60° Good Afternoon
60° Good Afternoon

Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Charlie Manuel

It's a beautiful day here on Florida's Gulf Coast, strikingly warmer than previous years at this time. 

I spent the day with the Phillies, and while the club held a news conference with all five members of its star-studded starting rotation - it was televised live back in Philadelphia - the man who spoke the most was Cliff Lee.

And Lee, prodded by some of my fellow, New York-based media types, rubbed some salt in the Yankees' already gaping wound, although I'm not sure how much of it was intentional.

Asked to identify the biggest reason he found himself in Clearwater with the Phillies, rather than in Tampa with the Yankees, Lee responded, "Oh, I felt like this was the best chance to win World Championships. That's what it's all about.

"Obviously, I played here in the past and enjoyed myself here and thought we had a really good team at that time. Since then they've made a couple of additions that I think have made the team that much better. I felt like if I ever got an opportunity to come back and be a part of what's going on here, I would take advantage of it, and that's why."

Another lengthy answer, in response to a similar question: "The Rangers were a great team. We went back to the World Series. That could have been a good option too.... The Yankees and their history, what they've done, that's a good option. I mean, it was really three pretty good options, to be honest with you.

"I just honestly stepped back and looked at each team and evaluated. I felt like this is the team that's going to give me the best chance to win a ring, and hopefully multiple rings. But that was what the decision was based on."

"Obviously, the fans had a lot to do with it. They sell out every game. A lot of the stadiums were packed. There was a lot of hype every game. It's a great feeling playing in that park, and I wanted to come back and do some more of it."

How much of this did Lee really mean, and how much was just the stuff he's supposed to say? Only he knows for sure. It's evident that his wife Kristen loved their brief stay in Philadelphia in 2009, and that surely was a factor, as well.

But we're just not used to seeing players of Lee's caliber turn down the Yankees, and we're not used to hearing players of Lee's caliber talk of other teams' superior chances of winning the World Series.

In actuality, I think Lee's decision and words say more about the Phillies' progress than they do about any Yankee regression. Right now, however, the Yankees and their fans are in a world of hurt, and this won't help.

--Very interesting words, or lack thereof today by CC Sabathia as he showed up in Tampa. As Erik Boland reports, Sabathia is no longer adamant that he will not exercise his opt-out clause following this season.

If the Yankees operated in a rational universe, they would throw a parade if Sabathia opted out; they would've paid $23 million apiece for three excellent seasons (let's assume his 2011 comes close to his 2009 and 2010), and then wouldn't have to worry about paying for his decline phase.

Alas, these being the Yankees, ownership will probaby let itself get suckered into extending Sabathia beyond 2015, when his current deal is supposed to end, in return for not opting out. He turns 35 in 2015, so if he wanted, say, another two or three years beyond that, you'd be talking about paying him until he turns 37 or 38.

Sabathia's 2011 season will help dictate how this turns out - if he's terrible, he'll stay put - but the Yankees' season as a whole (in which, of course, Sabathia will play a large role) will also play a factor. If the Yankees exceed their currently low expectations and Brian Cashman gains power, then Cashman could try to convince the owners to stand tough against the opt-out.

In any case, opt-out or no opt-out, I think Sabathia will stay with the Yankees. His love for the New York area is no act.

--The always entertaining Charlie Manuel spoke to reporters before his pitchers did, and he discussed his contract status. Manuel is currently in the last year of his deal.

When Scott Miller of followed by jokingly asking if Manuel had a deadline, a la Albert Pujols, Manuel decided to take the question seriously. "Once the season starts," he said, "I don't want to talk about my contract."

Another deadline! GM Ruben Amaro Jr. seemed unfazed, saying, "We're hoping we can get something done." Seems fair to project that something will indeed get done.



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