We didn’t get too deep into the weeds here at Yankeeist on Friday with all of the back-and-forth on Cliff Lee, primarily because it seemed silly to speculate/analyze until there was an official announcement, although plenty of you were certainly looking for any news you could find given our spike in traffic that day, so apologies if we were not as out in front of the story as we could have been. For what it’s worth, I was monitoring Twitter basically nonstop the entire day, but wasn’t near a computer when the news broke late in the afternoon that Lee was dealt to Texas for a package centered around first baseman Justin Smoak.
As exciting as it would have been for the Yankees to add arguably the best pitcher in the American League to an already-stacked starting rotation, on the whole I couldn’t help but feel an enormous sense of relief at the news that the deal collapsed. Rational or not, given how much access we have to every level of the minor league system these days it was impossible for most Yankee fans not to have a fairly high level of attachment to Jesus Montero — a player that 99% of us have probably never even seen play — given the insane hype surrounding the 20-year-old hitting prodigy.
We heard on Friday that the Yankees were able to rationalize parting with Montero because they view Austin Romine as a more viable long-term solution at catcher, and that Montero’s value becomes somewhat diminished if he can’t stick behind the plate. While he may have more value at catcher, everything I’ve read projects Montero to have a world-class bat — this could be complete insanity, but I’ve read some comps that project his best-case scenario to be Manny Ramirez-like with the stick, which, wow — and the Yankees haven’t developed a true impact power bat in I can’t even tell you how long. As great as Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter have been for the team, neither came up through the system as a thumping middle-of-the-order type player, even though Bernie did end up batting cleanup for much of his Yankee career.
The fact that the framework for a deal was in place pending physicals was also a remarkable departure for Brian Cashman, who has steadfastly refused to pay for a player he wants in both prospects and huge extensions (Johan Santana and CC Sabathia, for two) during the past few seasons. I think we can all agree that this tack has worked out fairly well for the Yankees thus far, given the emergence of Phil Hughes as well as the fact that the Yankees were able to win the 2009 World Series without having to mortgage the farm.
Longtime readers are certainly familiar with my complete and utter distaste for trading blue chip prospects for players that can be had for nothing but cold hard cash by season’s end, and while I wasn’t compelled to launch a “Save Jesus Montero” blog this time around, I still felt pretty strongly about not trading him for what would amount to a three- to four-month rental, even if we presuppose that Lee would re-sign with the Yanks at season’s end.
And that’s probably the most important part of the non-trade for Cliff Lee: The Yankees, assuming they still want him in the offseason, are guaranteed to have a shot at signing Lee come November. The Rangers, who have more financial problems than the global economy, can’t realistically offer Lee the $120 million over six years or so he’ll likely be looking for. I recall reading somewhere that Lee might be looking for Sabathia-type money, but I’m not even sure even the Yankees would dole out a contract like that to a pitcher who will be entering his age 33 season, no matter how good said pitcher might be.
The only downside of the Lee deal is that, instead of having to face him this past Friday for the last time this season, they’ll now see Lee likely two more times, as the Yankees have two more series with Texas, and possibly again in the postseason. But that assumes that Texas hangs on to the AL West (admittedly fairly likely unless they completely fall apart and the Angels remember how to hit and pitch again) and that the two teams will square off at some point in the playoffs. Even if they do, Texas’ rotation with Lee is still nowhere near as imposing as the Twins’ would’ve been, with a front three of Francisco Liriano-Lee-Carl Pavano. Overall, Texas was probably the best possible American League team Lee could’ve been traded to, at least as far as benefiting the Yankees goes, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Rangers’ shoving all-in results in the franchise finally winning a playoff series.
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