ARLINGTON — Just about the worst-kept secret of the playoffs is how hungry the Yankees are to get Cliff Lee into pinstripes.
Even the Yankee players are talking openly about Lee’s prospects as a free-agent-in-waiting.
“You have a real good idea that the Yankees are going to go hard after him,” Yankees starter Andy Pettitte said.
Once you get past C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the Yankees, despite their $207-million payroll, can’t be sure what they’re going to get from their starting rotation. Pettitte is 38 and you have to wonder just how much more can be wrung from that left arm of his. And A.J. Burnett? Scary.
No, Lee is the primary target of GM Brian Cashman come this off-season. For starters, he’s 6-1, with a 2.61 ERA against New York with Game 3 in New York on Monday beckoning. And in a strange way, the more damage Lee inflicts upon the Yankees, the more they will want him.
What will be interesting is how the results of this series might affect Lee and what his next move will be. For two years, he’s been a ballplayer in search of a permanent home. When he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Phillies at the deadline in 2009, he thought he had found a home.
Then, last winter when the Phills landed Roy Halladay and decided they had to move Lee, he went to the Mariners, expecting to be joining a contender there. Unfortunately, the Mariners were awful and they traded him at their first opportunity to the Rangers, where he has been sensational in getting them to the ALCS.
Lee has had no control over his recent mobility. His next move will be his and his decision alone and The Bronx is not every player’s dream, as hard as that may be to believe.
More to the point, Lee has meant so much in his short stint in Texas that the Rangers themselves are probably going to have to think long and hard about trying to get him to sign with them this fall. That will be especially so if Lee puts the team on his shoulders and takes them to a World Series.
“I think everyone in the clubhouse wants him here, and I think he wants to be here,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler. “He understands what type of organization we are and where we’re at. We have a lot of prospects still coming, the team that we have right now is young, we have a great nucleus.
“He understands that. Hopefully he believes this is the place he wants to be.”
For his part, Lee is not about to gift-wrap himself for any team right now. He’s having a blast with the Rangers to this point and isn’t about to look beyond the next few weeks.
“I enjoy it here in Texas,” said Lee. “It’s been a good ride so far, and yeah, I could see myself being here in the future. But only time will tell on that. I’m not going to corner myself into anything with that.
“But yeah, I definitely enjoy it here, and it looks like it’s going to be a good team for years to come. And that’s what I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of a winner, and that’s what this team looks like it’s going to be for a little while.
“Hopefully we do some damage here in the post-season, win the World Series, and that will make things a lot easier for me.”
He’s wrong about that. If he leads the Rangers to a World Series victory, it will be at the Yankees’ expense and there is no limit to what they will do to get him on their side.
The only limits will be Lee’s. How much money is enough? How much does it mean to him to be in a place, like Texas, where he has already earned a place of prominence? He’s already been on four different teams in the last 15 months. Is he willing to make it five?