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July 9, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Will Cliff Lee be pitching against the Mariners tonight?

mlb_i_montero_576.jpg
Rumors are flying hot and heavy today that the Mariners are close to landing New York Yankees prospect Jesus Montero (Photo Credit: AP) and others in exchange for pitcher Cliff Lee. If so, Lee could walk across the diamond, suit up for the Yankees, and start against the Mariners.
The story sparking all of this is right here written by New York Post coumnist Joel Sherman, the guy we linked to last week when discussing the value — and over-valuing — of prospects. Sherman has been covering the Yankees for more than 20 years and is quite plugged-in to that organization. He’s not always right, and the story does hedge a bit, but this one is going pretty hard at the Lee-for-Montero angle.
Montero, 20, is a catcher, but there’s a lot of talk he’ll become a first baseman. He’s a potential big bat and believe me, this team needs more than just Russell Branyan.
As for yesterday’s comments by Lee about offering the Mariners a chance to sign him to a long-term deal, I’m with Lee in that they were overblown.


Think about it for a moment. Lee showed up in camp almost exactly a month before he suffered his abdominal injury.
Even if it took him, say, two weeks to decide he wanted to stay in Seattle, that left the M’s, at most, a two-week window to get a deal done before he got hurt. And, let’s remember, he was hurt already when he arrived in camp, coming off foot surgery.
Once he got hurt, well, what would you do? He’d suffered abdominal problems before and nobody really knew how quickly he’d come back from the latest injury. Or, whether it would plague him all season.
Once Lee did return, six weeks later, yes, he became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Remember, he wasn’t the game’s best pitcher last season. He was very good for the Phillies the final two months after his trade there and outstanding in the post-season. But not for the entire season.
So,once he took off this year, it’s fair to say a lot of teams would relish the chance at locking him up long-term.
But by then, it was too late for the Mariners. Lee didn’t want to discuss any deals in-season when he was pitching.
So, while, in hindsight, it’s easy to say the M’s should have discussed a deal, for me, the due dilligence factor was a deal-breaker in itself. This isn’t excuse-making for the team, it’s looking at the situation from their perspective.
Put it this way, would you be happy right now if Erik Bedard was in the third year of a six-year, $100-million deal? Because a lot of people wanted him locked up long-term the minute he arrived in Seattle, before he’d thrown a single pitch.
Given what the Mariners now know and are going through with Bedard, I just don’t see how they could be expected to start talking long-term deal with Lee before he’d thrown a pitch here, was coming off foot surgery and then, suffering through an abdominal injury similar to two others he’d had previously. Those injuries to the core area can sideline guys for entire seasons.
Had Lee gone to the M’s in June, offered to sign here and been rebuffed, it would be a much different story. I’d be writing with a different tone.
But then, once you get past the due dilligence, there’s also the stuff we’ve been saying all along. That the Mariners really can’t afford Lee under present-day circumstances, unless they’re prepared to take their payroll to a whole new dimension.
They’re paying Ichiro $18 million per season and just locked up Felix Hernandez long-term. Adding Lee would require payroll to shoot up well beyond $100 million, and maybe well past $120 million if you’re to balance the roster out accordingly.
Don’t forget, the M’s still need to add offense. You can’t devote 40 percent of the payroll, or whatever the math says, to three guys out of 25. Winning teams just don’t do that. So, that’s a whole other debate.
Hey, if you want to have it, we can. As of right now, the M’s will still be free to go after Lee in the off-season like every other team. Unless, of course, the Yankees try to lock him up right now. So, let’s see whether these rumors — unlike the dozens of others involving every .500 team in baseball the past 48 hours — pan out. Some of you are making alot of noise about wanting us to confirm or deny every single thing that’s thrown out there. All I can is, everything you’ve read up to now about every single “hot” deal in the works, will have been “wrong” if this Montero thing happens.
Like we wrote when the Aaron Hicks/Wilson Ramos stuff from the Twins heated up last Monday, that package would make an excellent starting point for Jack Zduriencik to go back to other GMs and demand a superior package. It looks as if he did exactly that. But in the end, only Zduriencik himself knows what he will do and probably won’t be certain about it until the minute he puts pen to paper. Someone else could step in at the last second and trump whatever else is on the table. That’s how these kinds of trade auctions work.
If the M’s do get Montero, it looks like an exciting haul. Montero was the guy, right from the start, that most observers felt was the one Seattle should really try to get.
By the way, for those wondering who might get the M’s start tonight if Lee is dealt, I’d begin with David Pauley and burn through the bullpen from there.

Comments | Topics: Jesus Montero

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