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Saturday, December 4, 2010
Updated: December 7, 1:15 AM ET
Cliff Lee-lapalooza is upon Yankees

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

As the Derek Jeter saga played on, a top Yankees official hoped the shortstop's contract would be completed prior to the winter meetings.

"That would be ideal," the official said.

With Jeter now in the fold, what is next for the Yankees is Cliff Lee. He has been in the on-deck circle the past month as the back-and-forth between Jeter and the Yankees held center stage. But Lee's agent, Dareck Braunecker, has pointed to the winter meetings -- which begin Monday in Orlando -- as when he and his client will get down to business.

Jeter, despite all the rhetoric, was always coming back. Lee is the whole offseason plan.

Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee dominated Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS at Yankee Stadium.

The dream scenario for the Yankees is Lee takes a break from hunting to fly south this week. He comes to a news conference to announce he is finally a Yankee. They have wanted him for a long time. They came close in July, but Seattle traded the All-Star pitcher to Texas. Now, New York may be days away.

While there is renewed talk about outfielder Carl Crawford, he is clearly Plan B. Could the Yankees do Plan A and B? It is possible, but unlikely. The Yankees might be doing a Mark Teixeira-like end-around on Crawford, but Lee, everyone knows, is their top choice.

The Yankees are expected to offer the most money to Lee. Most free agents go for the largest check. Players and officials who have been around Lee give no indication that he will be any different.

The wild card is an unforeseen team coming out of nowhere and beating the Yankees financially. One baseball official who has worked very closely with Lee said the left-hander will take the offer that is the highest.

When this official was asked, "So you are saying if the Nationals offer one dollar more than the Yankees, he would go to Washington?" the person said he thought Lee would then pitch in Washington, D.C.

The Yankees want Lee badly, but they are not as all-in as they were when they went seven years, $161 million for CC Sabathia at the winter meetings in 2008. So it is doubtful they will go seven years, but maybe six. If a wild card were to go seven, the Yankees may walk away.

The mystery team is the one that is the most daunting, especially since this is perceived as a two-team race between the Yankees and Rangers. In 2000, when Alex Rodriguez had no flaws as a free agent, there weren't many, if any, who thought the Rangers would come away with him. But they did. So while there doesn't seem to be another Tom Hicks out there, you never know.

That said, the Yankees usually get their man.

The years could scare the Yankees. Ideally, with a 32-year-old starter, you would not want to go beyond four years. But Lee is certainly going to receive at least five and will likely want six, if not seven.

In the suites at the Swan & Dolphin Hotel, the Yankees will need to decide how far others will go for Lee and how far they will.

The Yankees want him badly. They will show that with a huge contract. It is nice to have Jeter in the fold, but The Captain is always the first to say the difference between winning a championship and not is pitching.

If the Yankees leave Orlando with Lee, they will enter next season as the favorites to win championship No. 28.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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