Rumor: Lee deal ‘just about done’

I’m never sleeping in again….

Late last night Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees are “on the brink” of landing Cliff Lee. There aren’t many details other than the inclusion of Jesus Montero in the package. Sherman mentions David Adams, too and Tweeted that another prospect would be involved as well. We’ll save commentary until we get further word, but I will say that if this does happen: 1) Please let it happen before they face Lee tonight, and 2) This will not be the last major move the Yanks make this month.

Update by Ben (10:40 a.m.): AOL. FanHouse’s Ed Price has an update. According to his sources — an official from another team interested in Lee — the Mariners are now “negotiating exclusively” with the Yankees, and Buster Olney’s sources say the trade is “just about done.” We could be in for an interesting day indeed. For our analysis of this potential deal, be sure to check out Mike’s take on the rumors.

Update by Mike (11:07 a.m.): Olney says that the Yankees will not receive a window to negotiate and extension with Lee as part of the trade, but Ken Davidoff says they’re confident they’ll sign him long-term. Remember, the Yanks don’t negotiate with potential free agents until their contracts expire anyway. Olney also says that the Yanks informed the Mariners that their current offer is their final and best one.

Update by Mike (11:57 a.m.): Sherman says that the Yanks refused to include pitching prospects David Phelps, Ivan Nova, or Hector Noesi in the deal. He adds that it’s entirely possible that the deal is just Montero and Adams for Lee. I recommend giving Sherman’s piece a read, he explains why this trade would be different that one for Johan Santana way back when. Long story short: the Yanks’ believe their farm system is simply better now, and they’re dealing from positions of depth.

Update by Mike (1:49 p.m.): Ken Rosenthal hears that the third prospect might be Zach McAllister, who has become quite expendable this season with the emergence of Noesi, Phelps, and others.

Yankees sign Chad Tracy

Via MLBTR, the Yankees have signed corner infielder Chad Tracy to a minor league deal. He’ll head to Triple-A Scranton and serve as depth. Tracy has been a below replacement level player for close to three seasons now, with his last hurrah coming in the form of a .342 wOBA in both 2006 and 2007. The lefty swinger has three year UZR‘s of -4.6 and -0.7 UZR’s at first and third, respectively.

It’s an unsurprising move given the team’s search for someone able to play third and hit for some power, but meh. At least it’s not Garrett Atkins.

Today’s Crazy Idea: Kerry Wood in the pen

Every contender could use some help in the bullpen, and the Yankees are no exception. Outside of Mo the unit has been a model of inconsistency this year. While the starters have helped mitigate the situation by pitching deep into games, the problem still remains. The Yanks do have options to fill bullpen spots, though most of them are unproven players. That might be what they’re stuck with. Teams out of contention typically don’t have bullpen help to spare, so deadline deals for relievers tend to be rare, and expensive when consummated. The Yankees have to really like a reliever if they’re going to surrender anything for him in the next three weeks.

Last week Mike presented one possible bullpen trade target, Octavio Dotel. He’s mowing down NL hitters, though he’s also walking plenty of them. I doubt the Yankees go for him, considering the failed post-Tommy John experiment, but he’d still present another option for a bullpen that could need a hand. Today I’d like to present another similar, if not more expensive, pitcher that the Yankees could seek to acquire later this month.

Photo credit: Mark Duncan/AP

After battling various injuries for three seasons, Kerry Wood moved to the bullpen in 2007 and experienced immediate success. During his second year in the role he acted as the Cubs closer and dominated the league, striking out 11.4 per nine innings to 2.4 walks. Even better, he allowed just three home runs all year. It looked like he had taken to his new role and could provide a quality closer option for whatever team signed him when he hit free agency after 2008.

That team was the Indians. They signed Wood to a two-year, $20.5 million contract with a $11 million team option, which had a vesting clause, for 2011. He didn’t have a terrible first season in the American League, but he saw his walk and home run rates increase. On the positive side, he did stay healthy. That didn’t last, though, as he started the 2010 season on the DL with a shoulder strain. He returned in May and had something of a rough start, allowing nine runs in his first 7.1 IP. Since then he has turned it around.

He has pitched only 11.1 innings since June 1, mostly because he’s Cleveland’s closer and the team sits in last place. But he has been quite a bit better, striking out 11 to three walks. His BABIP has been very low, .207, and he has allowed two home runs, so it’s not all positive. But considering the options on the market and Wood’s track record as an effective reliever, he might fit into the Yankees’ bullpen.

The biggest factor here is the money. If the Yankees get Wood on July 31, they’ll owe him somewhere around $3.5 million for the remainder of the season. Dotel, on the other hand, would cost just over a million for the rental. The Yankees, as they demonstrated last year when Brian Cashman had worked out a deal for Mike Cameron, aren’t necessarily willing to add salary. The remainder owed Wood is nearly equal to what the Yankees wold have owed Cameron had the team approved the trade.

Given the fickle nature of relief pitchers, I doubt the Yankees will pursue this path. They’d have to pay not only the $3.5 million owed to Wood, but they’d also have to turn over a prospect or two to the Indians. Wood certainly comes with a track record, which gives him a leg up on internal options like Albaladejo, but as we saw with Eric Gagne in 2007, reputation brings no guarantee. If the Yankees can get Wood for his salary and a C prospect a deal might make sense. But if that’s the case I imagine the Yankees would have competition for his services.

Thoughts about the Cliff Lee rumor

Like most of you, I woke up this morning and did a cursory check of my email on my phone before going about my routine. Most of the time there’s nothing to see and life goes on, but today was different. Word got out late last night that the Yankees were on the verge of acquiring Cliff Lee from the Mariners, and again, like most of you, I had mixed feelings when I saw this. The deal is not yet finalized, but that won’t prevent me from sharing my thoughts about the situation.

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

First of all, I got the “holy f@#king s*%t” feeling when I saw the report, the reaction that I usually get when I see the Yanks are dangerously close to acquiring a premium player. That’s the excitement, all the anticipation of what’s to come and wondering what Lee will look like in pinstripes and what Red Sox Nation is thinking and what it’s going to be like sending CC Sabathia and Lee to the mound five times in a seven game series and all that jazz. Just overwhelmed with joy.

The second part was a little bit of sadness, because you know acquiring Lee, even three months of him, won’t be cheap. Sure enough, Jesus Montero headlines the package going to Seattle, which is a bummer. The Yankees haven’t had a hitting prospect like that in ages, realistically since Derek Jeter, and he was the team’s only internal hope for adding a premium bat to a lineup with an aging Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. You don’t want to see a prospect we’ve gotten so attached to go away, but there’s no way around it. Trading Montero for basically a rental is a bit of a downer.

If consummated, this trade tells me a few things. First, GM Brian Cashman is clearly going all in this year. Unless you live in a glorious world of naivety, you understand that the window of opportunity for this current Yanks’ team is closing. Andy Pettitte flirts with retirement on an annual basis, Mariano Rivera is 40-years-old, Jeter is looks more and more like an over-the-hill shortstop every day, ditto Posada and the catching position. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a solid core going forward, because they certainly do, but the window with those four dynasty guys is closing very soon.

Second, there has to be a another deal already in the works, presumably involving Javy Vazquez. I can’t imagine Cashman is going to swing a deal for another starting pitcher given the strength of his current rotation without having another move in the back of his mind. If the trade goes down, the Yanks will have four All Star starters plus A.J. Burnett plus Vazquez on their staff, which is an embarrassment of riches. Javy is the obvious candidate to go, perhaps in a Jayson Werth deal since the Yanks have expressed interest and the Phillies have scouted Vazquez recently, but either way the team will almost have to move someone.

The team doesn’t have to rush out to flip another starter either. The All Star break is coming up, which buys them time, and they could also choose to skip Phil Hughes once after the break (starting the spare starter in his place) to control his innings. They could also stick Hughes in the bullpen, which would be rather idiotic. Yes, you’d want to get a deal done as soon as possible, but there’s no urgency right now.

Third, I’d have to think the Yanks are also getting another piece in return, presumably a player with some team control left. Giving up what’s being reported – Montero, David Adams, plus a third player – is a whole lot to give up for three months of a player, even one of Lee’s caliber. Perhaps that second piece is a reliever, someone like Brandon League (under control through 2012). He’s really the only guy that makes sense with Mark Lowe and Shawn Kelley on the disabled list, but those two could be players to be named later. Lowe is out long-term, however. I can’t imagine it’s three prospects for three months of Lee, unless the lefty is willing to sign a well below market extension. Something like $15-16M per year, not a Roy Halladay $20M per year discount.

Fourth, the Yanks were down a bit on Montero. Not necessarily because they don’t think he’d hit, but because he doesn’t really have a position. Austin Romine is clearly a better long-term catching prospect, and Mark Teixeira isn’t going anywhere at first. The outfield could have been a possibility, but more than likely Montero would be nothing more than a glorified DH for the Yanks, filling in behind the plate or at first once or twice a week. Granted, there’s value in that, but that’s not optimal value.

And fifth, the move also keeps Lee away from the Yanks’ competitors. This is more of a fringe benefit than an actual motive to acquire him, but it’s a benefit nonetheless. The Yanks won’t have to worry about the Twins, a likely October opponent, acquiring him, ditto one of their AL East rivals.

Just to mention the draft pick thing, it’s pretty inconsequential. Yes, if the Yanks trade for Lee and then sign him to an extension they’ll avoid losing a first round pick in a monster 2011 draft, but picks are just lotto tickets. There’s nothing guaranteed about them. They’re real time value is pretty small, less than a guy with ten at-bats in rookie ball. They shouldn’t ever stand in the way of acquiring a premium talent, which the Yanks showed during the 2008-2009 offseason.

We’ll have more analysis if the trade is ever made official and we know all the details, but it’s tough to argue with it. I don’t like giving up prospects for a few months of Lee, but if the second move is to turn around and acquire someone like Werth, I mean holy cow, trading sessions don’t get any better.

A-Rod, Andy keeping Yanks rolling

Andy Pettitte twirled eight masterful innings as the Yanks, powered by a two-run, two-out, top-of-the-ninth single off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, downed the Mariners 3-1 tonight. For the Yankees, the win is their sixth in a row and seventh in their last eight games. They move a season-high 23 games above .500 and have maintained a two-game lead over the Tampa Rays.

Andy Was Dandy

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are two peas in an exclusive pod. Rivera has saved more wins for Andy Pettitte than any other duo in baseball history, and tonight, the two were masterful. Pettitte, in particular, was rolling, and he emerged from the game with an 11-2 record and a 2.70 ERA. The nine strike outs served as an exclamation point on a stellar first half.

While Pettitte’s final line is one of total domination, the game started out on a bad foot. Ichiro tapped out an infield single to start the game, and Chone Figgins lofted a base hit down the left field line. Playing alert baseball, though, Brett Gardner gunned down the Mariners’ speedy lead-off hitter trying to reach third, and Pettitte quickly settled in. Franklin Gutierrez grounded out, Russell Branyan fouled off, and off to the races went Andy.

Over the next four innings, Pettitte faced the minimum 12 hitters with a Chone Figgins walk disappearing into a fourth inning double play. In the sixth though, Andy ran into some trouble, and as the Yanks’ bats were silent, the Yanks were on the wrong end of a deficit. Josh Wilson and Michael Saunders, the Mariners’ eight and nine hitters, knocked out back-to-back singles, and Ichiro squared to sacrifice. He laid down a bad bunt, but Pettitte’s throw ended up well wide of first base. Wilson scored, and the Mariners had 2nd and 3rd with no one out. They were set up.

The Mariners being the Mariners and Andy being Andy, however, the team failed to score. Chone Figgins hit a ball down the third base line that Ramiro Pena speared. He held the runner at third and gunned out Figgins. The Yanks intentionally walked Gutierrez, and Russell Branyan struck out looking on a 3-2 beauty. Jose Lopez swung through strike three to end the threat. No other Mariners runner would reach third base.

Key Moment: Cano doesn’t advance

As Andy rolled, the Yankee offense did not. As they did in the early innings against Gio Gonzalez in Oakland, the Yanks put on runner after runner but could not score. In fact, they knocked out nine hits and worked two walks against Jason Vargas but scored only a run. Even that lone run required a head’s up effort by A-Rod.

To set the scene, A-Rod walked to lead off the 7th, and Robinson Cano singled. With Jorge Posada batting, a Vargas wild pitch escaped the clutches of Josh Bard and trickled down the first base line. Alert at second, A-Rod dashed for third. “I got a ball in the dirt, had a good jump and made it to third,” he said after the game.

At first base, though, Robinson Cano missed the play. Jorge Posada, not a particularly adept base runner, initially held up his hand to hold the runners, but then he changed his mind and tried to wave them on. Cano was frozen, and the Yanks had first and third. Posada tapped into a double play that scored A-Rod, and the Yanks were happy with the tie. With a nod to the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, had Cano better read the wild pitch, Jorge’s grounder would have tied the game, and Curtis Granderson‘s subsequent base hit could have given the Yanks a lead. The point, though, became moot two innings later.

A-Rod in the Clutch

Swisher scores on ARod's single. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

On the 16th anniversary of his debut with the Mariners and on the night when another high-profile free agent spurned his original team, Alex Rodriguez was the game’s hero. Coming on to pitch the ninth, Mariners’ closer David Aardsma quickly dispatched Kevin Russo. But Derek Jeter walked, and Nick Swisher — 4 for 4 with a walk tonight — hit a booming double to right field. With 2nd and 3rd but one out, Mark Teixeira swung under a first pitch fast ball, and as his shoulder dipped, the ball arched foul. Bard settled under it for the second out.

Up to the plate came A-Rod, and he did not fail to deliver. A-Rod laced a single into right field, and both Jeter and Swisher scored. For A-Rod, the runs were RBIs numbers 68 and 69, and Mariano Rivera had an insurmountable two-run cushion. The team had been 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position before A-Rod’s base hit, and that one hit was all they needed.

A Hairbrush at a Baseball Game

Early on in the first inning, Ichiro ran into foul territory in right field in an effort to haul in ball. As he leaned over to try to make a play, he whacked a young woman on the head with his arm. She had a hairbrush out at a baseball game. Why? I don’t know, but the AP snapped a stellar photo of the whole thing. The woman could not look more awkward.

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Peaks and Valleys

The WPA graph is particularly pleasing tonight. (Fangraphs box, ESPN box)

Up Next

The Yanks and Mariners continue their four-game set at 10:10 p.m. on Friday as Cliff Lee auditions for a role with, well, someone. The Bombers will counter with All Star Phil Hughes who will look to get his season back on track after a rough stretch of starts.