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2011 MLB Free Agency: Carl Crawford To Boston Bad For Yankees, Good For Cliff Lee

As a New York Yankee fan here is my very simple reaction to the news that the Boston Red Sox have signed Carl Crawford. Oh, crap!

While most folks were sleeping, the Red Sox snagged Crawford with a seven-year, $142-million contract. "Great move, great player," was Yankee general manager Brian Cashman's simple reaction this morning.

Everywhere you look this morning, analysts are writing that this move turns up the heat on the Yankees to sign free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee, and obviously gives Lee leverage to squeeze more money out of whatever team ends up with him.

That much is obvious. If the Yankees do not land Lee they fall behind the Red Sox, who have signed Crawford and added slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez via trade, in the American League East.

What I want to look at is something different. Short-term, Lee has been the right target for the Yankees all along. It was obvious in 2009 that their front-line starting pitching was not good enough, and Lee is as good as there is in the game right now. Especially in the postseason.

Think about this question, though. Which guy is a better long-term investment, Crawford or Lee? If the Yankees get Lee and he helps them win a championship or two in the first few years of his deal, the Yankees won't care. I think, though, that Crawford might be the better long-term investment.

Here is ESPN's Keith Law summarizing Crawford, who hit .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBI and 47 stolen bases for Tampa Bay in 2009.

Crawford will play in 2011 at age 29, meaning the contract takes him through his age 35 season, giving Boston several years of his peak and just a few years of decline, since athletic players who play good defense do seem to age better into their 30s. He's the best defensive left fielder in baseball and a plus-plus runner who adds a lot of value through his baserunning as a high-percentage base stealer.

Lee is already 32, and a six-or seven-year deal will take him to age 38 or 39. He is acknowledged as the best postseason pitcher in the game, but there is huge risk long-term contracts for pitchers. The Yankees signed Mike Mussina for seven years back in 2001 and got eight mostly productive ones, but that is the exception. Long-term, big-money deals for pitchers often have disastrous results. Ask the Mets about Johan Santana.

Lee is a control pitcher, not a power one. You still have to wonder how well he will age. He already missed some starts in 2009 with back issues, and you have to wonder if the Yankees -- should they sign Lee -- will be paying an awful lot and not getting much return by the end of a six- or seven-year deal.

Of course, all of this is speculative. Before any of it matters, the Yankees have to get Lee's name on a contract first. Whether the will or not is the $150-million (or more) question.