Cliff Lee Stays Out West

Like you, I woke up this morning to read Joel Sherman’s tweet that the Yankees were very close to completing a trade for Cliff Lee. That’s how I expect Monday mornings to start, but not a Friday morning. Friday is supposed to be a happy day as most of us put the work week to end and have fun over the weekend but the thought of Cliff Lee in pinstripes facing the Rays in Yankee Stadium next week after the all-star break would put a damper on a lot of Rays fans. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, a variety of writers on Twitter such as Bob Nightengale, Ken Rosenthal, and Buster Olney gave us frequent updates anywhere from “close” to “essentially done”. Just when Rays fans were staring at the L/R splits of the club and getting depressed at the thought of facing CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Andy Pettitte in a regular season and potentially post-season series, Joel Sherman came to the rescue and told us the deal was dead due to medical concerns by the Mariners but that another team had entered the fold. Given the fact that Lee was scheduled to pitch tonight in Seattle, something would get done today if he was going to the Yankees because it would be an added bonus for New York if they did not have to face Lee tonight. What was unknown was how quickly another team would be able to finalize a deal but within an hour of the Yankee/Mariners deal dying, the Rangers had completed a deal to make the weekend look a lot brighter for the Rays and kept Cliff Lee out of pinstripes for at least the rest of this season.

The Mariners were rumored to be talking to a number of teams today as they did their due diligence in telling teams they were ready to move Lee today. You’ll remember that the Rays rarely do what people say they are going to do in rumors as the lips in the front office are sealed rather air-tight. If anything comes out about the Rays, it comes from the other party or another writer and Buster Olney offered such a nugget this afternoon in his post-trade column.

If the Rays had stepped outside of their necessarily disciplined approach — which has worked exceedingly well for them — and acquired Lee for Jeremy Hellickson, or Wade Davis and Desmond Jennings, then they would have gone into the postseason with the extraordinary rotation of Lee, David Price and Jeff Niemann, with Matt Garza perhaps free to work out of the bullpen.

I had to chuckle at that comment because that disciplined approach has been rather successful for the club if not frustrating for the fanbase that has seen the team make zero July trades in the past two seasons. However, if the asking price was indeed either Davis and Hellickson and Desmond Jennings, Andrew Friedman absolutely made the right call to stick to the process and decline. I mentioned in an earlier post today that both Hellickson and Jennings were rated above Yankees’ top prospect Jesus Montero who was the centerpiece of the deal that was not meant to be from earlier today. The other prospects the Yankees were offering were decent, but even the two of them together would not hold the value of Desmond Jennings. The package that Texas sent included Justin Smoak who Baseball America ranked 13th at the start of the season; Jennings was 6th and Hellickson was 18th. The prospects that accompanied Smoak up to Seattle were not even ranked in the top fifteen of the Rangers’ organization by prospect guru John Sickels and were mainly included in the deal as a thank you to the Mariners for picking up $2.5m of the remaining $4m Cliff Lee is due in 2010. Given the difference in what the Rangers eventually took and what the Rays were rumored to be required to give up in a Lee deal, the rumor does not pass the sniff test with me. There is no way to verify what was or was not asked because the next public comment you hear on trade negotiations from the Rays’ front office will be the first one.

Lee was the most attractive pitcher on the open market because of his short-term contract. Roy Oswalt is certainly talented, but he has more guaranteed money attached to him which makes him less likely of a trade target for the Rays. The pitching staff continues to be inconsistent as a group as James Shields will be saddled with yet another loss tonight of his own doing. He gave up four runs on the night; one that was created off the combination of a balk and wild pitch and two others on home runs to fringe major leaguers Jayson Nix and Shelley Duncan. Around those mistakes, he gave up just four hits, walked one, and struck out nine.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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