Posted: Wednesday November 10, 2010 12:17PM ; Updated: Wednesday November 10, 2010 2:23PM
Jon Heyman

Lee's move to Yanks only near certainty of uncertain winter ahead

Story Highlights

Cliff Lee is said to want a deal like the 7-year, $161 million deal of CC Sabathia

Yankees appear to be only team with financial ability to give Lee what he wants

Other topics: Potential homes of other free agents, Padres get real with A-Gon

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After tormenting the Yankees in each of the past two postseasons, Cliff Lee appears likely to call Yankee Stadium home next season.
Chuck Solomon/SI

It appears that the Yankees have some growing competition for the offseason's most-coveted prize, Cliff Lee. The Nationals are among the teams very interested in the 32-year-old left-hander, and word going around now is the Astros might be, too. The Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Phillies are among other teams believed to have already put in a phone call to Lee, who is said to have loved his time in Texas, too. Despite all the suitors, does anyone really see any team but the Yankees as the favorite to sign Lee?

Indeed, Yankees GM Brian Cashman flew to Arkansas on Tuesday night and is meeting with Lee on Wednesday. The visit is supposed to be simply a meet and greet, but an offer at that time is possible.

Still, says Lee agent Darek Braunecker, "It's too early to draw any conclusions. It makes no sense to rule anybody out at this point." And who's to argue with a man who got $82.5 million for the notoriously inconsistent A.J. Burnett? But ultimately, there should be a very limited number of teams that can seriously contend in this stratosphere.

Lee is said by sources to be looking to repeat his good friend CC Sabathia's $161 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees, numbers that could all but eliminate every team but the Yankees, who are very happy to have imported Sabathia at that price.

The Dodgers and Phillies look like particular long shots due to a mixed-up ownership situation (Dodgers) and a stance against going beyond three years for pitchers (Phillies). Other teams may make a bit more sense, but ultimately, it's pretty hard to imagine any of the serious suitors getting into it with the Yankees beyond the incumbent Rangers, who are led by the ultra-competitive Nolan Ryan.

Armed with a new $80-million-a-year TV deal (which is great but still a pittance compared to the Yankees' YES empire), no state income tax and new part-owner Ryan, the Rangers pose the greatest threat to a Yankees-Lee marriage. Though Lee was said by friends to not be celebrating his midseason trade to Texas (after an apparent deal to the Yankees fell through), the move worked out splendidly as Lee helped the Rangers knock out the Yankees en route to the World Series.

The Rangers, though, don't really have the money to compete with the Yankees. Further, the Yankees need Lee, and they haven't lost out on any of the free agents they truly felt they needed since the winter of 1992-93, when they finished second or worse for Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, David Cone and many others. That was before the Yankees became the dynastic Yankees again, of course.

But the Yankees' desperation has to be clear by now. There are several reasons for this:

1. There is no good second choice. They know that Royals ace Zack Greinke won't accept a trade to New York (nor would they want to force the big city on him, anyway) and that the next-best free-agent pitchers are Jorge de la Rosa and Carl Pavano. While De La Rosa's a talented pitcher, he's nowhere near Lee's stratosphere (as for Pavano, there's no need to get into that for obvious reasons).

2. They can afford it. Yankee revenues are crazy high (though they aren't exactly known as teams don't reveal them); we do know that the franchise was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion by Forbes in April.

3. Javier Vazquez, who didn't work out again in New York, is gone. Burnett is a major question mark following his abysmal season. And Andy Pettitte remains uncertain to return (though the suspicion is that he might).

4. Lee kills the Yankees. The Yankees once signed Pavano, Tony Womack and others after they had a good moment or two against them. But Lee frightens them after having his way with them the past two postseasons.

Though a few New York's fans didn't necessarily help the Yankees' efforts with their loutish behavior around Lee's wife, Kristin, in the ALCS, a bad moment with a few Yankees fans is unlikely to persuade them to go elsewhere. "That story was blown out of proportion," Braunecker said. "It's not like she's hypersensitive. She's been with him in Philadelphia and all over, been with him from the get-go. It really was that one time, just a couple clowns ... probably intoxicated. I don't know if that will have any bearing on [the decision]."

Lee has said he has enjoyed his time in Texas, and there's no reason to doubt that. And he does seem to fit nicely into their clubhouse. But folks believe that while he enjoyed the proximity to Little Rock, Ark. (it's a 4-hour car ride away), on some level it isn't always optimal to be so close to home.

Predictions for 15 of the top free agents

1. Cliff Lee: Yankees.

2. Carl Crawford: Angels. Torii Hunter already has made his preference known. When the Angels have stepped out for free agents in the past, they have done so for outfielders -- Hunter ($90 million) and Gary Matthews Jr. ($50 million). The Red Sox have checked in on Crawford, but in the past haven't gone for very long deals. The Yankees are among the teams to call, with the Braves, Tigers, hometown Astros and others likely to show interest in one of baseball's speediest players and better competitors. The world champion Giants love him but have done better by drafting and developing. He's said by some to prefer left field, but others say that he hasn't ruled out center field altogether. He's believed to expect at least $100 million, but that should be the minimum. The guess here is that he could possibly try for eight or more years but may wind up receiving something on par with the $119 million contract of Carlos Beltran.

3. Jayson Werth: Red Sox. He's a few years older than Crawford, but he's a five-tool player with better OPS numbers and more power (29 homers per year over the past three years to 14 for Crawford). The Braves, Tigers and other Crawford players make sense. Werth is shooting to match Matt Holliday's $120 million deal, but his age (31) may prevent that -- though $90 million or more seems very possible.

4. Derek Jeter: Yankees. This may take a while. Jeter and agent Casey Close have had meetings in past few days with owner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine and GM Brian Cashman. But it behooves both sides to work it out, and they will. The Yankees are likely hoping to limit the guaranteed money to three years, but Jeter might want to try to duplicate the Alex Rodriguez deal that allows him to play until he's 42. It's hard to put a price on Jeter's value, but both sides have to know that it's more for the Yankees than anyone else. The iconic Yankee should get 3,000 hits in June, with more milestones and honors to come.

5. Adrian Beltre: Angels. Boston wants him back, but word is that he had to be talked into joining the Red Sox last time. The Sox could also move Kevin Youkilis to third base and sign a first baseman. Beltre is an excellent two-way player who will have lots of takers, but who will come close to the $64 million, five-year haul that he got last time in Seattle? Texas is known to like him but has Michael Young at third. Pittsburgh also has checked in, and the Angels always have liked him, and may have a need considering how Brandon Wood didn't work out last year.

6. Mariano Rivera: Yankees. It's believed that he would like a two-year deal (which would also take him to 42). The Yankees might prefer to go the one-year route popularized by Andy Pettitte, but it's hard to imagine them doing anything to prevent Rivera's staying in pinstripes.

7. Victor Martinez: Tigers. The Red Sox wanted to keep him, but their two-year offer, believed to be for about $20 million, didn't come close to luring him back. His friend Sabathia (he's a friend to many, apparently) said he won't be back in Boston. The Orioles and Rockies also are known to be interested. The Tigers have $50 million coming off the books and V-Mart liked his time living in the Midwest when with the Indians.

8. Paul Konerko: White Sox. He's a favorite of all of the White Sox hierarchy and took less to stay there last time. The smart money says he does it again. They are also considering the possibility of adding some more pop to the lineup. In an interview on Jim Bowden's show on MLB Network Radio, Sox outfielder Mark Kotsay said that the team is trying to acquire a left-handed hitter such as Adam Dunn or Aubrey Huff or possibly trying to trade for Prince Fielder.
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