If you went to bed early on Monday night, you missed a number of pretty major pieces of sports news.
The Baltimore Ravens blew a 21-point lead in Houston, but took an interception back for a touchdown to win in overtime.
The Chicago Blackhawks lost one of the most ugly, pathetic all-around (lack of) efforts in recent memory in Denver.
Derrick Rose has a sprained ankle and wrist, but the Bulls can't lose.
And Cliff Lee reportedly turned down somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million to go back to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yes, you read that correctly. A professional athlete turned down $50 million.
But this might create the best opportunity for the Chicago Cubs in years to correct a major mistake.
What makes Lee going back to Philadelphia an enormous deal is two overwhelming realities.
1) The Phillies have the best starting rotation in baseball, and it might not be close. Lee joins NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, former Astros ace Roy Oswalt and former World Series hero Cole Hamels to put four would-be aces at the top of the rotation. Ridiculous.
2) Lee turned down money... from the Yankees. New York reportedly offered Lee $23M per for six years ($138M) plus a $16M option for a total of $154M over seven. Reports are that he'll make between $100-114M over five years with the Phillies.
The Yankees now have CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes at the top of a rotation that is... those two guys. They're looking at having former Cubs farmhand Sergio Mitre as a fourth or fifth starter right now. That's not good.
Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox went out and traded for an elite first baseman (Adrian Gonzalez) and signed an elite free agent outfielder (Carl Crawford). Two years after Yankees GM Brian Cashman spent almost a billion dollars improving the Yankees, it's the Red Sox making waves.
Oh, and after winning the World Series in the first year with Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees didn't even get back into the Series this year.
The Yankees have reportedly considered making a trade for another former Cy Young winner that's allegedly available, but Kansas City's Zach Grienke has well documented anxiety issues that have raised red flags. After all, if you feel "too much pressure" in KC, will you wet your pants on the mound at Yankee Stadium?
Will the Yankees overpay an over-the-hill Andy Pettitte to come back for yet another year? They might, but he doesn't make them an overwhelming favorite to win their own division, much less win a championship.
So clearly another trade might need to be explored.
Enter the Chicago Cubs.
Looking at the money the Yankees were offering Lee, who is 32, would they consider paying somewhere in the $17-18M range for a 29-year-old that has pitched in a major market? How about if that pitcher only had two (maybe three) years left on his current deal?
Now might be the perfect time for the Cubs to get rid of Carlos Zambrano.
Big Z has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him a total of $35.875M total, or under $18M per season. The Yankees would be making a splash by adding a former All Star to their rotation that, by all indications and actions over the past couple seasons, needs a change in scenery.
From the Yankees perspective, two years is a fairly short-term gamble on a potential stud. After the All Star Break in 2010, Zambrano appeared in 14 games (11 starts) and was dominant: 74.0 innings pitched, 8 wins, 0 losses, 64 strikeouts and .198 batting average against.
And the Yankees wouldn't be obligated to having him around for as long as they would have been with Lee.
If Zambrano implodes as he did with the Cubs in 2010, the Yankees wouldn't be stuck with him on the payroll for more than two seasons. Similarly, if he shows up as the elite pitcher he was before 2009 and showed flashes of late in 2010, the Yankees got a bargain.
From the Cubs perspective, especially that of the Ricketts family, getting one of the biggest salaries (and the headaches that have come with it) off the books has to look good.
So what would the Cubs ask for in return?
Let's start with a major-league player that could make an impact. The Yankees may want to move one of their outfielders that isn't named Curtis Granderson. Either Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner would be a piece the Cubs may have interest in, but Gardner is the player that's more attractive.
Gardner, 27, stole 47 bases in 56 attempts and had a solid .383 on-base percentage. He hits left-handed and can run, two things that can't be said about Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd. If the Cubs didn't want to rush phenom Starlin Castro to the leadoff spot in the order, Gardner would be an outstanding option at the top of the lineup.
With all due respect to Tyler Colvin, who had an outstanding rookie season, he doesn't bring the same speed dynamic to the game that Gardner does.
The Cubs could ask for a top prospect in the deal as well, and would probably target Andrew Brackman. Brackman, 25, is listed at 6-10 and 240 pounds and struck out 126 batters in 140.2 innings in his second season after Tommy John surgery. The enormous right-hander has a mid-90s fastball and a big-time curveball that could make him an ideal pitcher to eventually matriculate to the Cubs' bullpen.
Whether or not the Cubs could ask for more than a top prospect and Gardner from the Yankees is debatable, but considering the Yankees suddenly deflated leverage in the market and lack of quality starting pitching available, the price tag for Zambrano may have become something Cashman can stomach quickly on Monday night.