Ernie Acosta
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You’ve heard it over and over again on the WFAN airwaves or read it in your newspaper. When the Yankees want a player badly enough, they ALWAYS get him. Well not this time, as Cliff Lee shockingly joined the small list of big name free agents that have turned their backs on the pinstripes. He is now immortalized alongside the names Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens (in 1997) as the big name pitchers that were able to say no to the Yankees’ money. With Lee taking his talents to Philadelphia, the Phillies will now boast one of the greatest pitching staffs in major league history. In the wake of his stunning decision there now lies a completely panic stricken empire of Yankee fans that has seen the Red Sox add both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Now before all of you angry and frustrated Bronx Bomber fateful begin the march on Yankee Stadium calling for the head of Brian Cashman, I’m here to tell you fellow Yankees’ fans that Lee’s signing with Philadelphia was a good thing for the Yankees. That’s right, I did not want Cliff Lee. Why? Because considering his age and the seven years the Yankees would have had to commit to him, this organization is better off without him. Of course when I say better off, I only mean better off long term. I can’t sit here and tell you the Yankees would not have been a much better in team 2011 with him. The Yanks could definitely have used the southpaw to help neutralize the lefty swinging bats of Crawford, Gonzalez and Ortiz. But, a contract of that length to a pitcher that age, who has already experienced back issues, is too high a price.

In case you’ve forgotten, only a handful of pitchers have ever been fortunate enough to land themselves seven year deals. Three of those pitchers are Mike Hampton, Barry Zito and Kevin Brown. Try reading that list again without getting queasy. Undoubtedly, these are three of the worst contracts since the start of free agency. History tells us that long term deals with pitchers simply do not work. The jury is still out on CC Sabathia and what will come out of his seven year pact, but considering his age at the time (28) and steady record of health, there was more reason to take the risk than there was with Lee. If you’re still not convinced there may be some friends from Flushing that can tell you what a mistake it is. You think the Mets aren’t feeling a little bit of buyer’s remorse after inking Johan Santana, to a six year deal back in 2008. As good as he was the first three years of his deal, that contract could prove to be a disastrous one for the Mets if his arm issues persist and Johan was a much better pitcher than Lee.

Now here’s the real dose of reality for you. Much like the beautiful girl who tells you how great you are but she’s going back to her ex-boyfriend, the Yankees and their fans must realize this guy never wanted to be here. He did not want to be a Yankee and certainly did not want any part of New York City. He can say all he wants about going back to a place he had fun and success in, but the fact is he left a lot of money and most likely an extra year on the table, to go back to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

So now that the Lee saga is over we can all move on. Cashman will really begin to earn his 2011 paycheck now. Carl Pavano is the best available free agent pitcher on the market so it’s obvious the Yankees will have to look for a trade to bolster this rotation. Here are a few names that might make you feel a little less depressed about the upcoming season.

I would drive to Los Angeles in a smart car if it meant the Yankees could get their hands on the 26-year-old Chad Billingsley. As a number three on this staff, Billingsley would fit like a glove. He has already shown signs of even being a good number two pitcher in his brief five year career with the Dodgers. Considering his second half struggles in 2009 and 2010, combined with a solid rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers may be willing to move Billingsley for the right price. Did I mention Rod Barajas is slated as their opening day catcher? With a farm system overflowing with catching talent the Yankees may be in the right situation to land the arbitration- eligibile righty. (On a side note Ted Lilly would have been a quality signing by the Yankees this off-season if the Dodgers had not inked him before his free agency eligibility kicked in).

Second on my pitching Christmas list would be Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez. With an average of 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, Wandy has established himself as the Astros number one starter heading into the 2011 season. But, if ever there was a team that was in full rebuilding mode, it’s this one. With the ‘Stros only having the rights to Wandy’s services for one more year before free agency comes calling, Houston general manager Ed Wade will undoubtedly realize that 32-year-old pitchers are not meant to be built around and will deal him.

My last guy will shock you and probably cause you to completely stop reading this article altogether, but Carlos Zambrano could be a really interesting fit for this team. I know he’s been a nutcase in Chicago, fighting with teammates in the dugout and taking bats to the water coolers, but I think a change of scenery would really fix this guy. Remember, “Big Z” has been the face of the Chicago Cubs over the last eight seasons. That wouldn’t be the case here. By moving to New York, Zambrano would go from the ace of a struggling staff to just a piece of what could hopefully be a championship team. A number three pitcher at most. Without being saddled with the burden of an entire struggling organization, Zambrano’s mind should be put to ease. And remember Girardi caught him in Chicago for two years of his career. A clear headed Zambrano could be dominant if put in the right situation. Oh, and with $35 million being owed him over the next two years (some of which the Cubs would have to pick up) I’m sure the asking price would not be very high. I just wouldn’t want to be the guy that has to tell him pitchers don’t hit in the American League.

There’s no way of predicting who could become available between now and the trade deadline.
There’s rumors already swirling of Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco being shopped and even Chien-Ming Wang is still a free agent…..Hello? The point is there are still options. As this team is presently contructed they are still better on paper than 27 other teams in the major leagues and they have eight months to leapfrog the Phillies and Red Sox.

Although you may not see it, Cliff Lee’s contract could have debilitated the Yankees three or four years from now. Yes, even the Yankees would struggle to overcome a salary like that when he begins to struggle at 35. Just enjoy the fact that he’s no longer in the American League and the next shot the Yankee bats would have at overcoming his dominance of them would probably be in the World Series. So for now just sit back and listen as the trade rumors are bantied about. If you asked me now do I think the Yankees will get that extra arm to solidify their rotation, I’d have to say, yes, of course they will. The Yankees almost always get their man.

pixy Acosta: Yanks Are Better Off Without Him

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