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Originally published February 15, 2011 at 7:25 PM | Page modified February 16, 2011 at 11:55 AM

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Larry Stone

Yankees reduced to joining arms race

Cliff Lee wouldn't take their money. Zack Greinke landed in Milwaukee instead of the Bronx. Andy Pettitte retired. The Mariners won't even listen to Felix Hernandez offers — a stance the Yankees don't expect to change this year.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

TAMPA, Fla. — Cliff Lee wouldn't take their money. Zack Greinke landed in Milwaukee instead of the Bronx. Andy Pettitte retired. The Mariners won't even listen to Felix Hernandez offers — a stance the Yankees don't expect to change this year.

So even the mighty Bronx Bombers find themselves in the same leaky boat this spring as most of their more revenue-challenged brethren — scrounging for starting pitching. And, no doubt, wondering privately how their fate would have been different if they had managed to consummate a deal with Seattle for Lee last July that came agonizingly close to being done, before unraveling.

Just how close did Lee come to wearing pinstripes? I posed that question point-blank Tuesday to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at their Legends Field spring complex.

"Oh, I had him," Cashman replied. "The medicals didn't work out, so they (the Mariners) jumped off, and Texas jumped in."

The "medicals" to which Cashman referred involved Yankees second base prospect David Adams, who was having ankle issues. The Mariners didn't like what they saw (rightly so, considering Adams was later determined to have a fracture).

Cashman said the Mariners asked for the deal — which originally was to have premier catching prospect Jesus Montero, Adams and pitcher Zach McAllister going to Seattle for Lee — reworked. The Yankees balked, and the Rangers swooped in, offering Justin Smoak as the centerpiece of their offer. No hard feelings, Cashman says now, though there were reports at the time in the New York media that the Yankees were miffed with Seattle.

"It is what it is," Cashman said Tuesday. "You don't have a deal until you officially have a deal. Our guy, Adams, didn't pass the medicals. They went back to the original stuff I had been saying no to all along."

According to reports out of New York, the Mariners wanted Adams replaced with infielder Eduardo Nuñez or pitcher Ivan Nova. Cashman continued to say no, and the Mariners wound up accepting Smoak, pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and infielder Matthew Lawson from the Rangers for Lee and Mark Lowe.

Only time will tell if the Mariners should have hitched their wagons to Montero — described by some as the next Manny Ramirez, by others as both over-hyped and defensively challenged — or Smoak.

Meanwhile, the Yankees uncharacteristically have a whole lot of pitching questions. Even their brilliant ace, CC Sabathia, caused a stir this week by leaving open the possibility he will opt out of his contract next year, as is his right by virtue of a clause Cashman included in order to lure the big guy to New York. Many Yankees observers, in fact, believe it's a near certainty that Sabathia will do so, if for no other reason than to coax a longer and more lucrative contract out of the Yankees. As Alex Rodriguez did.

For now, however, Sabathia is set, and so is Phil Hughes, whose breakout 18-8 All-Star season in 2010 breaks down to 11-2 with a 3.65 earned-run average before the break, 7-6, 4.90 after. Even more worrisome is A.J. Burnett, who was a dismal 4-13 with a 6.48 ERA last year from June on.

With a large scrum of reporters surrounding him, Burnett said Monday he had an epiphany on the flight home from last season's playoff loss to Texas about how important he is to the Yankees' success.

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"You look back, and I was never a factor," he said. "I'm here to be a factor."

Burnett admitted that many times last year he lost his focus, and ultimately his confidence.

"I'm a force out there. Other guys don't want to face me. And I felt they didn't care if they faced me. I think I gave them that edge. Just me in general not being who I was."

The Yankees have much at stake in a revival by Burnett, because the options behind him are problematic. There are retreads like Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon, and never-weres like Sergio Mitre. And there are many youngsters who will get long looks this spring, like Nova, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances.

But it's very un-Yankee like to have so many question marks in the rotation, which is why Cashman says he's still scouring the trade market, and may bring in yet another comeback-minded vet in Kevin Millwood.

I asked Cashman if, in retrospect, he felt he made the right decision in not yielding to the Mariners' revised offer for Lee last July. He nodded.

"Especially since he went to Philadelphia," he said. "Now I'm like, I got one of the premier hitting talents here, and I didn't have a two-month rental."

Of course, that rental might have yielded another World Series title — the Yankees' sixth since 1996, and the fifth under Cashman's leadership. Especially considering Lee, with Texas, continued his postseason dominance of the Yankees by beating them in the ALCS with eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball, with 13 strikeouts.

And, I pointed out, he might have liked it so much in New York that he decided to re-sign with the Yankees instead of the Phillies.

"Maybe," replied Cashman. "Or maybe he would have hated it. Who knows? It goes both ways. He went there (Texas) to help them win a World Series, but he lost two games in the World Series to the Giants. You just don't know how this stuff plays out."

When it comes to Smoak vis a vis Montero, we're going to eventually find out how it plays out. Lee's potential impact on the Yankees in 2010, and beyond, will remain purely hypothetical.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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