According to George King of the NY Post, the Mariners have been busy scouting the Yankees farm system in anticipation of the Yankees trying to trade for LHP Cliff Lee at the deadline this season.
A source told King that they are interested in minor league infielder Eduardo Nunez plus one of the Yankees minor league catchers (Triple-A catcher Jesus Montero is their top prospect and Double-A catcher Austin Romine is their second best prospect. Catchers Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy are also elite prospects in the organization).
Let me be clear, King is reporting that the Mariners think that the Yankees are going to make a play for Lee. So far the Yankees have made no indication that they are interested and earlier in the season when Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt requested a trade we heard that the Yankees were happy with their rotation and weren’t interested in adding a pitcher. That was when their no. 5 starter Javier Vazquez was pitching poorly too, but as of late he has been a sufficient backend of the rotation pitcher.
Aside from the Yankees stocked rotation (CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Vazquez) there are two other reasons why this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
2 Reasons it Won’t Happen
The first reason is that in the past Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has resisted trading prospects for players close to free agency. It is just not his style to deal prospects and then give a player a bunch of money. However, this could mean that the Yankees are only interested in Lee as a rental and will look to offer him arbitration and net a couple of first round draft picks for the type-A free agent.
The other reason is that the Yankees have a firm policy of not extending player’s contracts until the contract has expired. They’ve made this very public recently in the case of Derek Jeter. The M’s seem to think that the Yankees might be interested in dealing for him as long as they have a window to sign an extension. It could be possible that the Yankees could make an exception here fearing that Lee might opt to sign somewhere else this offseason.
2 Reasons Why it Could Happen
There are a couple of reasons why this could happen. The first is like I briefly mentioned above, the Yankees might be so desperate to make sure they get Lee this offseason that they would be eager to be able to negotiate early with him. However, that is not guaranteed as the Phillies already traded Lee thinking that he wanted to test the free agent waters and the Yankees might not be willing to risk trying to make a deal only to not be able to agree to an extension. Signing a Roy Halladay type of deal on their terms (3-years $60 million) could be more likely if they have an exclusive window to sign him though.
The other reason is because of Phil Hughes. Hughes is on a innings limit this season around 175 and the way he’s pitched this year makes it all the more important to protect his arm. The Yankees might not want to use him in a post season rotation and instead opt to improve their bullpen with Hughes. At that point Vazquez than becomes their 4th starter, a scary proposition in the playoffs where every game would be a high pressure situation against a formidable opponent.
Overall, I don’t expect the Yankees to make a deal for Lee midseason, but when it comes to stuff like this, especially with the Bombers, you can just never tell for sure. I could see the Yankees be willing to deal Nunez, but their catchers are all big time prospects. Dealing one of them for a 6th starting pitcher, even one as good as Lee, doesn’t make a ton of sense.