Cliffmas comes early

Cliff Lee stunned the Yankees again. Only this time it wasn’t with a fastball.

Yankees’ top free-agent target agreed to a five-year, $120 million
guaranteed contract with the Phillies late last night. The deal includes
a vesting option for a sixth year. Lee, 32, turned down what was
believed to be a seven-year, $150 million offer from the Yankees and a
six-year offer from the Rangers.

For the first time in a long
time, someone told the Yankees their money is no good here. And for
general manager Brian Cashman, it’s an agonizing replay of what
transpired over the summer when the Bombers came up just short of
landing the former Cy Young Award winner in a trade before the
non-waiver deadline. That misfire came back to bite the Yankees hard in
October, as Lee and the Texas Rangers beat them to advance to their
first World Series. This missed connection could have similar
consequences next October.

Lee’s reported contract would be the
third largest guaranteed for a pitcher in baseball history behind CC
Sabathia and Barry Zito. Money, though, didn’t appear to be the deciding
factor for the Arkansas farm boy, who apparently grew more attached to
his Phillies teammates than anyone realized during his stint with the
team in 2009. The Phillies traded for Lee that summer and he led them to
a World Series appearance, going 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the

Philadelphia then dumped Lee just as quickly as they
scooped him up, sending the left-hander to Seattle last winter in a
blockbuster deal to acquire Roy Halladay. The organization spent
countless days considering who the better pitcher was then. Halladay or
Lee. Lee or Halladay. Well, they don’t have to make that choice now —
both are in their rotation. And if that’s not scary enough, Cole Hamels
and Roy Oswalt round out what may end up being the best rotation ever

While the Phillies are the biggest winners this
offseason, the Yankees are just as big of losers. They lost Lee. They
lost Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. And they lost their pull on the open

Cashman is now left to beg a 38-year-old Andy Pettitte to
put off retirement, bolster the bullpen with an injury-prone Kerry Wood
and then search for the city’s best shrink to settle down A.J. Burnett
after a dizzy 10-15 season.

The winter has been brutal for the
Yankees. And considering their top signing is an aging Derek Jeter
coming off the worst season of his major-league career, next summer
could be just as miserable.

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