The Cliff Lee sweepstakes are heating up, and more and more, it's looking like they could end with the result almost everyone predicted at the end of the season: with Lee wearing pinstripes. Even Nolan Ryan, the Rangers president who is making a spirited effort to keep Lee in Texas, seems to believe he will be outbid for Lee's services.
The Nationals are pushing for Lee, as well, and they have the cash to make a competitive offer, but if the Yankees ultimately land the left-hander, general manager Mike Rizzo would have to turn his attention to several other options on the free agent market - who could command fewer dollars but offer significantly less to the Nationals' rotation.
Those options would include 29-year-old Colorado left-hander Jorge de la Rosa, 34-year-old Minnesota righty Carl Pavano and 34-year-old Yankees righty Javier Vazquez. All are seeking multi-year deals - with de la Rosa believed to be looking for five years - and all have major consistency questions. Pavano was sharp in a season-and-a-half with the Twins, but he was an abject failure before that with the Yankees. Vazquez was a Cy Young candidate in 2009 with the Braves, but likewise stumbled this season with the Yankees. And though de la Rosa has gotten better at getting grounders throughout his career, he still gives up an alarmingly high number of homers (15.8 percent of his fly balls last year) and can get himself in trouble with walks.
The Nationals have been linked to all three pitchers, and they may need to move decisively to get one of them; the Marlins are reportedly closing hard on Vazquez, and they could also be interested in bringing Pavano back to Miami. The Twins also would like to retain Pavano. If de la Rosa offers the most upside - his relative youth, and the possibility of seeing what he could do outside of Colorado - he might also be the most inconsistent of the three.
And if any of three ends up costing the Nationals more than $10 million a season for three years, they might be better off taking a gamble on Brandon Webb or waiting until Stephen Strasburg gets healthy.