Phillies take a page out of Yankees playbook, step in and sign Cliff Lee

Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the fist inning of game 5 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants defeated the Rangers 3-1 winning the World Series 4 games to 1. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

As if it were right out of the pages of the Yankees’ playbook on how to sign a free agent, the Phillies stole Cliff Lee right from under the Bombers’ noses.

Actually, “stole” isn’t the right word. That would indicate that Lee was once the Yankees’ property, which he wasn’t. He was never a Yankee and thanks to the Phillies’ aggressiveness, he never will be either.

Lee left nearly $50 million of New York’s money on the table to go back to a place where he felt comfortable and had huge success. He’ll join a rotation that already features Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, which is mind-blowing to say the least. Philadelphia opponents will face ace-like stuff nearly everyday when they take on the Phillies. The only person associated with the National League that will sleep easy this week after Philadelphia made this move is Giants’ outfielder Cody Ross, who hit all four of the Phils’ pitchers like a piñata in last year’s postseason.

For those scoring at home, here are the obvious winners and losers of this deal.

Winners:

Phillies. They land an ace when they already had a Cy Young-winning ace in the rotation. With all due respect to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Halladay-Lee pairing is the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball and the Phillies immediately become the team to beat again in the NL. Their offense was inconsistent last year but whether pundits believe it’ll round back into ’09 form or not, the Fightin’ Phils are the favorites to win the World Series next year.

Lee. It’s a little surprising that he spurned the Rangers to return to the Phillies, seeing as how Philadelphia traded him so that it could land Halladay last winter. But obviously Lee was comfortable in Philadelphia and wanted to head back to the NL, where he absolutely dominated in the second half of ’09 (and postseason). In the end, he gets the long-term deal that he had been seeking, a ton of money ($120 million to be exact) and the opportunity to stick it to New York after its fans treated his wife poorly in the stands at Yankee Stadium last year. (Not that that was a deciding factor in him spurning the Yankees but it had to have crossed his mind.)

Losers:

Yankees.
They’re used to being the ones that swoop in at the last second, put an offer on the table that the free agent can’t refuse and then leave those in the bidding war gasping for air. Now they’re at the receiving end of a big F-you and it has to be devastating. They threw a ton of money at Lee and in the end, they still couldn’t land him. This was a huge blow in the post-George Steinbrenner era and while some Yankee fans will say that they didn’t want their club to sign a 32-year-old to a long-term deal, what is New York going to do for pitching? Maybe the Yankees will be better off in the long run for missing out on Lee, but as of right now they’re in a world of hurt.

Rangers. While everyone wanted to see the Yankees burned, nobody wanted the Rangers to become victims. They just lost their ace, who turned down the Yankees’ money to return to a place that was comfortable to him – only it wasn’t Texas. Nolan Ryan can’t be pleased with the outcome (although at least he didn’t wind up with the Yankees) and now he too must revert to his backup plan for pitching (whatever that is). Just months after losing the World Series, Ryan and Co. take yet another huge blow.

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Derek Jeter re-ups with the Yankees for three years, $51 million

New York Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter jesters to a teammate before the Yankees take on the Texas Rangers in game four of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in New York.   UPI/Monika Graff Photo via Newscom

While the deal isn’t official yet, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti is reporting that the Yankees and Derek Jeter have agreed to a three-year deal worth roughly $51 million. There’s also an option for a fourth year that Murti says is for less than the $17 million Jeter will get annually for the first three years.

While the back-and-forth bickering between Jeter’s camp and GM Brian Cashman was entertaining for about a week, in the end there was no way the Yankee captain was going to wear anything but pinstripes next season. The Giants got the closest to making a deal with Jeter, and all they did was pick up the phone and call his agent. That’s it. That’s as close as Jeter got to not being a Yankee.

The Bombers were generous with this deal because Jeter wasn’t going to find that kind of money on the open market. His range at shortstop is rapidly declining, he’s coming off a career-low year at the dish and he’s already 36 years old. He should be fortunate that the Yankees were willing to go as high as $51 mil.

That said, the Yankees had to overpay. Jeter has meant just as much to the organization off the field as he has on it. He’s a leader in every sense of the word and the Yankees have been able to cash in on his marketability for over a decade. They had to pony up to pay their most recognizable player since Don Mattingly.

In other Yankee news, Mariano Rivera’s new deal is for two years and $30 million. The Red Sox reportedly attempted to steal Rivera from the Yankees with a three-year offer, as did the Angels. But Mo ultimately decided to stay in New York, which is where he’ll start and finish his career.

How does Jonathan Papelbon feel right about now that Boston made a last-ditch effort to acquire Rivera? Ouch.

Yankees are in talks with Carl Crawford, but what are their motives?

August 10, 2010: Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Carl Crawford ( ) during game action between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Rays defeated the Tigers 8-0.

Buster Onley is reporting that the Yankees are engaged in conversations with free agent outfielder Carl Crawford. But what isn’t clear is what the Bombers’ intentions are.

It’s assumed that the Yankees’ primary target in free agency is Cliff Lee. They need pitching (whether Andy Pettitte decides to retire or not) and Lee is the best arm available on the market.

But if they lose out on Lee, is Crawford their backup plan? If they can’t get the pitching they need and want, will they decide to add to their already stacked lineup in hopes that they can out-slug teams throughout the year and then hope for the best in the postseason?

Or are they just trying to drive up the price for the Red Sox? They know that Boston is smitten with Crawford and if the Sox are willing to pony up, he would make their entire offseason.

The Yankees don’t really need an outfielder. Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are entrenched at two of the starting positions and Brett Gardner is a nice role player at the bottom of the lineup. If you were to rank the Bombers’ offseason needs, outfield would certainly not be at the top of the list. (That said, they could find room for a player of Crawford’s talents.)

But part of Brian Cashman’s job is to drive up the price for their competition. Thus, even if the Yankees aren’t truly serious about giving Crawford an eight-year, gazillion dollar deal, they must ensure that the Red Sox have to pay top dollar for the player they want.

Let the chess game begin.

Yankees offer Cliff Lee six-years, $140 million?

Texas Rangers' pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the eighth inning of game one of the World Series in San Francisco on October 27, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Yankees have offered free agent Cliff Lee a six-year deal worth around $140 million. If C.C. Sabathia’s contract in December of 2008 can be used in comparison, then Brown’s figures sound right.

The Yankees signed Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract in ’08. While Sabathia had two more years added onto his contract, he was also four years younger than Lee at the time of the deal. If Lee signs with the Bombers, that would mean the Yankees would be paying their top two pitchers roughly $46 million per year.

Wowzers.

That said, the Rangers are expected to match the Yankees’ offers, at least initially. But it’s hard to imagine that a team that had to be saved by Major League Baseball (financially, that is) would be able to come up with that kind of money for one player. At some point, the Rangers will have to bow out and hope that Lee bypasses more money for the opportunity to return to Texas.

The Nationals are also reportedly interested in Lee and there are sure to be other suitors as well. But as I’ve written for the past couple of months, no team will be able to match what the Yankees offer. Thus, one would think that it’ll be between the Yankees and Rangers in the end. Why would he go anywhere else? He can either cash in a big payday and have an opportunity to win a ring every year, or take less and hope that the Rangers’ run in 2010 was no fluke.

Yankees’ offer to Derek Jeter more than fair

New York Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter warms up before the Yankees take on the Texas Rangers in game four of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in New York.   UPI/Monika Graff Photo via Newscom

If SI.com’s Jon Heyman’s report is true, then the Yankees’ offer for shortstop Derek Jeter is more than reasonable.

According to Heyman, the Yankees are on the verge of offering their captain a three-year, $45 million contract. Jeter is reportedly looking for at least a four-year deal, but given his age and declining skills, it’s hard to argue with whether or not the Yankees’ offer is fair.

Jeter means more to the Yankees than what he does on the field, but it’s not as if the Bombers are low-balling him here. He’s no longer a strong defensive shortstop and he’s coming off a year in which he batted .270 over 663 at bats. He posted career numbers in 2009 but nobody expected him to repeat that effort in 2010, which he didn’t.

In some respects, the Yankees have to overpay. Again, his contributions to the organization run deeper than his stat line and New York has to be willing to fork over a little more than Jeter would probably get on the open market. It’s about showing respect to the player that helped lead them to five World Series titles over the past two decades.

But let’s get real here. Jeter wouldn’t get three years and $45 million on the open market – not at 36. It’s up to his agent to get the best deal possible and Jeter’s camp may wind up asking for more, but the Yankees’ current deal is certainly fair for all parties involved.

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