Cliff Lee: Talks To Heat Up, While Yankees and Jeter Are Far Apart

Nick PoustCorrespondent IINovember 28, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 01:  Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the San Francisco Giants in Game Five of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Half a dozen teams are interested in free-agent ace left-hander Cliff Lee. Three are known—the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals—while the other three are left to speculation.

Lee, 31, is known to be looking for a seven-year contract worth upwards of $20 million annually. The suitors that have proclaimed their interest are ready to break the bank for his services. And, it seems, the bidding war will begin very soon.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, “Executives involved in the bidding…believe the negotiations will gather momentum in the week ahead, perhaps to a point where the All-Star left-hander will choose his next employer sometime during the winter meetings that start Dec. 6.”

The Nationals will be aggressive, as they were for the services of Mark Teixeira two years ago, but the assumption around the league is that Lee’s landing spot comes down to New York and Texas, his former team.

The Yankees appear prepared to offer him a contract so lucrative that it would make him the second-highest paid pitcher in baseball, behind their own C.C. Sabathia.

Texas appears ready to match, though taking on a contract of such length and magnitude could assume as much as 30 percent of their annual payroll.

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As much as it pains me to say, New York always seems to win-out when a star free-agent they covet hits the market. They beat out the Boston Red Sox for Alex Rodriguez in 2004, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, wooed Johnny Damon away from Fenway as well, and then thrust even more millions into the faces of both Sabathia and Teixeira to get them in pinstripes.

Money talks.

Baseball, unfortunately, has shown to be more of a business than a game. It’s how much cash is in the bank, not the thrill of the grass that matters.

Where he will land is up in the air, but in the end, as most negotiations do these days, it will come down to who offers the most. He developed a great relationship with Texas, and led the team to the World Series. With him, the Rangers would have a core that could play in the World Series next year and down the road.

He would be on a contender in New York, of course. But though a very solid one-two punch would be formed with Sabathia, another ridiculous contract would be given to a player who isn’t exactly young by baseball’s standards.

Lee isn’t the only aging free-agent the Yankees are looking to lock up. When free-agency began it was deemed a sure thing that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter would be returning to New York.

It is still widely believed Rivera, their dominant 40-year-old closer, will be re-signed sooner or later. As for Jeter, it is far from certain that he will remain with the only organization he has known.

The relationship between Jeter’s representatives and the Yankees is surprisingly tense. I thought there would be some minimal disagreement as to the length of a contract given to the 36-year-old, but then the wrinkles would be ironed out and Jeter would return.

I thought negotiations would be that harmless. But it is far more difficult than anyone realized. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times recently called the contract talks “a mess.” Why? He details the nastiness that has brewed between the two parties:

“To recap, from various news media forums: [Hal] Steinbrenner emphasized that he was running a business, and warned that talks could get ugly. Close, Jeter’s agent, responded by saying his client’s value to the franchise “cannot be overstated.” The Yankees emphasized that they would value Jeter as a player, not a brand.

Close, normally quite reticent, then called the Yankees’ tactics baffling. The Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, fired back by saying he was concerned about Jeter’s age and declining performance.”

This war of words is hard to fathom. New York needs Jeter. But, evidently he doesn’t need them. If he did, he would already have re-signed with the team. He is clearly a money-grabber. Why else would he turn down a three-year contract worth $45 million?

He wants more, possibly even double the money. What kind of world are we living in where a player, who hit .270 last season and, despite laughably winning the Gold Glove, lacks range in the field is balking at $15 million per season? Has he no scruples?

New York has reason to take a stand.

How much money is enough? Jeter is coming off a $189 million contract. Now he wants another deal worth nine figures. I guess having your family set for the next 100 generations isn’t enough.

Prior to this offseason’s saga, the media and fans were under the impression that Jeter played to win, and, more importantly, played for the love of the game. That’s all out the window now. If it wasn’t, he would be back with a perennial winner—a team he has won five championships with, to play a game. Clearly, to him, it isn’t much of a game at all.