Ok, so the usual Yankee strategy of hurling gobs of money at the best free agent available at the greatest position of need didn't work out this time. It's OK. It's happened before. 18 years ago, Greg Maddux turned down Yankee for the kinder, gentler city of Atlanta. The Yankees instead signed Jimmy Key who was one of the top 3 pitchers in the AL in 1993 and 1994 and outdueld Maddux in game 6 of the 1996 World Series. Four years later Roger Clemens passed up his "lifelong dream" of being a Yankee to pitch in Toronto. The Yankees moved on the David Wells and had arguably the best team in the history of baseball within two years.
So while being spurned by top free agents isn't a feeling the Yankees of the 2000's are used to it's not like it's never happened before. And in these two instances it didn't turn out all that badly. With Cliff Lee donning red pinstripes instead of navy ones, it's time to figure something else out.
One piece of good news is that we don't need an ace. An ace starter is the hardest thing to find in baseball and we already have one. Sure it would have been nice to have two, but we don't necessarily need someone as good as Cliff Lee. We just need someone to pitch well enough to save the bullpen from the chronically short outings of Burnett and Hughes.
A few pitchers to consider. I'm leaving out Zack Greinke and Matt Garza because I don't think either one is all that realistic, and they've both been talked about enough already. I'm also leaving out guys like Josh Johnson, Felix Hernandez, etc. because those are pipe dreams.
1. Andy Pettitte. The timetable for him making up his mind needs to be moved up now. With Lee in the fold the Yankees could afford to wait until late January for Pettitte to make up his mind, but now his decision really affects the rest of the offseason. If Pettitte's back, the Yankees can bide their time, hold an open competition for the 5th spot, and possibly wait until July, when more pitchers are available, to make a move, if they even have to make one at all. They might not if Hughes shows some improvement and if Larry Rothschild is able to get something out of A.J. Burnett. If Pettitte retires, though, I think we all agree we can't go into the season with C.C., Hughes, AJ and two of Joba, Nova, Noesi and Mitre.
2. Brandon Webb. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball at one time, but he hasn't pitched in 2 years. He's a groundball pitcher - one with a high K-rate - but still a groundball pitcher, which isn't ideal with Jeter and A-Rod slowly fossilizing on the left side of the infield. I'd consider Webb a good risk in conjunction with Pettitte, but not as an alternative to Pettitte.
3. Wandy Rodriguez. I haven't heard his name mentioned a lot and I'm not even sure he's available. However he has the combination of being a FA after the 2011 season and being on a team that isn't going to compete, so I think there's a good chance that he would be. He's been extremely solid the last 3 years and he's very tough on lefties which bodes well when facing Boston's new lineup. He'd be my first choice out of this group.
4. Mark Buehrle. He's popped up in trade rumors the last few days. He's pitched 200+ innings 10 years in a row. You can look at that as being a sign of durability or as a sign that he's about to break. He did have his worst year in a while in 2010. I'd be interested anyway, but I just don't see the motivation for the White Sox to trade him to the Yankees. They have visions on the playoffs this year, and trading one of their most popular players to a team they'd likely face there doesn't seem all that prudent. I think if he goes anywhere it'll be to the NL.
5. Derek Lowe/Carlos Zambrano/Joe Blanton/anyone else with a bad contract. I can see the appeal here for Cashman. I can get a pitcher who will probably give me 200 OK innings without giving up any of my good prospects. The problem with that logic is that there's a reason these guys' teams are willing to dump them for nothing. When you take on someone else's problem, they are more than likely going to end up being your problem. These kinds of pitchers will all be there in July if nothing else materializes, so there would really be no need to make a move on any of them now.