It was certainly no mystery that the New York Yankees were going after the Texas Rangers’ ace left-hander Cliff Lee, especially after he pitched lights-out baseball against the Yanks in the ALCS.
The biggest mystery in that particular scenario was whether or not Lee wanted to stay in Texas or perhaps broaden his horizons along with his bank account via a trip to NYC.
In hindsight, of course, New York just wasn’t the place Lee wanted to go. After his wife was insulted and reportedly spat on by Yankees’ fans, and after the realization that guys like Jeter would be clung to instead of updating the lineup with youth, Lee ultimately settled—for whatever his reasons—on a return to the Philadelphia Phillies and even passed on a lucrative deal offered by Texas.
The contract Lee received is estimated to be around $24 million a year for five years, with an option for a sixth depending on innings pitched.
If it was only about the money, the Yankees are most likely kicking themselves, as they could easily best that – and they have bested plenty of offers in the past to grab guys whose talents could help the club compete in the ever-strong field of the AL East.
But the past is past and the future is now. What are the Yankees’ odds of pitching success now that Lee is a Philly?
Well, for starters, it’s actually a great thing that Cliff went to the NL and didn’t stay in Texas. And if he would have gone to Boston, which was a short-lived rumor, the Yankees would really be feeling the sting of his absence.
However, New York didn’t exactly go without acquiring some talent to pick up the slack. They grabbed the cross-city rival New York Mets’ Pedro Feliciano for a bargain price - $8 million for two years. They also went after Tampa Bay’s Rafael Soriano, leaving the Rays’ rotation one solid pitcher lighter and tuning up the Yankees’ chances for $35 million over three years.
Lee in Philadelphia probably completes the best rotation of pitchers in the past forty years, and perhaps even in MLB history. So New York can count its collective lucky stars that they won’t have to compete with Philly for anything, save a potential 2011 World Series.
The odds are looking fairly decent for the Yankees to walk away with the AL East this season. Boston is older and always prone to injury, not to mention they’ve been falling apart a little more each year since 2008. The Rays’ loss of key talent means New York gets a step up by default.
Sure, this isn’t anything quantifiable when it comes to betting on the Yankees’ success. We’re not dealing with video slots machines here. But with the start of the season less than four months away, we’d say the Yankees are a solid 5:3 to win the AL East.
The biggest test for New York, perhaps, will rear its head in the postseason. Their pitching had trouble holding up last year. An infusion of youth and stamina, with some still yet to come, will undoubtedly help New York stay strong inning by inning.
It’s still very early, but the Yankees are up there with the lowest odds to win the Series in 2011, earning +600 in the early going. The Phillies, by contrast, are the odds-on favorite to win the entire shebang with a stellar early line of +180.
A lot can happen during a baseball season, obviously. There’s still no guarantee that Cliff Lee will even pan out for Philadelphia. He completely choked up against what some considered to have been an inferior lineup with San Francisco (two games in a row, no less), and playing in the NL, where pitchers have to be hitters, also exponentially increases the odds of injury.
Not wishing anything ill on Lee, of course, but you have to be pragmatic about these things. If the Yankees couldn’t close the deal, you must look at the entire picture. If so, you will come to the same conclusion – they’re probably just as well off without him as with him.
Their odds would have been better with Cliff Lee. Don’t doubt that for a second. But this isn’t a download blackjack game we’re talking about. This is Major League Baseball.
When it’s all said and done, the Yankees’ only worries are still focused entirely on the AL, specifically on the AL East, and how well their aging roster can hold up over a grueling season. With Lee in Philly, it’s out of sight, out of mind.