Is Cliff Lee's Decision To Turn Down New York the Start of a New Trend?

Being the long-time Yankee hater that I am, I almost feel compelled to write about the wonderful misfortune that New York has had in free agency this year. Traditionally, the Yankees have been known for getting who they want when they want them, which has brought on many accusations that they essentially “Buy championships.” While I am not aware of any stores in which you can find a jumbo pack of 27 World Series titles hiding on the shelves, it does often seem like money grows on trees in the Bronx.

In 2010, the Yankees had a total team payroll of over $206 million, which was more than $45 million higher than the next closest team (Boston) and about $112 million higher than St. Louis. Right now you’re probably asking yourself what any of this has to do with the Cardinals. Quite honestly, not very much. However, bear with me, because the Yanks’ recent free agency failures could mean good things for the redbirds.

Everyone knows that the Yankees are always looking to use money to their advantage, whether it’s through trades or free agency. The story is the same year in and year out. Upon the conclusion of the World Series, there are always at least one or two big-name players out there on the market. Almost out of habit at this point, you automatically assume that at least one of those guys will end up in pinstripes, enticed by some outrageous multi-million dollar contract.

Long time Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died after a heart attack this past summer, always had a knack for bringing the best players to New York. Just to name a few of the most important free agent acquisitions in Yankees history, the team went out a got Catfish Hunter (1975), Reggie Jackson (1977), Dave Winfield (1980), Wade Boggs (1993), Alfonso Soriano (1999), and Hideki Matsui (2003). More recently, the team acquired CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira in 2009 via free agency, and they won it all that same year.

This year, it was no secret that superstar pitcher Cliff Lee was number one on the priority list for the Yanks and general manager Brian Cashman. All indications were that Lee would sign with New York, and there were rumors that the team could get Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth too. Shockingly enough, none of it panned out. Sure, they re-signed their captain Derek Jeter, but even that became somewhat of a struggle. Cliff Lee turned down more than $30 million from the Yankees in favor of returning to Philadelphia. Similarly, Carl Crawford decided to go to Boston because he felt he had the best chance to win there. Even after all this happened, the Yankees heavily pursued Zach Greinke, but he too went elsewhere.

So what does this all mean?

The way I see it, this could mean one of two things. Either players are finally putting winning above money, or teams around the league are willing to spend more to improve. I will be the first to admit it if I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that this 2010 free agent class has set a precedent to be followed for years to come.

Assuming that players are starting to value winning more than money, which hasn’t always been the case, the Cardinals are in great shape. With just one losing season in the last 11 years, St. Louis is one of the few teams in baseball that wins consistently over long periods of time. Not to mention, St. Louis is a wonderful city with a great fan base, which can’t hurt. If they continue to improve like they have this off-season, I feel good about their chances to land a key free agent in the not-so-distant future.

The Cardinals aren’t necessarily big spenders (Although that might change when Pujols’ contract expires), so players who are willing to take less money to win are perfect for general manager John Mozeliak. I know there is an entire season between now and next year’s free agency, but it should certainly be interesting to see if this year’s precedent will continue.

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Tags: Brian Cashman Carl Crawford Cliff Lee Free Agency George Steinbrenner Jayson Werth John Mozeliak Zach Greinke

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