The Dugout Report

Real Winners in Cliff Lee Trade are the Yankees by llwesman

By Wes Yee (@WesYee)

The Mariners traded Cy Young winner Cliff Lee Friday, shipping the surgical left handed south to the first place Rangers. Texas sent top prospect Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson back to Seattle.

Texas gets a legitimate ace for the remainder of 2010. Lee, who has dominated the AL after starting the season on the DL, makes the Rangers the prohibitive favorite in a division that they were already leading. However Lee is likely a rental, Texas’ ownership situation is in flux and even in good times the team has not been the top level free agent destination that New York or Boston have been.

Seattle comes up big here with Smoak. Smoak, the Rangers top pick in 2008, is a cornerstone first baseman who should anchor the Mariners lineup for years to come. Beavan is a hard throwing righty who has shown some promise. The Mariners robbed Philadelphia in the offseason, giving up just J. C. RamírezPhillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies. None are close to the caliber of a prospect that Smoak is. Even Aumont, the centerpiece of Philadelphia’s end, is not considered to be significantly better than Beavan, the secondary piece. If you line up the prospect hauls that the Phillies got and compare it to Smoak alone the deal is laughable.

But despite all of this, New York is the winner. That’s right, the Yankees, who failed to execute what looked like a done deal earlier in the day, are the winner in this trade. The Yankees were poised to send top prospect Jesus Montero and others to Seattle, only to have the trade fall through based on injury concerns of minor leaguer David Adams, the secondary piece that would have come along with Montero. So why are they the winners?

This year: The Yankees are STILL the team to beat in the AL, having put together the best record in a division that has seen both Tampa Bay and Boston fade in and out – Boston due to injuries and Tampa Bay due to inconsistent play. Most media sources have New York atop their power rankings with their current rotation of Sabathia, Hughes, Pettitte, Burnett and Vazquez. This team remains the prohibitive favorite to win the World Series in 2010. And no, I’m not trying to put the jinx on. Okay maybe I am. Also, Lee going to Texas means that neither the Rays nor the Red Sox add the dominant left hander.

Next offseason: Lee WILL be a free agent, which gives New York a chance to pursue him without giving up Montero. The team will have slightly MORE leverage, as Lee wouldn’t have created any goodwill in pinstripes that could force their hand. Either way, money isn’t an issue and if New York wants him they’ll get him.

Further down the line: Lee would make an excellent lefty combo with former teammate Sabathia for the next 5-6 years – whatever his next contract gives him. But the real value of this trade falling apart for New York is that Montero remains in New York. Montero, who has an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) power and for some scouts hit tool, is just 20 years old and is already in AAA. Coming into 2010 he was considered the premiere bat outside of Michael Stanton and Jason Heyward. Consider those he was ranked above – Buster Posey, Brennan Boesch, Carlos Santana, Austin Jackson, Pedro Alvarez, Smoak, Starlin Castro.

Montero has been compared to Frank Thomas and Miguel Cabrera, a hitter with the ability to hit for high average and league leading type power. New York can use him at catcher, but more than likely he’ll end up as a DH for them down the line, as long as Mark Teixiera is at first. A bat of his caliber just doesn’t come around often, and the three months of Cliff Lee that they lose out on will be repaid many times over with big seasons from Montero.


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