- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Red Sox have morphed into the Yankees, spending what will eventually be around $300 million on two difference-making offensive players. The Yankees' response to Boston's signing of Carl Crawford for seven years and $142 million was swift and sudden. They did what they claimed they didn't want to do -- they added a seventh season for the 32-year-old Cliff Lee.
GM Brian Cashman consulted with owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine late Wednesday about upping the Lee offer as the rivalry that extends from the clubbies to the front office has reappeared in the Hot Stove League.
The Yankees' latest statement to the Red Sox is this: Nobody out-Yankees the Yankees.
Still, even if the Yankees win their top prize, the Red Sox are winning the offseason war.
The Bombers fired a brushback pitch to the Texas Rangers that left Nolan Ryan sounding mighty glum on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike. Texas may not have the money to fight with the Yankees, but ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports they are making a Thursday field trip to Arkansas to visit with Lee. So they are not giving up, though they face steep odds.
Angels GM Tony Reagins admitted interest in Lee, but he also said he has already made a splash by signing ex-Met Hisanori Takahashi -- what? -- and, besides, when was the last time the Angels won a bidding war?
So the Yankees are the clear favorites, with Lee expected to go to the highest bidder. And when was the last time the Yankees lost a bidding war?
For years, the Yankees' financial might has overwhelmed the Red Sox. Now, Boston has added Crawford and finally responded to being outbid for Mark Teixeira by acquiring Gonzalez for first base -- and they have forced the Yankees to add an extra year to Lee's contract.
"They are loading up, like they always do," Cashman said. "This is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload."
The Yankees -- who had interest in Crawford, but also wanted to drive the price up on the Red Sox -- have been damaged, which may make winning the Lee sweepstakes feel a little like a loss. The Red Sox have played a better game of poker so far.
If the Yankees had stayed strong on six years for Lee and not gotten him, they might have ruined 2011 before it started. By going to seven years, the Yankees are gambling with old age by 2017. As good as Lee has looked in the postseason, how many of these multi-year contracts for starters turned out well?
By 2017, a 42-year-old Alex Rodiguez and a 39-year-old Lee could still be under contract. But that is a long time from now, which is why the Yankees have decided to worry about that another day.
It is Lee or bust, no matter how wide Cashman describes the safety net in case he doesn't snag Lee. With Lee, the Yankees are the co-favorites in the AL East in 2011. Without him, the Yankees are almost definitely staring up at the Red Sox.
The Yankees are worried about the left side of their infield. They have signed Derek Jeter to a new three-year deal, but there is concern about what he is at 36 years old. Rodriguez's reflexes looked slow at times last season at third.
While still a very strong player, A-Rod may no longer be a dominant force. By the time his contract runs out, President Obama will be out of office -- even if he wins a second term.
So while the Yankees need Lee badly right now, it's the Red Sox who have pushed them to continue their cycle of long-term contracts.
The Yankes have moved Jorge Posada to DH in what will likely be his last season with the team. They have to worry about how Jeter will age and Mariano Rivera, 41, won't go on forever. Andy Pettitte might retire.
The Yankees need Lee, but seven years for a starting pitcher is a huge risk, no matter who it is. The Red Sox have made it so that winning Lee's services may cost the Yankees far more than they can afford.
Even if the Yankees get Cliff Lee, the Red Sox are winning the offseason war.