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Texas Rangers: Which Starting Rotation Candidates Will Make the Cut?

The Texas Rangers were long-regarded as an offensive-minded ball-club, built upon the strength of their lineup, with pitching generally seeming like an afterthought. 

Since Nolan Ryan took control of the franchise however, the emphasis on building a deep, talented pitching staff has become a priority.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Rangers have experienced more success in the last two seasons than they had throughout their entire history up to 2010. Beginning in 1961 as the Washington Senators, the franchise had only experienced three playoff series, losing in the first round in 1996, ’98 and ’99, before their two-consecutive AL pennants over the last two seasons.

Still an offensive powerhouse, Texas has taken a more balanced approach to building their roster, focusing as much on pitching and defense as on the strength of their lineup. There are few one-dimensional players on the squad these days, a welcome change from seasons past.

After two straight years of incredible success, the pitching staff finds itself in a state of transition, though many of the primary contributors remain the same.

They signed Joe Nathan to bolster the rear of their bullpen, in hope that one-time uber-prospect Neftali Feliz can become the ace they have long envisioned. Their ace of the last two years, reliever-turned-starter C.J. Wilson, has moved on to their fierce rivals in Anaheim, preferring to move home to Orange County once he became a free agent.

Texas will gamble again on transitioning a reliever to the starting rotation, something which they’ve had great success with over the last few years, first with Wilson, then with Alexi Ogando last season.

Also, their dramatic leap into the international player market was one of potential great reward, as they signed perhaps the most-touted Japanese pitcher ever in Yu Darvish. His professional resume in Japan is stellar and they’re gambling big that he can replicate his success in Major League Baseball.

Alongside Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the Rangers’ principal owner, Texas has established a formidable brain trust with an intimate knowledge of pitching. Their pitching coach Mike Maddux is one of the more respected at his profession in the league, able to impart a vast array of knowledge and experience upon his staff.

His brother, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, one of the greatest pitchers in recent decades, will now serve as a front office consultant to GM Jon Daniels.

With such an impressive group of pitching minds involved in the construction and management of their staff, the Texas Rangers are in good hands when it comes to matters of the mound. 

As they prepare to decide upon their starting staff for the 2012 season, faced with an excess of talented arms, let’s look at the primary contenders who will be vying for the five slots in their rotation.

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MLB Free Agents: Fielder, Pujols and Baseball’s $100 Million Contract Club

As the two marquee players available in this year’s MLB free-agent market, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder figured to cash in mightily once they received a favorable contract offer and signed upon the dotted line.

Both career-long members of their respective clubs, the two sluggers have built impressive resumes for which they were paid handsomely by their new clubs.

Pujols, a modern legend during his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, has produced Hall of Fame caliber numbers through his first 11 seasons as a major leaguer. Even a cursory glance at his career statistics is enough to recognize the staggering nature of his greatness.

Fielder, though not quite on the same tier as Pujols, has proved to be incredibly durable and has become one of the game’s most-feared power threats. His combination of sheer power, plate discipline and durability is rather formidable. 

It was once unthinkable that Pujols would ever leave St. Louis, but when he took a stand in spring training and issued an ultimatum and end-date regarding discussion of a contract extension, many took it to mean that the Cardinals had missed their opportunity to secure the future of their star first baseman. Pujols though, on several occasions, professed his love of St. Louis and his desire to remain with the only organization he’s ever known. During spring, he spoke about the option of staying in St. Louis and said, “It’s a great piece to have on your resume. There’s not too many players that stay with one organization. Hopefully that happens.”

That wasn’t to be, as the lure of $240 million proved too much for the star to resist. Rather than play out the second half of his Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, he risked scorn from his adoring fans in St. Louis by moving out west to Southern California. A new era in Angels’ baseball was born.

The situation with Prince was different however, as he was quoted during the pennant race as saying, “I’m signed for this year, but being real about it, it is probably the last year.” In that conversation with Brian Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers play-by-play announcer, he confirmed the likelihood that he will take his services to the free-agent market.

While the Fielder situation took far longer to play out than that of Pujols, it ended in a similar fashion. Though some had questioned whether he and his agent had waited too long, it turned out to be a perfect strategy, as the Detroit Tigers were forced into a semi-desperate state following the loss of Victor Martinez to a knee injury.

Surprising many that had expected Prince to sign elsewhere, the talented, young slugger signed a massive, nine-year $214 million deal to assume the Tigers’ first base position, moving incumbent Miguel Cabrera across the diamond to third. The deal suddenly has Detroit dreaming of a return to the World Series over five years after their bitter disappointment of 2006.

Despite the indisputable talent of each player, there is always concern when a club commits the type of money and contract length that the Angels and Tigers did in securing their new stars.

Since 1999, Major League Baseball has seen 32 contracts signed with total values in excess of $100 million. 

Let’s take a look at the richest contracts in MLB history to see how well those have worked out over time.

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MLB Free Agents 2012: Closer Market Still Stacked after Papelbon Signing

This offseason, the free-agent market is thin at multiple positions, but closer is not one of them.

Even after Jonathan Papelbon, the highest-profile closer available was signed to a record contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, the depth of talent still available is significant.

Numerous teams across the league still have a void at the end of their bullpen and various others remain less-than-fully committed to their incumbent closer.

Though there is a deep pool of accomplished pitchers to choose from, teams have to be slightly distressed by the market that Papelbon’s contract set, as he signed a four-year deal with the Phillies for $50 million, which is a record for guaranteed money for a reliever.

Various teams remain in the hunt, however, with the Red Sox, Mets, Blue Jays, Rangers, Twins, Dodgers and Marlins exploring their options, along with numerous others.

It will be interesting to see if any of the remaining closers available benefit from Papelbon’s deal, or if he was a special case that stood out above the others. 

The leverage would appear to be on the side of the teams, as there are numerous options available to choose from in order to fill the closing role.

Here are the top nine closers currently available on the free-agent market.

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MLB 2011 First-Year Player Draft: The Ideal Draft Strategy for the Texas Rangers

The MLB 2011 First-Year Player Draft field is being touted as one of the richest in terms of baseball talent in recent memory.

Top college hurlers such as UCLA’s Gerrit Cole, Virginia’s Danny Hultzen, and Texas’ Taylor Jungmann abound, as well as elite high school arms like Dylan Bundy and Taylor Guerrieri. This draft is loaded with pitching talent that should allow teams to stockpile arms over the course of the 50 rounds of draft picks.

Not only are there elite pitchers available, but Rice’s 3B Anthony Rendon and high school outfielder Bubba Starling headline a talented crop of position players who will compete with the arms for high draft pick status.

As far as the Texas Rangers are concerned, they won’t be able to cash in on the top names in the draft, as their strong finish in 2010 moved them down in the overall selection order. They also forfeited their top pick at number 26 to the Red Sox, in order to sign Type-A free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base. As part of the same signing, they also forfeited their number 40 pick to Boston.

Thankfully, not all hope was lost, as the Rangers were able to recoup two draft slots at numbers 33 and 37 from the Phillies as compensation for losing their own Type-A free agent Cliff Lee in the off-season. Following the 37th pick, they won’t make another selection until number 83 in the second round.

In order to assess the Rangers’ needs and determine a sound strategy for the 2011 draft, let’s take a look at their 2010 draft results, some of their top prospects already in the system, and some options that they might have as they prepare to delve into the talented pool of players represented in this year’s first-year player draft. 

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Michael Young: Top 5 Reasons He’ll Be a Distraction If Not Traded By Opening Day

In a strange twist of fate in Texas Rangerville, outspoken franchise CEO Chuck Greenberg is on his way out of town, and disgruntled star Michael Young—he of the trade demands and vitriolic accusations aimed at team management—is apparently staying in Arlington.

Young, angered after the team had ousted him yet again from his position with the team, sounded off on Rangers’ management, especially GM Jon Daniels, accusing Texas brass of misleading him and treating him unfairly.

Of course, the Ranger infielder never fully elaborated on his accusations, but his comments aroused healthy doses of speculation as the team entered camp following its most successful season in franchise history.

Young cooled on his initial trade demands after it became apparent that the team wouldn’t be able to accommodate him immediately, nor were they willing to simply for the sake of appeasing him.

As spring training has progressed, the Texas star and management have done their best to put on happy faces, espousing concerns with team success rather than dwelling on the drama bubbling just beneath the surface.

With Opening Day just two weeks away, the prior unrest appears to have subsided for now, but the possibility exists that it could once again rear its ugly head at any time, forcing the Rangers into moving the disgruntled star in an effort to restore harmony among the team.

Let’s take a look at why the Rangers would do well to move Michael Young now, rather than waiting for another problem to arise.

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Texas Rangers Preview: Projecting the 5 Most Improved Rangers in 2011

Blessed with a solid core of dynamic hitters, talented pitchers and skilled defenders, the Texas Rangers possess an exciting, well-rounded team that will endeavor to defend their 2010 American League Championship. 

Stars like Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre have track records to give an idea of what to expect from them in 2011. If health permits, the Rangers know what type of production they will likely receive from well-established players as they seek to return to the World Series.

To do so, they will need the production from the stars, as well as players stepping up their game throughout the squad. With loads of emerging talent throughout their roster, there is any number of players who could turn a corner in 2011 to make valuable contributions to the Rangers efforts to once again reach the playoffs.

As we steadily progress towards Opening Day, let’s check out some of the Rangers poised to make a leap in their development and become significant players for Texas in 2011. 

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MLB Spring Training On Valentine’s Day: Baseball, I Love You…Will You Be Mine?

It’s often said that love is fleeting, a feeling or state of being that is difficult to maintain, always slipping through our fingers just when we think we have a firm grasp on it.

In our relationships, we often struggle to keep this feeling alive, making immense sacrifices and even turning our backs on our better judgment at times, all in an effort to capture the elusive treasure that all people crave.

Throughout our lives, so often we’ll experience a string of relationships, some great, others forgettable, and a few utterly disastrous.  We persevere however, because we know the payoff can be so rewarding.

Love is undoubtedly hard work.  When it sours, we may have to endure deceit, betrayal, jealousy and a vast range of excruciatingly unpleasant emotions.   

There is a love however, that in my life has never caused me the pain and heartache that so often accompanies the quest for romantic affection.

That is—my lifelong love affair with baseball.

Sure, the heartbreak and agony that I feel when my team doesn’t triumph is very real and can have a detrimental effect on my mood, occasionally inducing symptoms mimicking full blown depression.

The fantastic thing about baseball though, is that there is always tomorrow.  No matter how bitter the taste of defeat from the previous night, the next day always brings another opportunity for redemption. 

Of course, once the season ends, whether you’re a cellar dweller or a contender eliminated from the playoffs, the heartbreak returns, albeit only temporarily.  We know that after the winter chill departs, a fresh, new spring brings with it the dawning of a new baseball season and the promise of a renewed sense of hope no matter where your rooting allegiance lies. 

While writing this ode to the perfect sport, one of mankind’s greatest creations, I can feel the winter melting away, being swept aside by the triumphant return of springtime.  I know it’s not 75 degrees today where everyone lives, but it’s more a state of mind than the actual climate that I’m referring to. 

As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to Spring Training in the next few days, to be joined by their teammates shortly thereafter, Florida and Arizona will be the birth places of that new hope, a sensation that will soon spread to 27 American cities and one in Canada.  Though the 30 Major League teams reside in only 28 cities across North America, the rise of spring means baseball in sandlots, on little league fields, high school and college diamonds, as well as minor league stadiums around the continent.

No matter the location, nor the level of competition, there is a magic about baseball that cannot come close to being matched by any other sport on earth.  I have yet to experience any intergalactic sporting events, but I’d be willing to put baseball up against any of those as well.

Whether you’re watching from your $2,000 seats amidst the grandeur of the new Yankee Stadium or from rickety bleachers just beyond the backstop of your kid’s little league game, the joys of baseball remain the same.

The simple aspects like the crack of the bat when someone laces a single through the infield, or the aroma of the freshly cut outfield grass on a crisp, spring morning all contribute greatly to the everlasting love that so many of us know.

A sport that the uninformed may know as slow or boring, is to baseball fans, a sport laden with thorough analysis and sophisticated strategy.  Pitchers and catchers develop intricate patterns of signs to relay pitch selection, base coaches flash an array of signals littered with decoys to give batters and base runners instructions, while attempting to confuse would-be sign-stealing opponents.

It was once said that “chicks dig the long-ball,” and while that may be true for the casual fan, those of us who can be considered true devotees of the game know that baseball is so much more than just hulking sluggers and booming home runs.

Even the simple, fundamental facets of the game warm the hearts of the baseball lovers amongst us.  Pitchers painting the corners of the plate, catchers framing pitches off the edge in an attempt to win favorable calls, batters working the count.  While minute details to some, just more aspects that contribute to our undying love of the sport. 

We love batters sacrificing themselves in order to hit behind a runner, moving him into scoring position.  Sac bunts, drag bunts, squeeze plays, all seemingly simple tasks that are increasingly rare in our modern game, elicit joy from baseball fans when executed with skillful aplomb.  Hit-and-running, the combination of two fundamental skills, an early start from a base runner and a well-placed ground-ball, seemingly mundane when viewed separately, become an incredibly valuable tool of the game when performed in conjunction.

As crucial as the hitting components of the game are the defenders plying their trade and flashing the leather to deny their offensive counterparts.  A catcher nimbly throwing himself to the ground to block a wayward pitch in the dirt.  The third baseman charging hard on a bouncer in front of him, bare handing the ball and making the off-balance, sidearm throw to first, just in the nick of time.  An outfielder positioning himself ahead of time, skillfully utilizing proper footwork to fire a laser toward home as the runner on third tags up in hope of scoring. 

The running game provides other seemingly insignificant, yet wondrous facets of the game to behold.  We are thrilled by a base stealer going into the bag headfirst, a runner going first to third, a doomed man on the base paths sliding hard at second to break up a potential double play.

We may be obsessed, but I call it love.  Please, please don’t tell my girlfriend, she may become jealous. 

This February 14, Saint Valentine’s Day, a day that has become a celebration of love, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate day to hear the phrase, “pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.” 

Baseball, I love you…will you be my Valentine?

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Texas Rangers: Michael Young Situation Turns Ugly as New Details Emerge

Michael Young, Texas Rangers‘ second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, first baseman, I mean designated hitter, has finally had enough.

The longest tenured player on the American League’s defending champions has demanded a trade from the only Major League team he has ever known. Not only that, but he has finally broken his silence regarding his perception of the manner in which the Rangers have handled him in recent seasons.

Originally the Rangers’ starting second baseman upon his ascension to the big league squad in 2001, Young made the transition to shortstop in a selfless move to accommodate the newly acquired Alfonso Soriano prior to the 2004 season. Short had recently been vacated by the departing Alex Rodriquez, who was heading to the Bronx in exchange for Soriano.

Young made the transition easily, dutifully serving as the Rangers’ shortstop from 2004 to 2008, while being named to the American League All-Star squad in each of those five seasons. Much like Derek Jeter, his fellow All-Star shortstop, Young grew into a reputation as a quiet leader, a consummate teammate, and one of the the most respected players in the game.

The 2009 season saw Young cement his reputation as a team-oriented player as he once again switched positions, this time to allow the arrival of much-heralded youngster Elvis Andrus, thought by many to be the Rangers’ star shortstop of the next decade. Initially, Young was reluctant, contemplating his own departure from Arlington, before finally relenting and moving to third base in favor of the superbly athletic Andrus.

Once again, Michael Young made a seamless transition, sliding over to third and being named an All-Star in his first year at the hot corner, then helping lead the team to their first World Series during his second year at the position. He was never a perfect third baseman, but continued hitting and performing his role as a team leader and face of the Rangers franchise.

Something didn’t quite sit right with Rangers’ management, however, as the team moved to upgrade third base with the free-agent signing of Adrian Beltre. While most cannot deny that Beltre is the superior third baseman, the acquisition left many wondering why the team had fixed a position that wasn’t broken.

There was discussion of moving Young to first base, effectively blocking the development of the promising Mitch Moreland. While that was a possibility, it didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, and the talk turned to making Young the full-time DH. After all, Vlad Guerrero was assumed to be leaving via free agency, and Young’s greatest asset had always been his bat.

At the time, Young had spoken out, saying that he would move to allow Beltre to assume his rightful place at third, and he would do whatever was best for the team, whether that meant playing first, designated hitter or serving as a super-utility player.

Not long after that selfless statement, he apparently changed his mind and decided that the latest move was one affront too many. When asked about it yesterday by Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports, Young said, “I’ll be the first to admit that I was not particularly keen on the idea of being a DH. But I did agree to do it. I wanted to put the team first. I wanted to be a Ranger.

“But in light of events that happened in the process, I got pushed into a corner one too many times. I couldn’t take it any more.”

Shortly after he agreed to DH, the Rangers acquired Mike Napoli, a catcher, but a player better suited for the DH role or first base. That move may have served as the proverbial “writing on the wall,” but Young wouldn’t admit that much when asked.

Again speaking to Rosenthal, Young refused to pinpoint a specific maneuver that served as the impetus, saying, “It wasn’t one specific thing, it had nothing to do with any other players. I certainly don’t want to drag other players into this. It’s not fair to them. It’s not necessarily important to reveal the details. I know how this thing unfolded.”

Rangers brass had earlier in the day attempted to place the blame on Young changing his mind after first agreeing to accept the move, but he moved quickly to offer his side of the story.

When Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels told reporters that Young had simply changed his mind after initially accepting another positional change, Young responded, “The suggestion that I had a change of heart and asked for a trade is a manipulation of the truth.” Young added, “I asked for a trade because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it.”

Apparently, the tension that many had long suspected, had been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. While Young had quietly taken the previous moves in stride, he could no longer deal with feeling like was being taken advantage of.

Being pressed for juicy quotes Young, as ever, took the high road, adding, “Other than that, I’m not going to reveal any details about how this process unfolded. It’s not my nature to start blasting people publicly when I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s fair or productive for anybody, particularly my teammates and coaching staff.”

Even in the face of what he perceived to be the final offense pushing him out the door, Michael Young remained the consummate professional and teammate.

Despite that well-earned reputation as one of baseball’s good guys, even Young has his breaking point, and apparently the Rangers found it.

“This has been a long time coming based on things that occurred off the field. I’m sick of it. It hit a point where I felt it was unfair to me and my family,” he said.

Rumors have been circulating around a potential trade of Young since the winter meetings, but public declarations from team president Nolan Ryan and manager Ron Washington seemed to indicate that Michael Young fit into the team’s plans moving forward.

The Rockies, Angels and Cubs, among several others, have tested the waters regarding a possible deal for the former AL batting champ, but things seemed to have been smoothed out between the team and their longtime star. 

With these recent developments, the Rangers front office is now plowing full steam ahead in an effort to trade their unsettled leader. Though the desire is there, the deal may actually be more difficult than expected, considering the three years and $48 million left on Young’s contract. The Rangers are also unwilling to part with their star infielder in a deal that is less than beneficial to the club, so while he desperately wants out, he won’t be given away in a mere salary dump.

Sadly, this unfortunate turn of events has turned the once stoic “face of the franchise” into a bitter, snarled visage intent upon presenting his version of the circumstances with a candor and acrimony rarely seen from the well-traveled star.

Though his travels have thus far been around his team’s own infield, this time Michael Young may need more than just a different glove for his new job.

It remains to be seen how negative the rhetoric becomes on each side, as Young has given his side of the story rather frankly, we can likely expect a response from the Rangers’ front office.

Despite declining to place blame or to give many details, Young did hint at a possible root of the issues, stating, “At the end of the day, I know the truth. And so does JD (GM Jon Daniels).”

And the Rangers better begin looking for a new face, because it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to save this one.


All Michael Young quotes first appeared in Ken Rosenthal’s article on Foxsports

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Texas Rangers: Renewed Rivalry with New York Yankees Spills into Front Offices

During the late 1990s, the Texas Rangers had no greater nemesis than the New York Yankees.

Despite winning three division titles in four years during 1996, 1998 and 1999, the Rangers never had much to show for their domination of the American League West. Easily dispatched by the Bronx Bombers in the first round each time, Texas only managed to win a single game in 10 contests with the so-called “Evil Empire.”

Texas was merely the first stepping stone for the Yankees en route to their World Series titles in each of those three seasons.

Fast forward to 2010.

After never having progressed beyond the first round of the playoffs in their entire franchise history, Texas defeated the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays to set up an ALCS clash with their longtime foe from New York.

Though only Darren Oliver had been present for the late ’90s humiliations at the hands of the Yankees, the knowledge of their shared history was still present among the 2010 Rangers. The desire to exorcise the franchise’s demons coursed strongly throughout the team.

Once Texas overwhelmed New York in the Championship Series to progress to the Rangers first-ever World Series, the latent rivalry had been rekindled. The Rangers had finally vanquished their past foes and shockingly denied the Yankees another appearance in the Fall Classic, something that has come to be viewed as a birthright in the Bronx. In New York, this was seen as an egregious affront to the way things are supposed to be.

With a newly budding on-field rivalry suddenly sparked once again, tensions between the two teams have mounted ever since.

Following an incident in Yankee Stadium during the ALCS, in which unruly Yankee fans had allegedly verbally abused and spit towards Cliff Lee‘s wife in the Rangers family seating section, co-owner Chuck Greenberg criticized New York’s fans and intimated that Cliff Lee likely wouldn’t entertain the notion of signing there due to the treatment of his wife.

Commenting upon the bizarre behavior, Greenberg stated on an ESPN radio show, “I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

This frank assessment of Yankee fans drew the ire of co-owner Hal Steinbrenner who criticized Greenberg’s comments and called for him to apologize. At the time, Greenberg made amends and publicly apologized to the Yankees and their fans. A truce had been declared.

Just last weekend, while speaking at Rangers’ Fan Fest in Arlington, Greenberg spoke out on the protracted free-agent battle between the Yankees and Rangers over highly-coveted left-hander Cliff Lee. The rivalry between the two teams had returned, as they were widely viewed as the only potential landing spots for Lee.

Lee shocked much of the baseball world by resigning with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that had traded him to Seattle a mere 12 months before.

Asked about what had transpired during the negotiations and whether he was surprised by Lee’s ultimate decision, Greenberg said, “I think if we wouldn’t have gone to Arkansas that last time, I think he was going to sign with the Yankees. We pried the door open a little bit to give ourselves another opportunity. And ultimately the Phillies were able to take advantage of that opportunity that we created. While we would have preferred that he would have chosen to go with us, we’re real pleased that he’s going to the other league.”

Though the comments didn’t appear unreasonably inflammatory, some within the Yankee front office took offense, prompting a fiery response from outspoken Yankees’ team president, Randy Levine.

When asked Levine about Greenberg’s comments, Levine snapped, “I think Chuck is delusional. He has been running the Rangers for a few minutes and seems to believe he’s mastered what everyone else is thinking. I think he should let Cliff Lee speak for himself. I’ll be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare. What I mean is make them not be a revenue-sharing recipient for three years in a row, without taking financing from baseball or advance money from television networks. Then I’ll be impressed.”

Taking shots at the Rangers financial situation before Greenberg and Nolan Ryan’s ownership group assumed control of the team, Levine made it clear he doesn’t appreciate Greenberg’s feelings regarding anything Yankee-related.

With a revived on-field rivalry with these two playoff contenders promising to be a potent matchup for at least the foreseeable future, Ranger and Yankee fans should brace for some thrilling clashes in the coming season.

The additional bad blood and recurring war of words between the competing front offices ensures some extracurricular drama surrounding the franchises.

This saga involving two potent teams, and outspoken executives on both sides bears some watching as it could potentially become one of baseball’s more dramatic stories for 2011 and beyond.


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Yankees Lose Out On Cliff Lee Deal: Blessing In Disguise For The Bronx Bombers?

In the middle of the night, while many East Coast baseball fans were sleeping, possibly dreaming of the glorious news that the Yankees had finalized a deal to bring Cliff Lee to the Bronx, the unthinkable occurred: somehow, the Yankees didn’t get their man.

With the shocking revelation that the Philadelphia Phillies had undercut both the Yankees and the Texas Rangers in a surprise move to bring Lee back to the City of Brotherly Love, many Yankee fans are cursing Lee, Brian Cashman, Ruben Amaro Jr., and anyone else who can be blamed for this calamity.

Surely, someone must be to blame. This was preordained, written in the stars; Lee was already almost a Yankee once. He was trying to decide where to live in New York before being suddenly traded to the Rangers in July.

With his former Cleveland rotation mate, CC Sabathia, already in the Bronx fold, Lee surely would follow the money trail and join up with his old buddy to lead the Yankees to multiple World Series titles over the next seven years.

Wait….what? Are you kidding?

Philadelphia, the team that traded Lee away so that they could obtain Roy Halladay, signed Cliff Lee to a reported five year, $100 million deal? He left $50 million on the negotiating table?

Does that even possibly make sense? What about the hastily added seventh year? That was supposed to seal the deal after Boston created significant waves by signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez.

The assumption floating around baseball for the last two years was that Lee was determined to cash in during his only free-agent extravaganza of his Major League career. Philly unloaded him because he would be nearly impossible to re-sign. Seattle gave up after only a few months. The Rangers enjoyed their time with him greatly, but seemed almost resigned to the fact that the Lee would be tempted by more years and more dollars to join the pinstriped party in the Bronx.

Suddenly, Philadelphia boasts a rotation that is terrifying in the short-term. With Lee joining Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Phillies suddenly have a potentially dominant foursome leading their starting staff. The window of opportunity may be small, since Lee will be 33 during the 2011 season, and both Halladay and Oswalt will turn 34 during the year, but the Phillies will take their chances for now.

The Yankees, having missed out on their most coveted free-agent target, as well as Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, suddenly seem vulnerable.

Cliff Lee was the plan. Brian Cashman spoke of not being desperate, and of course the Yankees won 95 games last year and were only two wins from a World Series appearance. However, that was accomplished with a frayed and battered rotation, one that could have greatly benefited from the presence of Cliff Lee.

Cashman has spoken of Plan B’s and C’s, i.e. contingency plans, in case the unthinkable occurred, and someone outbid the Yankees for the player that they most desired. As outlandish as that seems, the Yankees must at least consider the possibility.

Well, hopefully they did, because that unthinkable scenario is now staring them directly in the face.

Boston has been strengthened significantly through their dealings at the winter meetings. Not wanting to admit it, the Yankees needed to land Lee to counter the dramatic moves of Theo and Co. A general uneasiness has crept up around New York in the wake of Boston’s maneuvering. Bringing Cliff Lee on board could surely help ease the tension.

But what now? Rumors have circulated around highly capable hurlers like Kansas City’s Zack Greinke and Tampa’s Matt Garza. Greinke, a year removed from an AL Cy Young Award, is incredibly gifted, but a previous anxiety disorder would seem to make him a long-shot to succeed in the Bronx. 

Garza, also very talented, happens to have a combustible personality of a different sort, and the likelihood of the Rays trading him within the division seems low. Carlos Zambrano? A headcase, though talented, could prove to be a disaster.

Is it possible that the Yankees may be forced to retool from within? Does Joba Chamberlain get one more opportunity to prove that he can start games for the Yankees? Ivan Nova impressed in short stints with the team last year, so could he be given a legitimate shot?

As crazy as it may sound right now, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise that the Yankees were unable to lure Cliff Lee to the Bronx.

Sure, he likely would have been fantastic for the Yankees, for at least a few seasons. Over the last three seasons, he is among the very best hurlers in the game. His dramatic post-season performances have helped carve him a place in baseball history usually reserved for more illustrious names like Koufax and Gibson.

There is no doubting Cliff Lee’s ability or his recent track record.

However, has he done enough to feel comfortable committing a minimum of $20 million a year to him…for seven years?

Yes, he has been great. Yes, he has turned in splendid performances against the Yankees for various teams over the last few years. He would have undoubtedly strengthened the New York rotation considerably for the next few years.

But, seven years?

That’s where the Yankees may have just been saved from themselves. In what could be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to Boston’s marquee acquisitions, the Yankees were willing to move beyond their stated threshold of a six year offer to Lee. Almost immediately following the announcement of the Crawford deal, the Yankees let it be known that they were willing to go to a seventh year in order to entice the left-handed Lee to Yankee Stadium.

At that point, many around the league viewed Lee’s eventual unveiling as the newest Yankee as a foregone conclusion. Not many franchises possess the financial wherewithal to hand out bloated, overly long contracts like the Yankees can. The willingness to go the seventh year seemingly propelled the Bombers into the driver’s seat in the race to land Cliff Lee’s signature.

But something was amiss. The weekend passed, and there was no news from the Lee camp. Surely, the seven year offer was enough. Barring another surprise raid by the Nationals, the likelihood of another team outbidding the Yankees in this case seemed absurd. There wasn’t someone else willing to challenge the financial recklessness of the Yankees in the free agent market, was there?

Well, apparently that wouldn’t even be necessary. Despite reports of a seven year offer hovering in the $150 million range, Lee spurned the Yankees for a chance to return to Philadelphia, instead signing his name to a five year deal worth a guaranteed $120 million dollars. Additionally, the deal contains incentive clauses for a sixth year option.

Cliff Lee bucked conventional thought on the matter, shocking those who presumed he would simply agree to the richest deal. He may have left money on the table, but he went where he was comfortable, and who can argue with that?

As far as the Yankees are concerned, there is certainly an aura of failure surrounding the franchise right now, after watching their arch-nemesis in Boston make two stunning player acquisitions and failing to land their own premier off-season target. Of course, those who live to hate the Yankees will have a field day, reveling in the perceived failure of the “Evil Empire.”

While it may be terribly disappointing when viewed in the context of the short-term, the Yankees very well may have gotten lucky to lose out in the Lee sweepstakes.

In the limited history of pitchers who have signed contracts of seven years or more, such a bold move has rarely paid the expected dividends. Throughout the history of the game, such a long-term commitment to a hurler has only occurred seven times, with only Wayne Garland, Mike Torrez, Dave Stieb, Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, Barry Zito and CC Sabathia inking deals of at least seven years. Aside from Sabathia’s thus far productive tenure with the Yankees, not a single other deal of that magnitude can be considered a success. Of course, we still have several years to gauge the overall value of the Zito and Sabathia deals, but prior to those the signing team has never completed one of these deals without significant regret.

Though Cliff Lee has been a stellar pitcher from 2008-2010, one has to remember that he will turn 32 during this upcoming season. By the time a potential 7 year deal would have concluded, he would have surpassed his 38th birthday.

Regardless of his current status as one of the game’s  greatest pitchers, one has to reasonably ask how many of those years would Cliff Lee be good enough to warrant in excess of $20 million per season?

Surely, it could be three years, possibly four, but beyond that, the future gets hazy.

If Lee had signed on with the Yankees, not only would they be tied to another mid-thirties pitcher making huge  money, but they remain committed to A.J. Burnett for another three years and around $50 million, CC for another five years, A-Rod through 2017 at almost $30 million per year, and Teixeira for another six years and $135 million.

Just a rough estimate tells you that if Lee were included, the Yankees would have approximately $116 million per season tied up in just six players for at least the next three years. Does that sound like a desirable position for a club to place itself in? That amount of money doesn’t even include the Jeter deal, Pettitte, Mo or Robinson Cano.

While many assume the Yankees have free reign to spend as much as they are willing, even they would have to balk at having that much money committed to only a handful of players. They have to have noticed that the “buy every top free agent possible” strategy has only yielded one championship in a decade. It has to be painfully obvious that a smaller market team just won the World Series with a rotation full of homegrown talent. That same team had their own massive free agent blunder sitting idly while the exciting young arms pitched their way to baseball’s promised land.

Of course, being the Yankees, they will probably now author a blockbuster trade to combat the improvements of their rivals, picking up yet another high-priced star to add to their already bloated salary ledger and continue the prevailing trend of the decade.

The Yankees may feel stunned, the mood lingering around New York may be that of a city spurned, disappointment following what many felt was a closed case.

This time though, while it may be difficult in the short term, the Yankees may have just been saved from themselves.

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