When the Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee trade fell through, the worst case scenario was that Lee would come back to haunt the Yankees in the playoffs. While that certainly could happen now, I’m here to tell you that even if the Rangers beat the Yankees spearheaded by two complete game shutouts from Lee, we should be happy the trade didn’t go through. As good as Lee is, the future of the Yankees is better off with both Montero and a great chance at getting Lee than being left without either of them in 2011.
Would Lee have been easier to sign this offseason had the trade gone through? Maybe yes, maybe no, I really can’t say. I would venture to guess that there is no major difference, even if Lee came to the Yankees and absolutely loved it, there’s no way he was taking a penny less to stay in the pinstripes. What would have happened, however, if he had a brief time in the Bronx and it didn’t go well? What if his wife was harassed at the park? What if he bombed in the playoffs and got killed in the press and booed off the mound? Considering just how awesome he is, these are pretty unlikely, but worth thinking about nonetheless. If Lee had a 4 month stint in New York that was a disaster (or even 2 bad starts that spun the whole experiment as a disaster), wouldn’t the chances of him being in a Yankee uniform in 2011 be even worse?
As it is, Lee can be sold on New York from afar. He will likely be offered the most money. He can talk to former teammate and friend CC Sabathia about how great things are here (and of course CC could feel differently if he bombed in the 2009 playoffs). I think the odds are great that Lee signs with the Yankees, and I think the odds would have been great at resigning him had they traded for him, though I don’t necessarily think those odds would be increased. Because of that, I’d much rather go into 2011 with a guarantee that Montero is in the organization and hope that they sign Lee than go into 2011 without Montero and still not be guaranteed at re-signing Lee. Before anyone goes there, the Type A pick the Yankees would have gotten for Lee (had they traded for him and he walked) wouldn’t be close to a replacement for Montero.
Often when we think about the Lee trade that wasn’t, we forget that the Yankees were trading for Cliff Lee the pending free agent. Just like there is no guarantee now they’ll sign him after the season, there’s no guarantee that had the trade been complete they would have resigned him. Can you imagine if Jesus Montero, the Yankees best hitting prospect since Derek Jeter had been traded for a 4 month rental? That would have been a disaster, even with the increased 2010 World Series odds. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good (see wonderboy Theo Epstein with Vazquez, Contreras and Pavano), and I think Cashman got lucky that the Mariners backed out of this trade. Down the line, whether Lee ends up in pinstripes or not, not trading for Cliff Lee will be a blessing for the Yankees.