Still a Yankee Killer

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

The 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 Yankees.

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 assembled.

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 market.

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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