MLB

Cashman makes his pitch to Lee

Mark Kriegel explains why the Yanks wanting to spend big money on Cliff Lee is a big mistake.
Mark Kriegel explains why the Yanks wanting to spend big money on Cliff Lee is a big mistake.
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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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Interesting, isn’t it, that when the Yankees decided it was time to begin their full frontal assault on free agent Cliff Lee, they sent just one official – GM Brian Cashman.

Manager Joe Girardi didn’t make the trip to Arkansas. Nor did president Randy Levine or either  of the Steinbrenner brothers. Cashman showed up at Lee’s house by himself, testimony to his growing power in the organization. Confidantes say the meeting, although preliminary in nature, “went well” and created an amicable backdrop for the imminent exchange of numbers.

No one, however, expects this courtship to move swiftly. It could take weeks, possibly spilling over into December, which is why Cashman didn’t bring any corporate accessories with him. He didn’t bother to offer Lee a highlight video of life in the Big Apple or promise a tour of the city’s suburbs in Westchester, northern New Jersey or Connecticut.

Instead, Cashman will be dealing from his primary strengths – money and history. The GM will emphasize that no team compensates its players as handsomely as the Yankees. No team has a higher payroll. No one has more resources to draw upon. No team has won more World Series.

Cashman will appeal to Lee’s inner (and outer) capitalist, but the sales pitch won’t end there. He’ll tell the pitcher that no major-league franchise has marketing tentacles as long as the Yankees’. If Lee can take the Yankees back to the World Series, he’ll be in a position to sign endorsement deals that dwarf those of any other market.

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Cashman will remind Lee that Derek Jeter makes almost $10 million a year just for his association with Gillette, Gatorade, Ford and Nike. These are the type of companies that’ll want Lee hawking their products. All he has to do is agree to perform on professional sports’ biggest stage.

Will he, though? That’s the question the Yankees can’t answer. They know their financial might will be countered by the Rangers’ emotional bond to Lee. He spent only a half-season in Arlington, but to a man during the World Series, the Rangers said they considered Lee one of their own. “I think Cliff knows how we feel about him and how much faith we have in him every time he pitches,” Michael Young said.

That kinship will be reiterated by Nolan Ryan, who will appeal to Lee’s midwest roots. There’s nothing Cashman can do about the lure of the ol'-boy brotherhood – which is about as far away from the New York experience as a ballplayer can get.

Lee will be a Yankee only if he’s ready to accept a fast-paced, urbanized, calloused way of life. There’s less patience, bigger headlines and an endless supply of wise-guy cynicism that makes New York the most exciting – or exasperating – place to play ball.

It’s a challenging environment. Make no mistake, the Yankees are willing to pay for the culture shock. When Cashman made a similar recruiting visit to Sabathia two years ago, he was fully aware he was dealing with an out-of-towner without big-market experience.

Sabathia, of course, is a northern Californian who’d played in Cleveland and Milwaukee – hardly the best way to prepare for the Bronx. The Yankees attacked the potential problem by first assuring Sabathia that their clubhouse was a welcoming home for newcomers. The bad blood-element that had effectively frozen out Alex Rodriguez (notably Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina and to a degree, Joe Torre) were all gone.

Then, to make sure they made Sabathia feel comfortable, the Bombers threw in an extra $20 million over their last offer, even though no other team had even come close to the Yankees’ previous numbers. At seven years, $161 million, Sabathia was powerless to say no.

That’s virtually the same strategy Cashman will use on Lee and, in particular, his wife, Kristen. Her reaction to Yankees fans during the playoffs is well-documented; she (understandably) had a problem with the loud, obnoxious and drunken behavior she was exposed to inside the Stadium. Cashman will undoubtedly apologize for the actions of a small minority, but he’ll also make it clear that once Lee is a Yankee, the crowd will be his ally. Lee’s family will be treated as royalty. That’s part of the exaggerated calculus in New York: Stars are either loved or hated, depending on which uniform they’re wearing.

Question is, how much will it cost the Yankees to get Lee to believe this? If Sabathia is making an annual salary of $23 million, it’s hardly a stretch to think Lee will want more – say, $25 million per.

And guess what? The Yankees are likely to say yes. Within reason, they’ll do whatever it takes to add yet another super nova to the rotation. They’re fully aware of the potential risk of letting the Rangers keep Lee. Sabathia, after all is coming off knee surgery, A.J. Burnett has spiraled down into lost-cause status and Andy Pettitte might retire.

Without Lee, the Yankees have no effective Plan B, which is why they’re ready to open the vault. Welcome to the Pinstripe way: When in doubt, write a bigger check.

Tagged: Yankees, Rangers

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