Davidoff: Sox sign Crawford; Lee gains leverage
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.
Well, there goes the phony Plan B, and it just gets better and better to be Cliff Lee this winter.
The Yankees are still the strong favorites to wind up with the lefthander. But they can't be pleased that Carl Crawford - whom the Yankees didn't particularly want, but whom they liked having as a bluff alternative - reportedly signed with the rival Red Sox for seven years and $142 million.
The move improves Boston and it also takes away some of the Yankees' leverage as they try to outlast Lee and his agent, Darek Braunecker, in what - for the Yankees - has been an uncomfortably deliberate process.
Brian Cashman had dinner Tuesday night with Crawford and his representative, Brian Peters, at a restaurant not far from the winter meetings site. And maybe that helped Crawford's position with the Red Sox, who appeared to have turned away from the speedy outfielder's services because 1) they'll eventually give a great amount of money to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and 2) Boston seemed to want a righty bat to complement Gonzalez's lefty bat.
So the Yankees won't mind seeing the Red Sox stretch their financial flexibility. Yet Lee now knows that, in addition to lacking an alternative plan on the pitching front, the Yankees can't go with the "acquire a bat and trade an outfielder for a pitcher" plan that never seemed very viable in the first place.
Lee, a free agent for the first time, wants a lot of money. The Yankees want to pay him a lot of money. Barring a surprising surge by the Texas Rangers, Lee could accept the Yankees' six-year offer for about $140 million.
"This is someone who is worth the wait,'' Cashman, who divulged the offer, told reporters of Lee.
With those words, and with confidence resulting from his sizable offer, Cashman dropped the antsiness he showed Tuesday at Steinbrenner Field - at the announcement of the Derek Jeter deal - and that led to his meeting with Crawford and Peters.
The Yankees never were going to sign both Lee and Crawford. They truly like their outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher. They didn't love Crawford. And as Hal Steinbrenner said Tuesday, "I'm a budget guy."
No, Cashman met with Crawford partly because he didn't know what else to do with himself, as he waited and waited and waited for Lee and Braunecker to finally accept offers.
The Rangers? All along, the Yankees regarded Texas as the only serious competitor for Lee, and thought that the Rangers could pull this off only if the team's money men, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, dipped into their own pockets to fund the offer. There's also the issue of how comfortable the Rangers would feel committing a six-year contract to Lee, given that Texas has less room for error than the Yankees.
Riding shotgun on the Lee sweepstakes has been Andy Pettitte, who benefits by creating the image that he is leaning toward retirement. If Lee chooses the Rangers, Pettitte's price goes up with the Yankees. If Lee opts for the Yankees, Pettitte has additional motivation to come back. Pettitte spoke with Cashman Wednesday, and the Yankees' GM said he thinks Pettitte will come back. We agree.
The Yankees don't believe Lee has seven-year offers; the Nationals say it's not them, and the Angels appear more focused on getting a bat, even with their first choice, Crawford, gone. 'Tis the season for bluffing, as the Yankees know very well.
The one constant in the high-stakes Hot Stove League is this: When the Yankees want someone, they pretty much always get him. We'll see shortly whether Lee bucks those odds.