Oct
28

What Went Right: The Cliff Lee Non-Trade

By

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Earlier today Joe broke down the negative impact of the failed Cliff Lee trade, and that part is obvious enough. The Yankees lost out on a world class pitcher and ended up falling to Lee and the team that traded for him in the ALCS. We all know the Yanks would have been a considerably better team in 2010 if the trade had gone through, but there’s a chance the Yankees will be better off in the long-run.

The reason they might be better off down the road is quite simple: they get to keep top prospect Jesus Montero. Keeping the other prospects rumored to be involved in the deal – David Adams, Adam Warren, Eduardo Nunez, Zach McAllister, Ivan Nova, and whoever else’s name popped up at one time or another – is nice as well, but Montero’s the real prize. He is not only the team’s best prospect, but also their best offensive prospect since Derek Jeter, and it’s not hyperbole.

While certainly not over-the-hill, the Yankee offense is a bit … experienced, if you catch my drift. Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, arguably the Yanks’ two most important hitters, are 36 and 35-years-old, respectively. Jorge Posada is 39. Mark Teixeira will turn 31 less than two weeks into the 2011 season and Curtis Granderson hits the big three-oh a few weeks before that. Nick Swisher turns 30 next month. Robbie Cano (28) and Brett Gardner (27) will likely be the only regulars under 30 on Opening Day 2011, so clearly the Yankee lineup is going to need an infusion of youth at some point soon.

Montero figures to provide that. The soon-to-be 21-year-old catcher from Venezuela has already spent a full season at the Triple-A level, an age when most American kids are wrapping up their junior year of college. After a slow start (.312 wOBA through June) in 2010 (perhaps you could call it an adjustment period), Montero posted a .433 wOBA over the final two-plus months of the season. He hit 15 homers in 46 games after July 10th, almost matching his 2009 season total of 17 big flies. There’s little doubt that Montero can mash – Jim Callis of Baseball America recently called him the best hitting prospect in all the land – and while there are questions about his ultimate position, that will be nothing more than a formality if the bat lives up to the hype. The Yanks will find a spot for him, they’d have no choice.

It’s not just about pure production either. The Yankees aren’t cheap, with several contracts (Jeter and A-Rod again being the most notable) paying players premium dollars for their decline phases. The Yanks can certainly afford those contracts, but having Montero at a below market rate for six years (three pre-arbitration, three arbitration-eligible) helps offset some of the albatrosses. Those savings and surplus value give Brian Cashman the flexibility to shore up other areas of the team as needed.

Of course Montero isn’t guaranteed to hit or do anything really, which is what makes this so tricky. Lee is as close to a sure thing as there is in this game right now, prospects are just rolls of the dice. Montero is an elite offensive prospect, something the Yanks desperately need, and they’ll come out smelling like roses if he hits and they manage to sign Lee as a free agent this offseason. That’s far from a given, but considering the current construction of the Yankee roster, it’s easy to make a case that they’re better off keeping six years of Jesus Montero instead of trading him for four months of Cliff Lee.

Having Montero around is nothing more than a minor comfort as we watch Lee and Rangers compete in the World Series, but the kid has the potential to be a core piece in several future contending teams, and that’s what the Yankees are all about. Winning now, and winning every year.

Categories : Minors

171 Comments»

  1. “.433 wOBA over the final two-plus months of the season. He hit 15 homers in 46 games after July 10th”

    I like Jesus.

  2. Montero figures to provide that. The soon-to-be 21-year-old catcher from Venezuela has already spent a full season at the Triple-A level, a time when most American kids are wrapping up their junior year of college… There’s little doubt that Montero can mash – Jim Callis of Baseball America recently called him the best hitting prospect in all the land.

    If Jesus Montero was a 21 year old defensively challenged catcher from Hillsborough, Florida, attending South Carolina on a baseball scholarship, and he had declared for the 2010 June draft, where would he have gone?

    Second behind Harper? First overall?

    Keep in mind that his stats with a metal bat against college pitching would probably be some ridonkulous, Bondsian .470/.650/.890 or something like that.

    #randomthoughts

    • Slightly OT but it is only just beginning to dawn on me just how good Bonds was.

      But anyway. If Jesus had been American and gone to college he would have been taken too high in the draft for the Yankees to have ever had a legitimate shot

    • pat says:

      I was thinking the same thing about Sanchez earlier today. 17 years old with prodigious power, hitting ability and the tools to be a good catcher. They’d both probably be Top 5 easily.

    • Thomas says:

      I suspect Montero would have been drafted out of high school, but if he went to college, I’d say he’d go 2 behind Harper.

      Harper has Montero beat in athleticism, defense, speed, and arm. Harper’s power is probably equal to Montero’s, but Montero is probably better average wise (not sure who is better discipline wise, likely Harper). Harper is also younger and played with wood.

      So in terms of prospects, I’d say Montero would have been number 3 in this draft after Harper and of course any Red Sox draftee.

    • Avi says:

      “If Jesus Montero was a 21 year old defensively challenged catcher from Hillsborough, Florida, attending South Carolina on a baseball scholarship, and he had declared for the 2010 June draft, where would he have gone?

      Second behind Harper? First overall?”

      If Montero went into the draft after performing in the minors as he did, I think he definetly goes first overall.
      Because:
      A) He’s closer to the majors by about three years.
      B) He’s much more of a sure thing than Harper at this point. Harper has awesome talent but if he stalls in the minors he won’t be the first immensely talented guy to do so.
      Callis has also said he likes Montero’s ceiling and potential better than Harper’s
      C) Positional value. Montero actually has a chance to catch in the Majors.

      My Fellow Yankee fans: We have the BEST prospect in baseball.
      Accept it, embrace it.

  3. JobaWockeeZ says:

    Right with an aging lineup and the Lee contract going to be hefty; the Yankees won’t have a lot to get a power bat in a couple years. We can’t count on Cano for the next few years to come so Jesus is definitely needed on this team.

  4. Big Stein says:

    Cliff Lee was really exposed last nite. Let the Rangers have him.

  5. Of course Montero isn’t guaranteed to hit or do anything really, which is what makes this so tricky. Lee is as close to a sure thing as there is in this game right now, prospects are just rolls of the dice

    Hitting prospects who hit for both power and average at all levels of the minors while being young for each level, though… those prospects are the most sure thing of all the non-sure-thing prospects in baseball.

  6. RL says:

    they’re better off keeping six years of Jesus Montero instead of trading him for four months of Cliff Lee.

    Repeated for emphasis

  7. John says:

    Hypothetical question: What if you were the Yankees GM, you somewhat had Cliff Lee back in July on your roster, and Texas proposes a trade to send their prospects Montero, Adams, Nunez, McAllister, Nova, … for Lee. What would you have done in this case?

    • RL says:

      Entirely different situation. My team is close to the top of the division (Oh wait, so was Texas), I have the best offense in the league, since I already have Lee and the ability to pay large salaries, I can probably re-sign him, so I don’t make the trade. Instead, I find out who has Justin Smoak and trade with them.

      :-)

    • pat says:

      We’re not rebuilding and likely would have been in first place. Never would have been done. Especially not for the package the Rangers sent to Seattle.

      • John says:

        But do you agree that everyone who agreed with the non-trade must also agree with doing this trade since it is basically the same thing?

        • No, because the people who agreed with the non-trade did so under the auspices of the Yankees being the Yankees and having a goal of winning every single World Series.

          Trading away Cliff Lee for prospects isn’t Yankee-like, because it’s intentionally lowering our chances of winning this year to gain prospects to be better for future years. That’s not analogous to choosing to not intentionally increase our chances of winning this year because it lowers our chances of winning in future years more than we’d like.

          • John says:

            I understand your point. My point is solely based on me being a consequentialist, thus analyzing a trade only by looking at what each team gets (in this case both the non-trade and my hypothetical trade lead to the same returns). But I understand your deontological argument ;).

            • My argument is probably more utilitarian than deontological, I’d say.

              • John says:

                Unless you factor in other things (response of fans and of MSM), doing a cost-benefit analysis of both the non-trade and the hypothetical trade yield the exact same results. Basing your argument on the fact that the hypothetical trade “isn’t Yankee-like” is purely deontological since you judge the “rightness” of the trade according to a set of Yankee rules rather than according to the consequences of it.

                • Okay, I see where you’re going with this. Fair enough.

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  I don’t want to get into the philosophy stuff and am just commenting at the end of the string…

                  It’s an interesting point, but I do think it’s a bit different because of Lee’s impending free agency. That’s what tips the scale for me… If Lee is signed for 3 more years, I would be a lot more inclined to accept a Montero trade for him. Since the Yankees can go out and sign Lee this offseason, the consequence of a non-trade has the potential to be the prospects + Lee are Yankees. If they trade him away as he nears free agency, I think it’s safe to say the Yankees chances of signing Cliff Lee over the offseason go down… although I guess that’s not a fact. Would be very unconventional, though.

                  • John says:

                    I was assuming that every player signs with the team that offers the most money. Bearing that in mind, the chances of re-signing Lee does not go down by trading him to Texas.

                    To end the discussion, I’m not sure I would have made such a trade (sending Lee to Texas for a set of prospects that includes Montero) although I am pleased that the “real” Lee trade didn’t go down. I think the reason for what isn’t just because that “isn’t Yankee-like,” as TSJC said, but also because a GM can be much more criticized for doing a trade than for not doing a trade.

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      “I was assuming that every player signs with the team that offers the most money.”

                      It is legitimate, outside the box thinking… but it would just be a pretty unprecedented move I would think. At least for such a high profile guy.

                      I think the free agency angle does change the dynamics, though it’s tough or impossible to quantify.

    • Thomas says:

      If I was the Mariners GM (or another rebuilding teams GM) and someone offered me the Montero package or the Smoak package for Lee, I would make the trade.

      If I was the Yankees, I would not trade away Lee (short of a team offering Hanley, Tulo, or Heyward, etc), since I was trying to win the WS and he would give my team the best opportunity to do so.

      • Jerome S says:

        I wouldn’t trade Lee even if someone offered Hanley, Tulo or Heyward. Well, maybe Heyward as part of a big package. But I do mean a big package!

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Heyward’s successful rookie season gives him the edge, but through AAA I would say Montero projects to be about as good a hitter as Heyward long-term.

  8. Fair Weather Freddy says:

    With Posada having 1 more year to go, they can still afford to be patient with Montero. I’m sure he’ll get every opportunity in ST to make the team. But the better bet is that he starts the season back in Scranton to continue to refine his game, especially defensively and assuming no injuries, he would come up in late May or early June.

    • CP says:

      What would he really refine in his game with 2 months at AAA that he couldn’t just as easily do with those 2 months in the majors?

      • He’d refine the “not becoming a free agent until after 2017″ part of his game.

        • CP says:

          You only have to keep him down for 10 or so days at some point in the next 6 years to achieve the same goal – it doesn’t have to be right at the start of the season. And the super-2 arbitration probably isn’t as big a concern because that may change in the next CBA, and won’t save as much for the Yankees as delaying FA would.

          • You only have to keep him down for 10 or so days at some point in the next 6 years to achieve the same goal.

            Really? Then why do all these small-market teams constantly push back their prospects’ debuts until May, if 10 mere days will accomplish the same goal?

            • Dirty Pena says:

              I thought pushing them back to May/June was to delay Super-Two status.

              • CP says:

                Right. The cutoff is typically in the last week of May.

                As for free agency, the rule (per Wikipedia) is:

                Service time, for purposes of salary arbitration and free agency, is 172 days; a season is 182 days long.

                So that means a player needs to be down for at least 11 days to not accrue a full season of service time.

                • Gotcha.

                  Even still, having Montero’s arb clock start in 2015 instead of 2014 will save the team probably 10-20M in salary when we negotiate a Cano/Pedroia style contract extension buying out the end of his team control and the first few years of his free agency, I’d warrant.

                • Tom O says:

                  He could still be a super 2 at that point though. Super 2 status is calculated by playing time compared to the rest of the league. Even if he didn’t play a full season, a Super 2 is a player who played an amount of games above a certain percentile of players in the league, at his position. Unfortunately I don’t recall the percentage, but generally that is why teams keep players a bit more than just the minimum to not accrue a a full season, they’re trying to ensure that the player will not fall into that top percentile. They could always send them down for a week or so late in the season, if it seems apparent that they might be a Super-2 qualifier, but most teams would rather do it right at the beginning of the season and not have to deal with it at all later.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            If he comes up and starts raking, when are you going to send him back down? I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s a possibility.

            Also, some would argue that catching in real live games is better experience than the games Posada doesn’t catch and practice work. Some would argue he’s not ready to catch in the majors even a little bit, and even a full season in AAA would help him accomplish that. I don’t know what the right answer is, I’m just saying that it’s not the obviously right move to start him in the Bronx. There are arguments either way.

  9. Jimmy McNulty says:

    I think it’s stupid to evaluate this one way or another. As TJSC pointed out to me, and I pointed out to him, we don’t know where Cliff Lee goes. If Lee brings the Rangers a WS, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that they think he’ll leave. which isn’t to say that he won’t leave if he does win a WS. Fact is, if the Yankees don’t sign Cliff Lee they’ll have serious rotation issues. Pettitte’s getting older, and while it’s hard to imagine Burnett being worse than the was this year it isn’t out of the question…he’s on the wrong side of 30 and showed a dip in stuff, particularly with his curve ball, last year. That leaves the Yankees with some unfavorable options, and they may end up trading Montero for Greinke. Which, IMO, is a loss anyway you look at it. Trading Montero for a worse pitcher, and getting bounced in the playoffs.

    • nsalem says:

      I’m quite certain Cliff Lee will be a Yankee very shortly no matter
      what Texas does in the WS. Win, Lose or Earthquake.

      • CP says:

        Both Pedro and Lowe left Boston as FAs right after being WS heroes. Obviously, their not exactly the same, but winning a WS does not guarantee that a star player stays.

        • Thomas says:

          The major difference is Boston thought both of those players were finished and they didn’t want them back badly. The Yankees would want Lee.

          • CP says:

            Boston wanted Pedro back (not sure about Lowe), but were only willing to offer a 3 year deal. The Mets gave him a 4 year deal, so he went there.

            I could see a similar scenario with Lee.

            • Thomas says:

              Sorry, let me clarify. The Red Sox wanted Pedro and Lowe back, but at their price not the player’s price/market value. The Yankees are more willing to pay what he wants (ie pay him the most).

              • Dirty Pena says:

                The Yankees are more willing to pay what he wants (ie pay him the most).

                But we really have no idea what the Rangers are willing to pay him, which is the gigantic mistake in assuming he’s coming to the Yankees.

              • CP says:

                My point was that if Lee wins a WS, it’s not a guarantee that he stays in Texas – just like winning the WS was not a guarantee that Pedro and Lowe would stay in Boston.

                The Red Sox made them offers that were less than the what the Mets/Dodgers offered, so they left.

                I expect that Texas will offer Lee less than the Yankees will offer. I don’t know if Lee will leave for the better offer, but it’s certainly reasonable to expect that he will.

  10. ChrisS says:

    I’m a big fan of the non-Lee-Montero trade.

  11. Sorry Joe, I liked this article a lot better.

  12. Scout says:

    “[W}hile there are questions about his ultimate position, that will be nothing more than a formality if the bat lives up to the hype.” It is more complicated and challenging than that.

    If Montero ends up as a DH, he blocks that spot for an aging A-Rod, who is unlikely to remain at third for more than a couple of years without becoming a defensive liability. First base is also occupied. As a lumbering type, Montero might convert to the outfield, but he’ll likely be a defensive liability, hardly fitting the “more athletic” mode Cashman espouses.

    So the real hope lies in his ability to be a serviceable major league catcher. On this point there remain serious questions across baseball. We have to hope that the Yankees’ public position — that Montero will stick at catcher and become an average receiver — proves correct. Because the other alternatives are not pretty, and he’ll have to carry something like a HOF bat to offset the defensive problems.

    (The situation again highlights just how awful the A-Rod contract is for the long-term success of the team.)

  13. I can’t wait for 27 years from now, when Yankee all-time great Jesus Montero is elected into the Casey Kelly Memorial National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot and is inducted into Cooperstown by Senator Nicholas Swisher (NY-TRI2DH), and plucky young 18 year old blogger Vanessa Axisa writes an excellent post entitled “Dodging A Bullet: A look back on how the Yankees almost traded away ‘Mr. 875′ for a pitcher they signed the following winter” on http://www.riveravetheocho.rab.

    (I can only assume that by that point, Mike, Ben, and Joe have used the unprecedented wealth generated by the biggest blog in the history of time to buy the entire internet, including all of the new subdermally implanted telekenetic domain protocols.)

  14. larryf says:

    Seeing the ropes this guy hit at Scranton as well as his plate discipline-it was just so impressive. He caught well too. Jesus is good at baseball-and he has nice parents too!

  15. Jon in CUO says:

    Jesus Montero hit on my girlfriend at a minor league game. Cliff Lee…well, we all know about Kristen Lee, don’t we?

    Case closed. The Cliff Lee Non-Trade rules.

  16. larryf says:

    Montero faster than any catcher…

    named Molina

  17. mryankee says:

    I actually am happy that Montero is still around, Lee is a must unless you can trade for Greinke or someone of that ilk. Also someone please comfort me and tell me Bucholz is not better than Hughes, because Hughes really choked the second half.

  18. Dave the Ox says:

    Not sure if this has been discussed ad nauseam but what about turning Jesus into a position player other than first base. To wit: he’s defensively challenged at catcher; does it necessarily follow that he’d be defensively challenged at every other position?

    • Thomas says:

      He is not fast or athletic enough to play other positions, which is why the common thought was first base if he can’t stick at catcher. There is a possibility he plays corner OF, but his range would likely be very poor since he is slow.

      • JohnnyC says:

        He’d have to play left field like Greg Luzinski used to: facing in the direction the coaches tell him the batter is liekly to hit the ball in order to somewhat make up for his ponderous lack of speed.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      I think Vlad last night was a nice reminder of how moving up the spectrum (or onto the spectrum) is much easier said than done.

  19. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    In five years Cliff Lee will be in his dotage. In five years Montero will be a 3-4 time All Star and people will be talking about HOF. Seriously.

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