On a night when Brett Favre’s record for consecutive regular-season starts finally came to an end, Major League Baseball and pitcher Cliff Lee stole the spotlight.
As one of the hottest free agents on the market this offseason, much of the speculation about Lee’s new home pointed toward the New York Yankees. After all, the Yankees have seemingly had their way in free agency with the ability to throw money at any superstar they thought might help them add to their trophy case. And as expected, after making his way west as far as Seattle and then to Texas, Lee once again decided to head east agreeing to a contract worth over $100 million.
But Lee won’t be making his home in New York. This time, the Yankees lost out in the bidding war over one of MLB’s top hurlers. The kicker is that the Steinbrenners actually got undercut on the deal. Lee left an estimated $30 million on the table so he could return to Philadelphia to team up with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in what will arguably be pro baseball’s best starting rotation for the 2011 season.
Lee’s signing doesn’t guarantee the Phillies a World Series title or even a National League pennant. The prospects of winning the NL East are pretty good though, and Philadelphia will likely be at the top of the list for anyone picking winners for the upcoming season.
From last season to now, the Phillies have done nothing but strengthen their starting rotation, first trading away Lee to make room for the signing of Halladay, picking up Oswalt in time for the playoffs, and now luring Lee back into the fold.
But perhaps the real winners in this deal are the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees have always made deals to one-up the Red Sox. So far during the offseason, Boston has signed outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. It was New York’s turn to make a move. It just always happens. Yankees fans expected nothing less than Lee agreeing to play in New York. Instead, Boston breathed a sigh of relief and the Yankees were shunned and stunned.
New York offered Lee a six-year deal with an option that could have reached $154 million. Nobody outbids the Yankees, and that was still true in this case. Lee’s deal with the Phillies is worth nearly $120 million over six years.
So why would a professional athlete turn down so much money and playing in New York all in one contract? The answer could simply be that Lee and his family prefer living in Philadelphia over New York. Maybe he’s just not fond of the Yankees. Or maybe this has not as much to do with Lee as it does the Yankees.
Could this be the end of the Yankees’ free agency run? Certainly one loss doesn’t mark the end of the team’s dominance. The money is still there and there will surely be more big-named free agents to sign in the future. But Lee’s willingness to accept less money to not go to New York will surely make others consider other options.