SOME TEAM - most likely the New York Yankees - should show at least a hint of concern about giving Cliff Lee the megamillion-dollar contract he is about to get.

Lee, the short-time Phillie whose name is not allowed to be spoken within the confines of Citizens Bank Park, is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market.

He's going to be a valuable addition to any staff and a top-of-the-rotation starter for most.

Lee, however, is not the slam-dunk, can't-miss, must-have pickup a lot of people insist he is.

In fact, considering the amount of money Lee is about to get, there is a 45 to 55 percent chance the team that acquires him won't get full return on its investment.

How can I say that about a guy who, until the start of the 2010 World Series, had been one of the most dominant pitchers in postseason history?

How can I say that about a pitcher who, despite losing two games in the World Series for the Rangers, is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career playoff starts?

Well, because to reach the postseason, a team has to first get through a 162-game regular season.

During the regular season, Lee just has not been all that with sprinkles on top.

In 218 major league starts since 2002, Lee has a solid, 102-61 career record with a 3.85 ERA.

He has won 20 games only once in his career - 22 with Cleveland in 2008 when he won the American League Cy Young Award - and he only won more than 14 games one other time (18 in 2005).

Because of Lee's masterful pitching in the playoffs the last two seasons, what gets overlooked is that he was 26-22 with a 3.20 ERA.

Pitching for Seattle and Texas this year, Lee was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA.

I can discount the record because a lot of that can be a function of the team you pitch for, but as good as Lee's ERA was, it was still only tied for 21st in the majors.

For those Phillies fans who still haven't gotten over the Lee trade, all three of their top starters - Roy Halladay (2.44), Roy Oswalt (2.76) and Cole Hamels (3.06) - had at least as many wins and a better ERA than Lee.

Taking into consideration that Lee is 32, you should understand that over the length of the contract, he might not be completely worth the money he is commanding today.

Last season, the Yankees paid starters CC Sabathia $24.3 million and A.J. Burnett $16.5 million.

Sabathia had the same 3.18 ERA as Lee but finished 21-7.

Burnett was a complete bust, 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA.

If can be argued that had Burnett not been so lousy, the Yankees might not be so desperate to sign Lee.

You can bet that Lee and his agent know that he is the Yankees' No. 1 offseason priority, ahead of re-signing captain Derek Jeter and Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.

They also know Lee is 3-0 against the Yankees in the postseason over the last 2 years, including two wins at Yankee Stadium.

Lee holds all the cards with the Yankees, which means he holds all the cards with any team looking to sign him.

He's never made more than $9 million a season and will set his asking price a lot closer to the 7-year, $161 million contract Sabathia got, rather than the 3-year extension worth $60 million that Halladay got from the Phillies.

But think about this when considering Lee's worth: Of the 20 pitchers with ERAs better than Lee's, Halladay and the New York Mets' Johan Santana are the only ones scheduled to make $20 million next season.

I don't fault Lee for pursuing as much cash as he can. Circumstances have left him with a perfect money storm to capitalize on.

I'm a little annoyed, however, by Lee saying that his 3 months as a Ranger were the best time of his career and that he would love to stay in Texas.

It's not like Texas is going to make him a lowball offer. It just won't be as big as the one the Yankees will make.

If Lee is truly interested in staying in Texas and not just making the most money, he'll do what Halladay did to come to the Phillies.

But you know the Yankees will make an offer Lee can't refuse, and if he does, they'll make him a better one.

Just be a little leery.

I'm not saying that signing Lee will be a bust, but $20 million or so a season is a lot of scratch to gamble on a guy who has averaged just 12 wins in his career.

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