Source: Lee shuns Yankees, joins Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee pitches to the New Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee pitches to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 28, 2009) Photo Credit: John Dunn

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Paging Plan B.

Despite making what was believed to be the highest monetary offer to Cliff Lee, the Yankees were told late last night that they are out of the running for the prized lefthander, a source confirmed to Newsday.

MLB.com reported first, just before midnight, that Lee had agreed to terms with the Phillies, who traded Lee last Dec. 14 to Seattle in a multi-team deal that landed them Roy Halladay.

The Associated Press reported Lee had reached a preliminary agreement with the Phillies on a five-year deal worth $100 million, considerably less than the deals the Yankees and Rangers were offering.

The Yankees offered Lee a player option for a seventh year after the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford last Wednesday night for seven years and $142 million. The Yankees' original offer had been six years for about $140 million.

The Mets' rivals now own arguably the best rotation in baseball - Lee joins Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton - and the Yankees are left to move on, though precisely where is unknown.

The market for free-agent starters is weak beyond Lee, though there was plenty of speculation Monday that the Yankees would pursue Royals ace Zack Greinke via trade if they didn't get Lee. But although Greinke reportedly has told friends he would accept a trade to the Yankees - they, as well as other big-market teams, are on his no-trade list - his issues with social anxiety disorder have some in the organization questioning his ability to perform in New York.

Other top-line starters comparable to Lee, such as 2010 AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez of the Mariners and Josh Johnson of the Marlins, are not thought to be available.

Manager Joe Girardi talked last week about how crucial he thought Lee would be to the Yankees' rotation. "I see him as important to us, I do," Girardi said of signing Lee. "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."

The current rotation consists of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and probably Ivan Nova. Andy Pettitte, 38, has not yet informed the Yankees whether he will play next season, although his leverage figured to go up dramatically after last night's events.

General manager Brian Cashman said Monday he had not talked to Pettitte since last week's winter meetings.

Though the events of last night happened mostly without warning, that Lee chose to return to the Phillies wasn't completely surprising.

Last December, Lee told Shane Pigue, the owner of the gym where he works out in Benton, Ark., that he hoped to be able to team with Halladay in Philadelphia. That conversation occurred when rumors that Halladay would be dealt there were swirling. Halladay did end up in Philadelphia, but as part of a deal that sent Lee to Seattle.

Cashman told Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, over the weekend that the Yankees didn't plan to raise their offer to Lee, and it was during the course of Monday afternoon when things began to heat up with the Phillies.

At last week's winter meetings, after the Yankees made their original offer to Lee, Cashman compared himself, while waiting for the lefthander to decide, to Hannibal Lecter "in a straitjacket."

Meaning Cashman would feel restrained in conducting other business - certainly in terms of offering any big-money contracts elsewhere - until Lee chose a team.

Cashman is free now.

Free to do what, exactly, is the next big question of the offseason.

With Jim Baumbach

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