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The Cliff Lee decision

Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee pitches against the New

Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee pitches against the New York Yankees in the seventh inning of Game 3 of baseball's American League Championship Series. (Oct. 18, 2010) Credit: AP

It was a Yankees-Rangers derby all the way. He was going to take the most money. He wanted to join his buddy CC Sabathia. He loved his time with the Rangers and wanted to stay close to his Arkansas home.

All that conventional wisdom turned out to be, as Jeff from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" might say, a big bowl of wrong.

Wow. Simply an amazing turn of events. I was wrong about seven different ways on this one, most of all that everyone with whom I spoke - everyone - pegged Lee as a "last penny" guy.

Kudos to my former Newsday teammate Jon Heyman, who did the most work on the "mystery team" that turned out to be the Phillies. 

I'm on vacation for the rest of this week, but will work today, what with the big news coming down. So, some thoughts:

1) It bears repeating: Mind-blowing that Lee turned down all of that money. We'll get the exact figures soon enough, but it sounds like about $30 million. That simply doesn't happen.

The Players Association can't be thrilled with Lee, although his five-year, $120-million package did raise the bar on annual average value (from CC Sabathia's $23 million) and this has otherwise been a stellar winter for players.

it's all the more amazing that, the way Lee and his agent Darek Braunecker played this out, it looked like they were trying to use the clock to get more money. Nope. They apparently were just waiting for the Phillies' offer to solidify.

2) The Yankees. They have to be just crushed, no matter how they'll try to spin it today. They haven't been blown off like this since Brian Cashman became general manager in 1998. 

The first step, obviously, is begging Andy Pettitte to come back. Pettitte has to know now that he's in the driver's seat and can get some serious dough for a one-year deal.

Sure, he would've been more motivated to return had the Yankees acquired Lee - Pettitte loves owning those postseason records and would love to build on them - but my sense is he isn't quite ready to hang 'em up yet. And that his family already has signed on for a return to the Yankees in 2011.

If Pettitte returns, then maybe the Yankees can just take a flyer on one of the remaining free agents. How does new pitching coach Larry Rothschild feel about Rich Harden, whom he had with the Cubs in 2008 and 2009? And the Yankees always had a fondness for Jarrod Washburn in the past. Washburn didn't pitch in 2010 but isn't retired. Maybe there's a match there?

If Pettitte actually retires? Then the Yankees might have to change their paradigm. They'll find a warm body to throw innings somewhere, but they just might start their season with more uncertainty, see how their minor-leaguers (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren) continue to develop and see what trade opportunities arise. Could the fan base handle such logical thinking?

In any case, ultimately being a big-picture guy, I think the Yankees should feel some measure of relief that they didn't tie up Lee through his age-39 season. That could've gotten ugly.

3) The Phillies. I still don't think much of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s work. He doesn't seem to have a good feel for value. But Amaro's greatest strength might be his open-mindedness. Great job going back to Lee even after last year's negotiations resulted in Lee getting traded to Seattle.

Philadelphia now has a historically good starting rotation, which is of course bad news for the Mets. But as Keith Law pointed out, the Phililies' lineup is a bit of a mess, all the more so with Jayson Werth gone to Washington.

4) The Rangers. Disappointing for them, surely, yet they were really extending themselves with that six-year offer (featuring, reportedly, a vesting option for a seventh year). It's probably for the best that Lee departed, and they get two draft picks as compensation.

And with so much young talent, the Rangers can further contemplate a trade for Greinke or Tampa Bay's Matt Garza. The Rangers, like the Yankees, have reservations about trading for Greinke. Hard to see the Rays trading Garza within the AL East, so the Yankees probably don't have a shot there.

Of course, while both the Yankees and Rangers have to be very disappointed that they didn't get Lee, they have to be happy that Lee departed the American League altogether.

--All right, I'll try to check in later after the Yankees officially address the mater.


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