Lee impacting AL East rivals from afar
This is a column that was supposed to recap all of the biggest transactions from last week.
A good chunk of this piece was (likely) going to hail a few of Billy Beane's latest moves, namely improving the barren Oakland offense by acquiring Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui, while adding a couple low-risk, high-reward arms in Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden.
As an unabashed Tigers fan, I was (most definitely) going to send some praiseworthy bits Dave Dombrowski's way for locking up Magglio Ordonez to an incredibly sensible one-year, $10 million deal. This likely would have led to some half-hearted comment about how the Joaquin Benoit signing doesn't seem so absurd anymore because a combined $15.5 million this season for Maggs and Benoit looks pretty good to me.
And then to fill up some space and get my word count up, I had a whole thesis already outlined comparing all of the preposterous relief-pitching free-agent signings with the cast of "Top Chef All-Stars." I have no idea how this really would have worked. It probably would have made no sense. I just know that I think a three-year deal to Matt Guerrier seems a bit much and I know that I really like "Top Chef All-Stars." That's all I got. I'm sure my editors would have loved this.
Unfortunately, this is not a column recapping all of the biggest transactions from last week. This is because I can't veer myself away from the whole Cliff Lee thing.
Now, I know by now that no stone has been left unturned when it comes to the magical mystery tour that is the whole Lee thing. When Skip Bayless is genuinely trying to compare Lee "spurning" Texas to LeBron James turning his back on Cleveland, you know it's time to move on to the next page.
But lost in the shuffle in all of the hoopla surrounding the whole Lee thing is the actual baseball ramifications of the whole Lee thing.
By the "actual baseball ramifications of the whole Lee thing" I do not mean how Cole Hamels is now the best No. 4 starter in baseball (which he is), or how Charlie Manuel could trot out Justin Bieber as the team's No. 5 starter and still win 100 games this year -- I'm still waiting on Bill James' projected VORP on Bieber for that.
No, by the "actual baseball ramifications of the whole Lee thing" I mean how the whole Lee thing affects the 2011 Major League Baseball landscape, namely the two teams that everyone loves most -- the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Red Sox
So until Monday night, the Red Sox were unquestionably the offseason's biggest winner. Now, the Red Sox might still be considered the offseason's biggest winner, but until the whole Lee thing went down, they were unquestionably the offseason's biggest winner. Lee signing with the Phillies changes the degree of Boston's offseason success because it directly affects how important its two biggest offseason additions (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) actually are.
As I briefly mentioned in last week's column, despite lengthy injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox finished second in the Major Leagues last season in runs scored with 818. I joked that an offense that includes a healthy Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youkilis and is now peppered with Crawford and Gonzalez could score approximately 23 runs per game.
But this may not matter.
If we learned anything from last postseason, it's not that good pitching stops good hitting, but that elite pitching will stop great hitting.
We saw this in the National League Divisional Series when the Phillies swept the NL's No. 1 offense in three games and, of course, in the World Series, when the offensively challenged Giants dusted off a stacked Rangers lineup behind the arms of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
This is not to say that the 2011 Red Sox can't be an offensive juggernaut that will devour pitching like a fifth-grader swallowing a crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toasted cinnamon raisin bread after a track meet. But it does mean that with Lee joining Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hamels everyone's favorite question of "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object"" is firmly on the radar with a potential Red Sox-Phillies World Series.
And this is a good thing.
Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, my two older brothers and a select few of my closest friends from home sneak onto our old high school football field and play an incredibly intense game of touch football. The game is always surrounded with a ridiculous amount of trash talking, e-mails, hype, build-up and excitement -- it's easily my favorite day of the year. What never gets mentioned in the hysteria surrounding the Turkey Bowl is the obvious: What happens when someone finally realizes that we are trespassing and kicks us off our old high football field? This is bound to happen eventually. The answer is we don't know, because there is no Plan B.
So this is pretty much where the Yankees are. Plan A was to sign Lee and, with all due respect to Russell Martin, from everything I've seen and heard so far, there doesn't really appear to be a Plan B. From the 2010 Trade Deadline on, it was always just assumed that the Yankees would fill their gaping hole in their starting rotation with Lee this offseason. If you were to ask any Yankees fan how they felt after they were eliminated by Texas in the ALCS, they'd respond with something along the lines of "Whatever, we'll have Cliff Lee next year."
But they won't.
So where do the Yanks go from here to help out their starting rotation? I have no idea. The long list of aces or elite arms that do not pitch for likely contenders and could potentially be on the market is as follows:
Yeah, that's pretty much it.
Rumor has it the Yankees already fished around to see if Felix Hernandez was available and were quickly rebuffed. Names like Chris Carpenter and Francisco Liriano have been tossed around, but neither of those options seems to be realistic or, you know, actually make much sense for the other club.
Seriously, look around the Majors and see if you can find another realistic option. It doesn't exist.
So where does that leave us? Well, I'm going to take the liberty to assume the Yanks don't want to ride along for the Carl Pavano Experience again, leaving Greinke as the only obvious alternative.
Of course, the kicker is that Yankees fans have already dismissed the idea of acquiring Greinke because of the questions surrounding his confidence and his ability to adjust to the New York limelight.
My response would be the following:
(1) There is no alternative -- especially if Andy Pettitte retires.
(2) Greinke is really, really good and (potentially) misunderstood.
The great Joe Posnanski has followed Greinke for most of his professional career. Despite numerous interactions and interviews with Greinke, even Posnanski admits that Greinke's personality is pretty much like one of those Magic Eye paintings -- borderline impossible to figure out.
But as Posnanski has recently written in his blog, the one certainty when it comes to Greinke is his thirst for elite competition. In fact, Posnanski attributes Greinke's underwhelming '10 season to his frustration of pitching in so many meaningless games with the last-place Royals. With the caveat of an understandably small sample size, Posnanski proves this by showing how Greinke's stats are their best when the Royals are still in contention, and that Greinke was positively lights-out in his lone All-Star appearance. As Posnanski writes, "If I had to pick the hardest place in baseball for Zack Greinke to pitch it would be ... in Kansas City."
With that said, the Yankees acquiring Greinke would most definitely require relinquishing the great Jesus Montero and would be an obvious roll of the dice.
With a lack of any feasible or realistic alternative, I think it's (probably) a swap worth making.
And the main reason why? The whole Lee thing.
Dave Feldman is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.