Yankees’ Failure to Land Cliff Lee Signals End of an Era in Baseball

Yankees’ Failure to Land Cliff Lee Signals End of an Era in Baseball Christmas has come early for Red Sox Nation.

First, they get Adrian Gonzalez.

Then, they add Carl Crawford.

Now, Cliff Lee turns down the Yankees. The left-hander took a five-year, $115 million deal (with a sixth-year vesting option) to return to the Phillies instead of accepting the Yankees’ seven-year, $150 million offer.

It’s a new era in baseball. The Bronx Bombers didn’t get their man.

Maybe Yankees fans shouldn’t have harassed Lee’s wife during the playoffs. Maybe the Arkansas native didn’t like New York’s tax codes (Pennsylvania has a flat income tax rate of 3 percent). Maybe he didn’t like the way Derek Jeter‘s negotiations played out. Maybe he just doesn’t like Frank Sinatra.

Whatever the reason, Cliff Lee is not a Yankee.

Most people just assumed he would be. That’s just the way it’s gone in baseball for the past decade. Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners target the free agent they want. They bank up the Brink’s truck. And they hold a news conference to welcome their newest All-Star into the family.

Not this year. The Yankees get to see how the other 29 teams live, get to feel what it likes to be told no, have a door closed in their face, rejected.

Sure, the Yankees have a contingency plan (Zack Greinke, anyone?), and some Yankees fans still will point out that they have the most championships in baseball history. But any way you analyze it, not landing Cliff Lee hurts. And it doesn’t just hurt on the field, where Lee would have strengthened a staff that has a few question marks after CC Sabathia.

This hurts in the field of public opinion and perception and organizational ideology. The Yankees no longer are the almighty major league superpower that can buy whoever they want in pursuit of a championship. There is hope for the rest of baseball that money isn’t the end-all, be-all in free-agent recruiting. Players will factor other components into the equation.

Lee’s decision to spurn the Yankees is reminiscent of Rocky IV, when Rocky lands a shot on Ivan Drago and cuts him after being pummeled by the Russian fighter. Rock’s trainer, Duke, sensing weakness, implores Rocky to seize the opportunity: “He’s hurt bad. Now he’s worried. You cut him. You see? You see? He’s not a machine. He’s a man.”

The Yankees are no longer an ATM machine. Ruling with a blank check isn’t going to work anymore. Lee’s non-signing means the Yankees will have to rethink their hot stove strategy this offseason and beyond.

Plan A always has been good enough for the Yankees in the new millennium. They always have won the big-name-player sweepstakes. But times have changed. It’s not business as usual in the Empire.

They have to go with Plan B. They bleed like everybody else.

After the Yankees lick their wounds, they can join everybody else and start bemoaning baseball’s new powerhouse. The Red Sox.

Do you think Cliff Lee’s decision to not sign with the Yankees will have long-lasting implications in the major leagues? Share your thoughts below.

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