New York Yankees: Why Would They Trade for Cliff Lee Now?

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst IJune 11, 2010

SEATTLE - JUNE 02:  Starting pitcher Cliff Lee #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field on June 2, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There was a recent NY Post report by columnist George King ,which portrayed the New York Yankees as being interested in the services of left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee of the Seattle Mariners. Lee is an outstanding pitcher, one of the top five pitchers in baseball.

The report states that Seattle expects the Yankees to attempt to obtain Lee, with information gathered from a person "familiar with Seattle's thought process." The Mariners are preparing for the Yankees to try and trade for Lee, and have scouts in attendance at various Yankees minor league games.

The Mariners, therefore, are assuming the Yankees have interest now.

Recently the Mariners have had two scouts at Low-A Charleston, as well as two in Reading, Penn., checking in on the Yankees Double-A squad, the Trenton Thunder, who were in town playing the Reading Phillies.

Possibilities in Charleston include pretty much nobody, except OF Slade Heathcott and C/DH J.R. Murphy, last year's first and second round picks. Those two aren't going anywhere. You want to say, maybe, Charleston RHP Jose Ramirez might be wanted, then OK, because he might have that proverbial upside. Otherwise, Charleston really offers nothing of value.

But Double-A does offer real value for another team. Reportedly, the Mariners like RHP David Phelps, 3B/1B Brandon Laird, and catcher Austin Romine. Well, who doesn't, right? You don't have to be a pro scout to figure out that these three are the top players.

Phelps gets guys out and doesn't walk anybody, Laird hits for great power and average, and he doesn't strike out much. Romine is an average defensive catcher, but could hit for a high average and some pop. And lots of teams need catching. All three are solid players who will get to the big leagues for some team.

The Mariners are starting "their trade talk" with a combination of one of the Yankees top catchers (either Jesus Montero or Romine), and Triple-A shortstop Eduardo Nunez.

But just because the Mariners are scouting the Yankees prospects, does not mean the Yankees are interested in trading any of them right now for Lee.

Knowing their 2010 season is shot, Seattle is probably getting a list of players they like for a proposal to the Yankees. The Mariners would like a few players in return for Lee who could help on the offensive end*.

*The funny thing about Seattle and their new defensive first concept, is that it worked well for one year because it took everyone by surprise. Now they've improved their defense again by adding 1B Casey Kotchman, and 3B/2B Chone Figgins, plus re-signing SS Jack Wilson.

But a team can save all the runs they want, but you still need to hit or the lack of consistent run production will add to the tremendous amount of pressure already on the pitching staff.

When a pitching staff knows it cannot give up three or more runs a game, the pressure to make every pitch count becomes unbearable.

While there is lots of talk regarding a trade of Lee to the Yankees, it doesn't seem like the Yankees have initiated any of this talk of a trade. No one from the Yankees camp has ever said they want to trade with the M's for Lee.

The Yankees M.O. is to wait patiently until impending free agency, and not to trade prospects for veterans, especially when the veteran can walk that off season after the trade. One only needs to think back to what general manager Brian Cashman did when Johan Santana was on the block prior to the 2008 season.  

The Yankees refused to trade RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Joba Chamberlain, and 2B Robinson Cano (among other players) in several possible deals with Minnesota for Santana. The Yankees never offered Cano, but it was Minnesota who wanted him. Cashman was ripped for not making a trade for Santana, especially after the Yankees did not make the playoffs in 2008.

Instead, Cashman went out and signed a free agent pitcher in CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett that following offseason.

They did not make the playoffs in 2008, but the team won the World Series in 2009, and is now better off for the long run.

Much of the talk now, though, is that the Yankees will trade for Lee.

FoxSports Ken Rosenthal picked up on the story and quoted a rival executive saying the Yankees will trade for Lee because he is a "top of the rotation starter." Many of these national writers don't have any original ideas, but use only what comes from their sources.

They very rarely use analysis to figure out what would be good for the teams and why teams would do, or should not do certain things.

For example, for several reasons it is a flat out given that Lee will sign as a free agent with the Yankees in the off season.

1) Lee is really good friends with Sabathia, and CC has told him how great it is to play in New York.

2) Lee is really good friends with Burnett, as both are from Arkansas, and share the same agent, Darek Braunecker.

3) The Yankees have five really good starting pitchers right now. Even with Hughes on an innings limit this season (about 180, but it keeps going up), they only need to fill maybe five extra rotation starts during the season. That is assuming that no starter gets hurt. 

Seattle is the impatient group here, not wanting to worsen an already terrible trade they made for Lee. They really needed a bat, probably two instead of another top arm. Not that the players the Phillies got back from Seattle are any good, either. Seattle did not give up much for Lee, and those players are all struggling this season in the Phillies' system.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is blowing smoke out there wanting to have other teams think the Yankees will attempt to get Lee this season. It is similar to how agents let it be known the Yankees want to sign their free agents (even if it is not true), Zduriencik wants to drive the price up for his biggest trade bait.

There are already stories out there asking why don't this team or that team now try and get Lee. Even Boston Red Sox fans are wondering if Lee would be good for them.

I know the Zduriencik is doing his due diligence, and seeing what the market can bear for his ace starting pitcher. But rather than approach other teams, it might be best to let other teams come to them. That way you can get more because the other teams are the needy ones.

But Seattle would be best to take the picks from Lee's departure (although if it was the Yankees signing him, they would be lower picks), and use them in what already appears to be a really good draft pool of talent next season.

Zduriencik has a tremendous track record of drafting and developing players. But like any GM, he is on the hot set to win NOW.

By not trading for Lee this season, the Yankees do not give away any players and only need spend money to sign Lee next year.

And by that time, they can then decide what to do with free agent to be Javier Vazquez, and get feedback from Andy Pettitte with what he will do about a possible retirement.

This trade does not make sense from a Yankees stand point, unless one of their starters gets hurt--then the entire ballgame MIGHT change.


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