees clubhouse in 1995.

On Tuesday, Jeter decided to crack the door open and let people take a peek inside.

He could have stood at that podium in Tampa and lied through his teeth. "This is the business of the game." "Cash was just doing his job." "Being part of the Yankee legacy is blah blah blah."

But it was clear the "messy" negotiations that ended with his three-year, $51 million deal left a bad taste in his mouth. He had a message to send.

“I can’t tell you I ever thought it was going to go this way,” he said as Brian Cashman looked on from a protective cube of plexi-glass. “My understanding is that it was supposed to be a private negotiation. That’s how it’s supposed to go, but it didn’t go that way.”

I'd say he was picking at the scab, but that would infer that the wound has reached the healing process. I'm not so sure we're there yet. Right now we're dealing with some raw, gnarly stuff.

Jeter used the word "angry" multiple times to describe the process. It appeared most of that ire was directed at Cashman, who certainly isn't Jeter's favorite person right now.

To hear Jeter tell it, he came to the Yankees and essentially put himself at their mercy by admitting he didn't want to play anywhere else. Cashman, representing the team, betrayed that honesty by telling Jeter — through the press — to shop his offer if it wasn't good enough.

This could be described in some circles as a "dick move."

"I was pretty angry about it, but I let that be known," Jeter said as Cashman had a kevlar vest affixed to his chest by a bodyguard. "I was angry about it because I was the one that said I didn’t want to do it, that I wasn’t going to do it. To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn’t going to; if I’m going to be honest with you, I was angry about it."

Before we start a vigil in honor of Jeter's tragic life, let's remember that a) it was really his agent who turned the negotiations into an outright public matter, b) he remains the best paid middle infielder in baseball, c) Minka Kelly and d) Minka Kelly.

Jeter's going to be just fine. But for a remarkably public person, he has always been very much the private type. This is the same guy who fought and won (of course) a dispute with his Tampa neighbors to erect a 6-foot-wall around his 31,000-square-foot mansion.

In case the aforementioned 31,000-square-foot mansion didn't tip you off, Jeter has made a ton of money in his career. He acknowledged as much on Tuesday, but he made it clear that he was stung by the portrayal that he was just another selfish, money-grubbing athlete.

"They said I had an ego, that I’m greedy … the perception was greed when it was a negotiation. ... It all started with my salary demands, which still cracks me up. What position am I in to demand a salary? Give me this, or what? Where am I going?"

The answer is nowhere. And I think every Yankee fan is thankful for that.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Legacy work done, Yankees can look toward future

This wasn't exactly a forward-thinking weekend for the Yankees, was it?

While they were putting a bow on contract terms for their 36-year-old shortstop and 41-year-old closer, the Red Sox traded for the Latino Mark Teixeira in Adrian Gonzalez, the White Sox added a perennial 40-home run threat to the middle of their lineup in Adam Dunn; even the adorable Nats signed away power of attorney so Jayson Werth could come lose 90 games for the next five years.

This isn't to belittle or understate the importance of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. It was obvious New York had to keep them around, and as I predicted last week, there was motivation to get the "messy" Jeter negotiations done before the start of the winter meetings.

It was more striking than anything else — the Yankees shoring up their past while other teams aggressively addressed their futures. It's like a fat-on-his-riches record executive sitting in his den enjoying the Beatles' library on iTunes while the younger upstarts with something to prove scour the local club scene for the next big thing. One guy soaking in "Yesterday" while the others look for tomorrow.

If the Yankees land Cliff Lee in the next two weeks, this will all be forgotten. But for now it doesn't feel like Brian Cashman has begun work on how to make the 2011 Yankees succeed where the '10 team failed.

He'll get that chance at the winter meetings, which differ from the general manager meetings in that success isn't defined by who can clear out the mini-bar before happy hour starts.

Real work is done here, and Cashman has a lot of it on his plate. Who's the No. 2 starter? How are they going to build the bridge to Mo? Is Pettitte coming back? Should they trust their young catchers? And if not, then who? And where the hell was I? (Sorry, Naked Gun reference. R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen.)

Luckily, the Yankees aren't the only team in the AL East trying to figure things out.

Everyone just assumes the Rays will chug right along despite the impending losses of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Rafael Soriano. Count me as one guy not convinced the ballyhooed prospects in the Tampa system will be able to contribute immediately.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, got themselves a fine player in A-Gon, but are they really that much better when the first baseman's entrance signals Adrian Beltre's exit? I, for one, was terrified of Beltre in a Boston uniform, and I thought he had more than just another good walk year in him.

They still have major outfield production issues, and Werth coming off the board certainly didn't help. And don't forget about the fallout from reports they tried to steal Rivera from the Yankees. Jonathan Papelbon was a headcase before this news. He might go into full-on Private Pyle mode now.

(Translation: Stay away from the latrines in spring training, Tito.)

So there's no reason to panic as a Yankees fan — your team isn't the only one scrambling right now. They've kissed and made up with The Icon. They've locked up the rights to "Enter Sandman" for another two years. The brand is fortified.

Now we'll find out if Cashman can mold that brand into something that's both profitable and successful.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees blog, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just say no: Greinke not the answer if Lee pursuit fails

Never chase your money.

It's an age-old gambling adage, meaning don't keep betting when your only goal is to get back what you've already lost. It's an urge that gamblers at any level must fight, and it can be very difficult to resist.

This is how otherwise sane-thinking fathers and uncles end up with broken knee caps and orbital sockets. This is how little Suzie loses a college fund and ends up a lady of the night.

In the world of professional baseball, general managers should be reminded that the "never chase your money" philosophy applies to them as well.

I was thinking about that earlier today when I saw a report about Zack Greinke and his supposed willingness to come to the Yankees. The Royals right-hander is just one year removed from winning the Cy Young award, and there have been persistent whispers that he could be moved in a trade this winter.

In case you haven't noticed, this is an unusually thin year in terms of starting pitching on the open market. It appears that Cliff Lee has better timing than Sal Swatch and Chaz Rolex combined.

Want some more perspective? The general consensus next best option on the market is none other than Carl Pavano, a man who once missed most of a season with a bruised ass.

Obviously, the Yankees would rather rent out their private suites to Ron Jeremy's production company before giving the American Idle another dollar, so it makes sense that Greinke would pique their interest if they failed to acquire Lee.

But that's when Brian Cashman should remember: Never chase your money.

I'm sure Greinke is a nice person, but let's not forget he also left baseball for a time because of some serious anxiety issues. This is the same guy who didn't even want to have a press conference after he won the Cy Young award. He appears to enjoy the cameras and bright lights as much as an exposed pederast on an episode of To Catch A Predator.

Bringing him to New York would probably be the most obvious set up for disaster since, well, the last time Javier Vazquez was chucking 83-mph fastballs at the Stadium.

Speaking of Vazquez, here's to hoping Cashman learned some lessons about chasing the money last winter: Vazquez was a Plan B to fill the middle of the Yankee rotation when a better alternative didn't present itself. Nick Johnson was a Plan B after Johnny Damon made it clear he wouldn't take a pay cut.

Greinke would be an even more tempting Plan B because of his obvious skill-set and age (he just turned 27). But the red flags flapping in the wind simply can't be ignored.

Ideally, Lee and his beautiful sweet wife buy the Yankees' sales pitch and he'll be endorsing outrageous pay checks for the next six years. But if the courtship fails, the organization must be disciplined enough not to make a panic move that sets the club back even further.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.