LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Amid the rumors and buzz, there is a very real reason the Yankees offered Cliff Lee a rich contract on Wednesday. As Joe Girardi notes, his rotation could definitely use him.
Girardi generally shies away from analyzing the team's roster until all the pieces are in place, but in speaking with the media at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees' manager acknowledged that Lee would be more than just a luxury.
"He's a guy that wins. He's a guy that gives you innings," Girardi said. "He's a guy that knows how to pitch on the big stage. He's everything that you'd want, and a guy that you would ask to help you win another championship.
"This is a guy that has great command, never beats himself, he holds runners. He has a mixture of four pitches that he can use at my time. He's the complete package."
When the Yankees came close to trading for Lee in July, some cried foul, saying it would have been an embarrassment of riches. But months later, as Lee pitched the Rangers to the World Series and the Yankees' starting rotation fell flat, the impact Lee would have provided became amplified.
"At times, unfortunately, I've had a chance to witness it a lot firsthand," Girardi said. "I mean, he's a great talent. There is no doubt about it. I think everyone would love to have him, and we would, too."
With the Rangers and Nationals still in play, that mission looms large now for the Yankees, who already boast an ace in CC Sabathia but see some question marks behind him.
Phil Hughes was an 18-game winner, but he has just been freed of innings restrictions and dipped in the second half. Andy Pettitte is said to be leaning toward retirement, and young Ivan Nova is being considered for a rotation spot.
"I see [Lee] as important to us, I do," Girardi said. "It's a rotation that right now you look at it ... it's a pretty young rotation with CC at the top of it. So I think he's pretty important."
With the pace of Lee's negotiations slower than they'd like, general manager Brian Cashman's attention has danced to other players as well -- one of them being Carl Crawford.
But the star outfielder agreed to a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox late on Wednesday, as first reported by the Boston Globe, ensuring that the speedy presence will continue to be a thorn in the Bombers' sides.
"He changes the complex of the game," Girardi said of Crawford. "When he's up, when he's on the bases, he's a great player. We've had a chance to see him a lot over the last six or seven years. And he's a pain. That is the type of player he is. You know that any single can be a triple. It's easy for him to score runs."
Girardi said that he has tried to give Pettitte space with his decision, but plans to reach out to him again soon.
"Obviously, we'd all love to have Andy back, and we know what he means to our organization," Girardi said. "But when you start talking about the importance of family, that is a decision that he has to make."
The Yankees also could make a pitching pickup of sorts if A.J. Burnett is able to calm his mechanical troubles under new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Girardi said that Burnett and Rothschild will begin working together even before Spring Training.
"The big thing for A.J. is refining his mechanics and making sure that everything's on time," Girardi said. "That doesn't necessarily mean changing him completely, it's just he has the leg kick and the little bit of a swing. It's something that we have to make sure -- when it's time to get that foot down and where it goes down and where his arm is all in the right spot, at the right time."
Regarding the Yankees' catching situation, Girardi reiterated that the organization's plan is to have Jorge Posada enter 2011 as a designated hitter, though he is preparing as a catcher just in case.
The Yankees' attention is on power-hitting prospect Jesus Montero, who is slated to head to camp as a favorite to win the starting catching job, though they are not prepared to assure Montero of anything yet.
"We believe he's going to be a very good player," Girardi said. "He's going to have to come into Spring Training and earn a job. That is the bottom line. He's going to have to earn the job as a catcher. Is he ready? We'll have a much better idea as we watch him go through Spring Training."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.