By Jason Keidel
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Christmas is boring at Yankee Stadium. They buy themselves presents and don’t bother to wrap them. They probably don’t even have a tree.

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And this Christmas is particularly barren in The Bronx. Cliff Lee left a mint on the table and took his blessed left arm to Philadelphia. Zach Greinke (predictably) spurned the Yanks and went to Milwaukee.

Normally, the Yankees engage in a simple mating ritual. They parachute into the star’s home, pop open a suitcase of cash, and leave him a rich man who often says God always wanted him to be a Yankee. There is little corporate drama in the Yankee Universe because they overwhelm you with the titanic force of a bottomless bankroll.

But there was a twist in the 2010 plot that led to a dead end, with free agents acting like free men, deciding that money isn’t everything, nor is it the only thing. The Yankees seemed toxic to All-Stars this offseason (unless you consider Russell Martin a big score). Critics call it karma, but the Yankees usually spend their way out of hexes and hoaxes. (Kei Igawa, anyone?)

Talk radio and this Web site were swamped with rancorous responses over Lee. Many said the Yanks were better off. Nonsense. Some are jaded because the Giants slapped the aura off Lee’s perfect postseason, but in pinstripes, Lee was good for twenty wins next year.

Fans aren’t really mad at Cliff Lee. Fans are befuddled. Fans are spoiled. And for the first time since 1993 the Yankees flexed their checkbook and the player refused to flinch. And for the first time since Greg Maddux the Yankees didn’t get what they want.

With no ability to buy a new rotation, the Bronx Bombers have reason to panic. Should Andy Pettitte retire, the Yankees’ staff in 2011 starts with CC Sabathia and follows with a phalanx of variables. Phil Hughes would be their No. 2 and A.J. Burnett – a Rolaids moment in eternal loop – would be No. 3.

(And these unknowns will pitch to new Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.)

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Sweeny Murti said that all indications are that Pettitte will quit for the final time. Of course, everyone is retired until a rabid Brian Cashman comes calling with the full force of the Steinbrenner wallet behind him. There is nothing left to achieve in baseball, Pettitte said after losing to Texas in the ALCS. But there’s more money to make, and no matter the country refrain of the family man, nearly all of us can be bought.

Even if Pettitte returns the Yanks are decidedly worse than they were when they won the World Series. The Core Four is two years older, and two years slower. Only the immortal Mariano Rivera fights Father Time to a draw.

Derek Jeter, who certainly deserves to be overpaid until he retires, said during his press conference that he’s in the middle of his career, which means he’d have to play until he’s 51 for that to be true. The captain’s delusions aside, he hit .270 last season, and no shortstop in history got better at 37.

Soon the Yanks must cut the cord with the Core Four. Posada is done after this year, already relegated to the pseudo-demotion of DH. Pettitte was 11-3 with a microscopic ERA when he got hurt last season, but he indeed got hurt, and he will again if he returns in 2011.

A-Rod is A-Rod: occasionally transcendent, always good, and often injured. And thus the problem with banking on so many veterans is that one day they wake up old, and Gene Monahan can’t put a band-aid on aging.

Only Robinson Cano is assured the grace of time and talent – a .320 average with 30 homers and 100 RBI. The rest of the lineup will pray to play 140 games. Cano and Mark Teixeira aside, the Yankees look like the cast of a “Just for Men” campaign.

With all the talk about the Mets front-loading their front office, spending more on office furniture than free agents, we forget that they pull off the paradox of high payroll and low expectations. The Yankees don’t have that luxury – just a mountain of luxury tax and a solemn holiday season with no presents under the tree.

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