On the day after Lebron James announced his intentions to form an NBA powerhouse in Miami, the Yankees seem intent on bolstering their very own juggernaut, but at what cost?
According to Buster Olney, and numerous other sources, the Yankees have all but completed a deal for ace pitcher Cliff Lee. The reported acquisition is expected to come at a heavy cost, however, as the Yankees’ top prospect Jesus Montero is the centerpiece of the package going to Seattle.
One the one hand, acquiring Lee makes sense from multiple avenues. Even though the Yankees’ rotation is firing on all cylinders now, there are reasons for concern. Both AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez have had long spells of ineffectiveness, and their career histories suggest that such struggles could easily return. If that were to happen down the stretch or in the post season, the impact would be costly. Not many have pitched better than Andy Pettitte this season, but the veteran lefty is 38, making him prone to injury at just about any time. If Pettitte’s shoulder were to start barking again, the Yankees would find themselves with a huge hole in the rotation. Finally, Phil Hughes, who has struggled of late, is eventually going to run into his innings limit. If the fatigue of his first full season doesn’t get to him, the Hughes Rules likely will.
On the other hand, the Yankees won the World Series with a similar rotation. In fact, the components in place now are even better than last season (Hughes is better than Joba and Vazquez is better than Guadin/Mitre/etc.). With C.C. Sabathia pitching like the ace that he is, the Yankees could ride the big man to another title without acquiring the likes of Lee. In other words, the Yankees just might be able to have their cake and eat it too.
In this case, the “cake” is Jesus Montero. Despite his struggles in Scranton this season, the 20-year old Montero is still a bonafide hitting prospect who has the potential to be a future All Star. Even if he doesn’t stick as a catcher, Montero’s bat projects well at any position. With their core of Jeter, Posada and Arod getting older, the Yankees may need another infusion of youth in the lineup, and Montero may be just the guy to give it them.
In many ways, this is a robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario with a few extra wrinkles. For starters, we don’t really know if Montero will emerge as a top flight hitter. The baseball landscape is littered with prospects who never lived up to their potential, so Montero could very well wind up with a similar fate. Secondly, if the Yankees don’t get Lee, someone else will. In fact, there is a great chance that someone else will be a direct contender for the AL Pennant (the Rays and Twins have been rumored to be landing spots for Lee). Finally, if the Yankees can sign him to an extension, the benefit to the Yankees doesn’t have to be short term.
Weighing both sides of the argument, it seems as if the merits of the deal center around one’s evaluation of Montero. If you are of the mindset that he is the next Manny Ramirez, then it makes no sense to trade for three months of a 31 year old pitcher. If the organization’s internal evaluation falls short of that hype, however, then it makes perfect sense for the Yankees to pursue the hottest commodity on the market.
Also worth noting are the other ramifications from acquiring Lee. Off the bat, the Yankees will need to shift someone from the rotation. Hughes, who has an innings limit, seems the most likely candidate. If the Yankees transition Hughes back to being a reliever, he would not only help solidify the back end of the bullpen, but could also stay on track to permanently join the rotation next season. The second most likely candidate to depart would be Javier Vazquez, who has restored his trade value by pitching exceptionally well since mid-May. If the Yankees could flip Vazquez to an NL team for either prospects (to help replenish the farm) or a proven bat (to help bolster a lineup that has been worn down by age and injuries), the net result of the trade could wind up being even more favorable to the Yankees.
Once all the pieces to the puzzle take shape, it will be easier to assess the net results of this rumored deal. In the meantime, you can bet the rest of the baseball world is fuming from the ears at the thought of another ace landing in the Yankees’ loaded deck.