The title says it all, here’s the story from Joel Sherman:
The Knicks didn’t get LeBron James, but the Yankees were on the brink of obtaining Cliff Lee late last night for a package that would include top prospect Jesus Montero, the Post has learned.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik have been in constant contact over the last week, but it was only last night that the Seattle GM told Yankee officials he wanted to move quickly, possibly before the All-Star break.
The Yanks were not assured of obtaining Lee since other clubs such as the Mets, Twins and Rangers were in talks. But the Yanks were definitely making the strongest move last night, coming from seeming disinterest into the clear front-runner and last night it seemed they were all but certain to obtain the 31-year-old lefty.
In the offseason, the Yanks tried to make a deal with Philadelphia and offered Montero as the key piece. But the Phillies decided to take the Mariner offer instead.
However, Seattle’s contention plans fizzled and Lee was put up for auction by the frustrated Mariners. The Mets were perceived to be more interested in the ace than the Yankees. But the Yankees adore Lee as a pitcher and had been planning to make a big push for him as a free agent anyway.
So they decided to stay engage on this matter even as the perception in the sport grew that the Twins were the frontrunners with perhaps the Rangers close behind.
Yankee management looked at its rotation and had some pause. CC Sabathia was again an ace and Andy Pettitte is pitching as well now as ever. But A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez are not fully trustworthy, especially for the playoffs, and Phil Hughes has an innings limit of about 175, and might not be available to start.
Cashman might now be in position to either put Hughes in the bullpen to bolster that shaky area or trade a starter, possibly Vazquez, for a few prospects. It was possible that injured Double-A second baseman David Adams also was part of the deal to Seattle since he is a player the Mariners like a great deal.
The Yanks like Montero a great deal, but they were willing to use him as bait for both Lee and Roy Halladay in the offseason. They are deep in catching prospects and could never be sure that Montero could actually make it as a catcher in the majors since that is the suspect area of the game. He is considered one of the elite hitting prospects in the minors, though he was hitting just .253 with six homers and 34 RBIs this season at Triple-A.
I’m still dubious. You can understand the team not trusting Vazquez in the playoffs after his slow start, and with Hughes due to reach his innings limits later this year he could be moved to bolster their sagging bullpen. Joba has failed to build the bridge to Mariano that Hughes created last season. The Yanks have obvious depth at the Catcher position, with Cervelli, Romine and the red hot Gary Sanchez in rookie ball. But giving up Montero is overpaying in the extreme, especially when there isn’t an obvious need, and even a team as rich as the Yanks has to be smarter than that. As I stated yesterday, the marginal difference between Javier Vazquez and Cliff Lee isn’t worth giving up a prospect like Montero. But Joel’s a good reporter with good sources, so I have to take this report seriously. That being said, I still think the Yanks will back out at the last minute, and are just doing this to drive up the price for a potential playoff opponent like the Rangers or Twins.
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