I’m sure you’ve heard them by now. The Yanks are in on Cliff Lee. They have what it takes to get him. They can even draw up a scenario where they flip Javier Vazquez in a side deal and land the Lefty Ace. Yankee scouts were reported to be in attendance during his last start, further fanning the flames. I think these reports range from the diversionary to the utterly meaningless. Let’s address them one by one:
-Do the Yanks have what it takes? Yes, we all know that Seattle covets a young Catcher in a trade and the Yanks are stacked at that position. But you don’t spend a rare, precious asset like that unless there’s a need to fill, and the Yanks currently have no need for a Starter, even one as good as Lee.
-The Yanks are playing the Mariners next week, I would expect them to have some scouts at a Mariners game even if Cliff Lee was no longer on the team. It’s called advance scouting, it happens all year long but people only take notice of these things around the trade deadline.
-The stuff about flipping Javier Vazquez is an attempt to make the Yanks appear to be serious bidders when any GM who looks at their roster would conclude they’re not. If you’re only involved to drive up the price, you have to be viewed as credible in order to be effective.
Would he improve the team’s chances in 2010? Of course he would. But the marginal difference between Javier Vazquez and Cliff Lee isn’t worth giving up a prospect like Montero. If you look at it using WAR, Lee have averaged being a 6.90 WAR player over the past 2 full seasons (he was sent down to the minors in 07) while Vazquez has been a 5.70 WAR player over that same time frame. Would you give up one of the best hitting prospects in the minors and controlling him over the next 6 years for that marginal gain? No way. That’s not overpaying, that’s insanity.
Will the Yanks being involved? Yes, absolutely. But for two purposes. First, they will want to see if the price falls so low that they wouldn’t be able to pass him up (unlikely). Second, they will want to make sure they establish a nice floor of prospects for the deal so the the team who gets him doesn’t steal him like the Mets did with Santana. We see the Yanks-Sox do stuff like that to each other all the time, but even if it’s a team like the Twins or Rangers they will still want to make sure they bid up the price to a fair market level. The Twins and Rangers are likely playoff opponents both now and in future years, dangling a Montero could force them to up their offer and cost the Yanks nothing when they back out at the last minute. The Mariners will (of course) be more than happy to play along with this and inform all the prospective bidders of the Yankee offer, since it’s in their interest to do so.
It simply makes more sense for the Yanks to wait until the off season and just give up the two draft picks and a boatload of cash for Lee. Is the Yankee interest in Lee totally serious? No, I don’t believe it is because they have no obvious need for him. It’s Roy Halladay all over again.