Steve S. took a long-form look at the breakdown of the Cliff Lee saga earlier this morning. To me, there are five huge unanswered questions that remain about this deal.
1. Who leaked the information to Joel Sherman? The Yankees were apparently intent on striking quickly and making a big offer to the Mariners, snagging Lee before other teams had a chance to react. This is precisely what they did when they acquired Javier Vazquez from the Braves. Reporters knew that a deal had been completed before they knew the players involved. This time, the Yankees were a bit further away from consummating the deal when the information was leaked to Sherman. Did the Yankees think that they were further along than they were? Were they overconfident? Worse, did the Mariners lead them to think they were further along than they were? This leads to a second, bigger question.
2. Did the Mariners operate in bad faith? Hard to see how they didn’t. All indications seem to be that they had an agreement in principle with the Yankees and led the Yankees to believe that they deal was finished apart from physicals. They then took that offer, shopped it to the Rangers and demanded Smoak. Joel Sherman and George King of the New York Post broke down the saga this morning and it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re interested in the backstory and the mechanics of the deal. This quote in particular, which I saw on Jamal G’s Twitter this morning, is intriguing:
A trade is not complete until all paperwork is finalized and approved by the Commissioners Office. However, baseball — like many businesses — is based on relationships and trusting the word of other people, and that is why the Yanks are so irate about how this negotiation transpired.
“I don’t think 30 general managers would agree that what the Mariners did was real ethical,” another Yankees official said.
Other club officials also were irked about the Mariners’ actions. “It’s disappointing to hear that Jack shopped that around, that’s not right,” an executive from a team not directly involved in this trade said. “You don’t do that with any team and you don’t do it with the Yankees, because [GM Brian] Cashman will drop you in a heartbeat. You don’t use the Yankees because they never forget.” [emphasis added]
It’s fairly awesome to hear others talk about Cashman like that. He does not forgive, and he does not forget. All of that said, it seems pretty unequivocal that the Mariners’ negotiations were in bad faith. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s hard to blame the Yankees’ officials for being irritated with Seattle. Bad faith negotiations are ugly.
3. What about Jesus Montero? Has the organization given up on him as a catcher long-term, or was this simply them taking advantage of an opportunity to lock up the AL East?
4. Why did Cashman change his modus operandi? Let’s see: he refused to deal Hughes and prospects for Johan Santana. He refused to deal prospects for CC Sabathia when he was on the Indians, and refused to deal prospects for Lee on two separate occasions: when he was with the Indians and when he was with the Phillies. He was willing to deal Montero for Halladay, but only in a 1 for 1 swap. So why would he deal the organization’s best hitting prospect and two other prospects now, with a rotation full of healthy starters, when the team was in first place, and when Cliff Lee was merely months away from free agency? Is it related to their diminishing valuation of Montero?
5. Will Cashman attempt to acquire another starting pitcher? Obviously he isn’t completely satisfied with the staff and was willing to bring on another frontline pitcher and deal Vazquez at a later time. Was this a one-off deal, or will Cashman continue to monitor the starting pitcher trade market? My indication is that he will now stick with Sabathia-Burnett-Pettitte-Vazquez-Hughes.
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