First and foremost, congrats to Seattle GM Jack Z for getting this deal done. According to reports, he was the one who approached the Yanks, then the story leaked out all over the place (likely from the Seattle side) and he started a bidding war that netted him at least one terrific prospect in Smoak, a good pitcher in Beavan and two other prospects who may be useful parts. Former Reds and Nats GM Jim Bowden said on his Sirius-XM radio show yesterday that he thinks Seattle got back even more than they gave up for Lee in the off season. If so, it’s a huge win for his franchise. He sold season tickets on the hopes of being a contender with Lee, and then netted more talent than he had for his rebuilding when things didn’t work out the way he hoped. You can’t beat a deal like that.
Now I want to get into the mechanics of this story from the media perspective and how it all went down, which is always interesting when it comes to trades. I have to think Sherman’s report came from sources on the Seattle side. Always remember that it’s in the seller’s (Seattle) interest to leak this story, not the buyer (Yanks). The nature of Sherman’s initial report, titled “Yanks on brink of landing Cliff Lee” seems designed to get any team that wanted Lee to run to the phone and start bidding. When most deals happen, they simply get reported on after the fact. This one seemed deliberately strung along. The Yanks got to the one yard line, a “deal was imminent” and then . . we waited and waited for hours only to find the deal had fizzled. What also makes me think Sherman had a Seattle source was the way he was still clued in on this long after the Yanks made it clear that they had dropped out. The Yanks should have been out of the loop at that point (having made their final offer) so Joel had to be talking to people from Seattle. He was also one of the first to get the eventual deal that was consummated with the Rangers, so that may have been his reward for helping Jack Z out with the initial report. If you’re going to leak and do it right, you give the info to somebody from the other city, so it looks like it’s coming from their side. It makes the rumor look more credible to 3rd parties, since a rumor coming from a Seattle reporter would figure to be coming the Mariners. Jack Z is a smart guy, I’m sure he knows how to play the game. He did a nice job playing the media and marketplace to his advantage.
I’m still not totally convinced the Yankee interest was 100% legit. While Lee is certainly an upgrade, there was no need on the Yanks for a starter. Many observers responded to this deal as “overkill” by the Yanks, and it was overpriced to boot. Overkill and overpriced were trademarks of the Steinbrenner years, not Brian Cashman’s term. This was a very expensive deal and Brian typically steers clear of those trades. Brian Cashman has also long been against giving up top flight prospects for rentals that he can simply sign a few months later. By dangling Montero, they got Texas to give up Smoak (which they resisted prior) and a good AA starter. That hurts the Rangers long term, and Texas may very well be a playoff opponent for the Yanks both this year and in the future. The Rangers are also no threat whatsoever to sign Lee to an extension, given their financial woes. When a trade is “imminent” and doesn’t happen, I smell a rat and sometimes both teams in the rumor are playing along. How many times were the Red Sox “very close” to landing Johan Santana? About every two weeks back in 07. Johan (Lefty fly ball pitcher) never made as much sense for the Sox as he did for the Yanks if you assume they would be paying a fair market price for him in terms of prospects. I always thought those rumors were designed to make the Yanks panic, which thankfully they didn’t.
But it’s also possible that the Yanks are more down on Montero than we realize. Baseball America recently released their Top 25 prospect list, and said this about Montero:
5. Jesus Montero, c/dh, Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre): Montero hasn’t improved this year, and for some he hasn’t impressed. After generating positive defensive trends and reports at the end of 2009 at Double-A Trenton, Montero has convinced scouts this year that he won’t be a long-term catcher. He was leading the International League with 12 passed balls and was getting run on at will—87 attempts in 63 games, throwing out 19 (22 percent). He’s experiencing his first adversity offensively, but scouts are confident his bat will still be strong.
If Montero winds up as a 1B or DH, he loses a lot of value to the Yanks. But whatever the Yanks motivation was in this deal, it still turned out OK for them. From the Yankee point of view, they really didn’t need Lee, they keep Montero, Adams and McAllister for future considerations and helped get a potential playoff opponent to overpay for a rental. Plus, they didn’t have to face Lee last night, which I’m sure no one on the Yanks was complaining about. With Nick Johnson’s injury and recent setback, the Yanks could be looking for a DH. If they’ve given up on him defensively, Montero could suit the bill. So things worked out pretty well for the Yanks, at least for now. But if they have to face Lee in the playoffs (which they probably wont in the ALDS) I may have to reconsider that.
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