Cliff Lee is going to the Phillies. What do the Yankees do now?

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It’s not just a Yankees world in which we’re all living, but in this case, the implications for the Bombers losing out on Cliff Lee are the most interesting.  Philly? Heck, print up their NL East championship t-shirts already.  The Rangers? They seem like they felt they were out of it for a week now, complete with reports of going after Adrian Beltre as a second place prize.  And really: Texas is a team that didn’t need to go all-in on a 32-year-old pitcher.

But the Yankees wanted Cliff Lee. The Yankees needed Cliff Lee. The Yankees failed to get Cliff Lee, however, and it was the first time that they failed to get their big-fish free agent target since they lost out on Greg Maddux back in 1992.   They’re a well-prepared team and I assume that the panic in the Yankee Universe is about 98% in the fan base and 2% in the front office right now, even if they are reeling somewhat.  This was the plan. All possible Plan Bs are a big, big step down.  So what do the Yankees do?

  • Don’t panic.  This is a team that won 95 games last year and is going to bring back every single player that was on that team. Yes, they’re older, but many stand to improve over last season. Yes, one of their main competitors got better, but the other is getting worse. Reasonable people should have the Yankees as their wild card team at the moment, and they will add before the winter is over.  They’re not rebuilding from some disaster.  They missed a chance to improve greatly in one fell swoop. They’ll make other moves to make up the difference, or to at least try.
  • Get on the phone to Deer Park, Texas first thing in the morning and make a strong pitch to Andy Pettitte.  He may be the biggest immediate beneficiary out of anyone in this deal. The whole “Andy is leaning retirement” thing has seemed overblown to me.  I think it was a negotiation tactic, frankly. Both by Pettitte, whose claims to be leaning towards retirement seemed calculated to make the Yankees desperate, and the team, whose “we think Andy is probably retiring” stuff seemed calculated to act as if they didn’t care.  Now all pretense is gone. The Yankees need Pettitte, and they will pay to get him. Someone besides CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes has to start.
  • Think hard about trading Jesus Montero.  That could be a panic move. I’m not sure.  But if they want another impact starter — and I think they’ll think that — it’s going to take more than the Joba Chamberlain pupu platter to get it done.  Zack Greinke or someone like him — if there is someone like him — will take top flight talent to acquire. Nothing should be off the table for New York right now.
  • Mostly, though, the Yankees should take a few days to think. And to wait.  Because just like Cliff Lee going to Philly was a shock to all of us, it was a shock to many people in baseball who didn’t see it coming. And who may now have a desire to see if they can’t pry something away from the Yankees.  Some offers will come their way.  Brian Cashman will think up some on their own.  They always do.

Mostly, though, we need to remember: the Yankees are not dead until you see their body on the slab. They are far from there right now. And to count them out an hour after they lost out on Lee would be foolish in the extreme.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.