The Day Cliff Lee Was Almost A Yankee

Bronx Baseball DailySenior Analyst IOctober 14, 2010

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 12:  Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches during Game 5 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on October 12, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Most people know this story. We covered it blow by blow that day (you can read our account here). But there are always people late to the party, so here is a pretty good rundown by Joel Sherman of the NY Post:

In actuality, once [Justin Smoak] was put into the offer by Texas, it is possible the Yankees never had a second chance on [Cliff Lee]. But for a few tantalizing hours as July 8 turned to July 9, the Yankees believed “we had him,” in Cashman’s words. “We had a deal in principle pending physicals.”

Lee was scheduled to face the Yankees on July 9 at Safeco Field, but it became obvious in the 48 hours beforehand that Seattle would not let that occur. Zduriencik said by phone that was because he wanted to maximize Lee’s value with extra starts to the obtaining team and minimize the injury risk before he could be dealt. But the speed to move Lee led to messiness, involving prospects in the packages and ultimately, the Mariners’ tactics.

Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time on July 8, Seattle agreed with the Yankeees to accept [Jesus Montero], [David Adams] and righty Zach McAllister for Lee, and the sides swapped medical info. Around 3 a.m. Zduriencik called Cashman to say Seattle team doctors were concerned about Adams’ right ankle. This confused the Yankees. Adams had been out since injuring his ankle sliding May 23, yet the Mariners kept insisting he had to be included, and the Yankees only relented that night.

Seattle’s concerns proved valid, as subsequent tests weeks later revealed a fracture and not a sprain for Adams.

Over the next several hours, Seattle asked the Yankees to replace Adams. The Yankees offered touted righty Adam Warren. The Mariners said either [Ivan Nova] or [Eduardo Nunez] must be the replacement, which was their initial position a week earlier. Cashman refused, stating the Yankees would not yield significantly more to get Lee for half a season than Philadelphia had given Cleveland to obtain Lee for a season and a half or Seattle had given Philadelphia to get Lee for a season.

Also, the Yankees came to believe Seattle had not shut down conversations with Texas. There are no written rules, but general protocol is that once a deal in principle is reached, then the trading teams go silent with other clubs.

“A deal is not final until it is final. Besides that, I will not rehash private conversations from trade discussions,” Zduriencik said.

“They had a huge asset and a major decision,” Cashman said, “and I have no problems with what they did.”

With the Yankees’ pursuit public, Texas caved and finally included Smoak about 11 a.m. July 9. The switch-hitting first baseman was Seattle’s priority. So maybe a Montero/Nova or Nunez deal would not have sufficed anyway. But the Yankees will never know because Cashman refused to make that offer.

If the Yankees had landed Lee, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t be heavily favored to beat the Rays right now after beating the Rangers in the ALDS because they would likely have won the AL East. Instead, the Rangers landed him and beat the Rays, with Lee making 40 percent of their ALDS starts.

That’s all speculation anyways. Lee is with the Rangers and is making a game three start against the Yankees. Then no matter what the outcome of the ALCS is, the Yankees and Rangers will gear up for another epic battle in November/December as the teams will bid over the free agent Cliff Lee.

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