- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The Yankees will have their Cliff Lee conversations, of course, because the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and other big-money teams will always at least talk about the best players available. Lee has your basic 78-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he would improve a rotation that is already deep and talented; he would improve any rotation.
But keep in mind that the Yankees (like the Red Sox) have philosophically turned against the idea of trading prospects for a prospective free agent like Lee, which is why they ostensibly passed on Johan Santana, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay when they were made available on the trade market. In retrospect, it appears they made the right call on Santana -- who would have cost them Austin Jackson and Phil Hughes and whose erosion has come steadily -- and Sabathia, a pitcher they ultimately landed in free agency. The jury is still out on whether passing on Halladay was a good thing.
Keep in mind that the Yankees and Mariners have had a very difficult trade history. It was just last year that Seattle dangled another left-hander, Jarrod Washburn -- who was nowhere near the caliber of what Lee is today -- and the Mariners wanted the Yankees to give up Jackson, which was a non-starter for New York. One can only imagine what the Mariners will ask the Yankees for in return for Lee, but presumably the proposed price will be catcher Jesus Montero and at least two other Grade B-plus prospects -- for a player who may be destined to sign with the Yankees in the winter, anyway.
That would be a heavy price for the Yankees to pay when they already know they can line up Sabathia, Hughes, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett for a postseason series. It's a team that's probably already good enough to win another World Series, with or without Lee.
But the American League East standings will keep the Yankees engaged on Lee, because getting to October is no sure thing -- not with the Red Sox having climbed back into the standings despite their injuries, and not with the Rays lurking as a team that all talent evaluators view as deep in talent and potential. The inconsistent Rays are capable of drifting out of contention, but if they won 20 of their next 22 games, nobody would be surprised.
So the Yankees will stay in on the Lee talks and probably make an offer for him. They probably won't get him, recent history tells us, especially if the Minnesota Twins decide to get fully engaged in the trade talks. But they will continue to hold a seat at the Cliff Lee table. Just in case.
Good luck with that. There don't appear to be any Cliff Lees in the market for relievers, pitchers who can alter the makeup of an entire unit. A few years ago, the Red Sox picked up Eric Gagne, and I remember thinking that this was a really big deal and that Boston had really helped itself. Gagne was a total bust, reflecting the volatility of most relievers not named Mariano Rivera.
• The Phillies are really struggling right now, and they lost again to the Pirates, David Murphy wrote.
• At a time when there's all kinds of speculation about a possible Lee deal for the Twins, their president said their payroll can grow.
• The Kirk Gibson era got off to a good start in Arizona, after Chris Young was moved into the leadoff spot in the Arizona lineup. Josh Byrnes and A.J. Hinch were fired because of the D-backs' farm system and losses at the major league level, Diamondback managing general partner Ken Kendrick said.
Hinch won't entertain what-ifs on his way out the door, Nick Piecoro wrote.
From the mailbag
Is there any chance that the Phils will try and work out a deal for Mike Lowell? I've read that Boston will agree to eat some of his remaining salary and that they are just looking to basically dump him, and I think he'd be a great fit for the Phils playing third with Placido Polanco covering second. Then, when Utley is back, he is available to back up Howard and Polanco. He adds experience and grittiness to the bench for the team.
--John Hughes, Burlington, N.J.
John: Lowell is hurt. I can't imagine a player who fits the Phillies more perfectly now than Wigginton. We'll see if the Phillies and Orioles can work something out.
What's the trade market like for Zambrano? Shouldn't the Dodgers be after him if the Cubs are desperate and willing to eat part of his salary?
--Cameron, North Liberty, Iowa
Cameron: Given that Zambrano is apparently physically healthy, he probably does have some value as an innings-eater. Of the $45 million he is still owed, the Cubs probably could get some team to take about $10 million to $15 million of the money left on his deal -- and from what you hear from folks within the Dodgers' organization, there is little or no hope that money will be available. If Zambrano is going to be traded, it'll probably be in the offseason.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. In all your years as a fan, who would you say is the "Donnie Baseball" of your time -- someone like Don Mattingly? Which player is the whole package ... clutch, classy, fun and a role model?
--Joshua, New Brunswick, N.J.
Joshua: Lots of guys would qualify there. Johnny Damon is a good guy, and he's a clutch player. Derek Jeter. Adrian Gonzalez. Evan Longoria. Derrek Lee is not having a strong year offensively, but he is a lot like Mattingly in his skills and his makeup.
Dings and dents
6. Another day, another Boston player to the DL: Manny Delcarmen was shut down. The Red Sox have fitted their clubhouse with extra lockers, Peter Abraham wrote. Terry Francona has managed a healthy outlook.
7. Todd Helton has been relegated to the bench because of back trouble. The odds are increasing that Helton's problems will prompt the Rockies to look for a short-term fix before the trade deadline -- and Dan Uggla fits for a number of reasons.
Moves, deals and decisions
Not until the publicist calls when the next book is released, anyway. That's when everything is fair game, apparently.
5. Oakland made a strike on the international market.
6. The Giants may be considering a deal for Prince Fielder, Andrew Baggarly wrote. Here's the problem: It's hard to envision Milwaukee having this conversation without Matt Cain coming up as a deal breaker. Jonathan Sanchez isn't enough; neither is Madison Bumgarner, so unless the Giants put Cain in an offer -- and it's hard to imagine they would, given the red flags that are popping up with Tim Lincecum -- it doesn't seem like there is a Fielder-Giants match. We'll see.
2. An old L.A. hero hammered the Dodgers.
3. The Angels bullpen faltered after a crazy intentional walk.
5. The Indians finally lost after their catcher was thrown out on a one-hopper to the right fielder, Sheldon Ocker wrote.
6. A Mets rookie boldly called for a pickoff in a big spot, David Waldstein wrote.
8. Jaime Garcia bounced back in a big way, Rick Hummel wrote. Why Garcia won, from John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information: He fooled the Brewers. Despite getting just six swings-and-misses all game, Garcia managed seven strikeouts. Five of those strikeouts were looking. Brewers hitters did not manage a single hit against his off-speed pitches, going 0-for-11 with five strikeouts, five groundouts and a pop-up. After the count reached two strikes, Brewers hitters were 0-for-11.
13. The Orioles met the Red Sox, and you already know the rest of the story.
15. The Rangers lost in the late innings, Anthony Andro wrote.
17. Tim Lincecum labored again; and the Giants lost again -- that's seven straight, Henry Schulman wrote.
18. Mat Latos was great, again, Bill Center wrote. Why he shut down the Astros, from Fisher: The Astros were 0-for-8 with five strikeouts against Latos' off-speed pitches, missing on seven of their 12 swings against those pitches. Latos induced a season-high 14 ground balls; his 70 ground-ball percentage was a season high. Despite going to three-ball counts on six hitters, Latos managed not to walk a hitter. Four of Latos' seven strikeouts came on full counts. The Astros' left-handed hitters (Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn, Jason Castro) were 0-for-9 with four strikeouts against Latos. Collectively, they missed on seven of 16 swings against him.
21. Max Scherzer had a strong outing for the Tigers, Mark Snyder wrote. How Scherzer won, from Fisher: He used his changeup -- he threw a season high of 25 changeups (22.7 percent of his pitches, another season high). Among those changeups, he had 18 strikes (season high) and seven swings-and-misses (second best this season).
22. The Silent Assassin came through for the Royals.
The Patience Index
• Strasburg is making Jerome Solomon think of another pitching phenom.
• The Angels are well aware of some Texas smack talk, Bill Shaikin wrote.
• Edwin Rodriguez believes his bullpen is going to get better.
• Steve Garvey is lending a hand to help with a disease, Jill Painter wrote.
• All of these ex-Angels are fueling expectations for Texas, Kevin Sherrington wrote.
• Prospects are prospects, Geoff Baker wrote in reference to the Cliff Lee trade talks.
It is true that teams overvalue their prospects. But it is also true that in retrospect, there have been a whole lot of trades made for the sake of a pennant race in which a youngster is swapped for a proven veteran -- and in retrospect, the team that took the veteran looks awful.
Doyle Alexander for ... John Smoltz?
Larry Andersen for ... Jeff Bagwell?
Bagwell, as a minor leaguer, wasn't a sure thing in the way Lee is a sure thing. And soon, Bagwell will be voted into the Hall of Fame.
There are times when teams with a chance to win championships should consider trading prospects for veteran players. As we've written about this week, we have not seen a greater sure thing on the trade market than Cliff Lee is right now. He is accomplished, healthy and a proven commodity. But the Phillies, with an increasingly older roster, would be nuts to give up Domonic Brown if they think he's as good as advertised. The Mets would be crazy to give up someone like Ike Davis -- who looks like he's going to be a great player for a long time -- for Lee.
• Floyd Landis keeps talking about Lance Armstrong, and not in a good way.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Even without Cliff Lee, the Yankees are likely good enough to win the World Series. But they will remain in the Lee trade talks, just in case.