Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game 76: Nearly Lost You

The Yankees return home for the first time since Father's Day, opening a six game homestand with a three game set against the Seattle Mariners. The M's were the darlings of the off-season, unloading the onerous contracts of Carlos Silva and Kenji Johjima, signing spark plug Chone Figgins away from their division rivals, and making a series of lesser low risk, high reward moves. But far and away, the biggest coup for GM Jack Zduriencik was sending a package of prospects to Philly for Cliff Lee.

Everything seemingly has gone wrong for the M's since then. Franchise legend Ken Griffey Jr's continued decline and possible narcolepsy culminated in an uncomfortable retirement and a possibly fractured clubhouse. Off-season signing Ryan Garko didn't even make it to Opening Day, while fellow signee Eric Byrnes lasted a mere month before riding his bicycle off to the California keg leagues. Their offense has been abyssmal, with Figgins taking a nose dive, Milton Bradley providing plenty of problems but little pop, and virtually everyone but Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez failing to hit at an acceptable level. All of which leaves Seattle entering the series with baseball's sixth poorest record and the AL's worst offense by a long shot.

As such, Cliff Lee and his expiring contract have become the hottest commodity on the market with the trade deadline 32 days away. There has been no shortage of rumors about whether the M's will hang on to him in an attempt to turn it around, or if they'd prefer the two draft picks his Type A status will net, or where he'd land if he were to be traded. There's been a ton of contradictory information out there, but the latest seems to be that the M's are quietly prepared to make a move.

As when any big name player hits the market, the Yankees have been rumored as a potential landing spot, with reports that Seattle has scouted the Yankees system. Yet even though a vocal segment of Yankee fans have been loudly clamoring for Lee since before Spring Training even began, a deal to the Bronx is unlikely. Despite A.J. Burnett's recent struggles, the Yankee rotation has been a strength for the team this year. As we saw with Javier Vazquez earlier this season, good pitchers may struggle for stretches, but they won't struggle forever. And with pitching coach Dave Eiland returning to the club tonight, perhaps Burnett's turnaround is coming soon. There just isn't the need nor the room for another front line starter.

Even if there were, there is no recent precedent for the Yankees making such a move. Following the 2007 season, the Yankees passed on an opportunity to acquire Johan Santana, who had a full year remaining on his contract. In his refusal to make the deal, Brian Cashman made his position clear: he is reluctant to pay twice - in both prospects and contract extensions - to acquire a player. He held fast to that philosophy the following summer, when in desperate need of pitching, he refused to deal for CC Sabathia and his expiring contract, content to gamble that the big lefty would be there for the taking on the free agent market after the season. He was, and after last season's World Series, Cashman appeared to be quite shrewd for biding his time.

If that's not enough to quell those covetous of Lee as he takes the Yankee Stadium mound tonight, then the pitcher in the other half innings should be. Phil Hughes was the centerpiece of the package the Yankees would have shipped to Minnesota had they pulled the trigger on the Santana deal, and had the Yankees pursued a Sabathia trade the asking price would have begun with Hughes as well. Instead Cashman chose to hang on to his top pitching prospect. After suffering through an injury plagued 2008, the organization was rewarded with a breakout 2009 from Hughes the set up man and is now enjoying a 2010 in which Phil Hughes is one of the top starters in the American League.

It's very possible that one of the two starting pitchers tonight will throw the first pitch of the All-Star Game in Anaheim two weeks from tonight. While it's tempting to think of Cliff Lee in Yankee pinstripes, that temptation isn't enough for me to feel comfortable sacrificing potential future All-Stars in Jesus Montero or Austin Romine or Manny Banuelos or Andrew Brackman or any number of other good Yankee prospects Seattle would want in exchange for Lee. The Yankees nearly lost Hughes two and a half years ago. I'm not prepared to lose the next Hughes in exchange for three months of Cliff Lee. Cashman runs the risk of losing Lee to another club now, but as the Sabathia situation taught us two years ago, sometimes a little patience leaves you with the best possible deal.

Did you hear the distant cry
Calling me back to my sin
Like the one you knew before
Calling me back once again

I nearly, I nearly lost you there
And it's taking us somewhere
I nearly lost you there
Let's try to see now

[Song Notes: Any series against the Mariners always has me thinking of the Seattle bands of the early nineties. Rather than going with one of the name brand grunge bands, tonight we'll go with the Screaming Trees. Though lesser known than Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, they had a few good tunes to their credit, this being one of them. Just goes to show that you don't always need to go shopping on the top shelf to find what you're looking for.]


Brett Gardner's sore wrist keeps him out of the lineup tonight, but he is reportedly available for defense and pinch running duties. With a lefty on the mound Chad Huffman gets the start in left. There's a likely a roster move coming as well, as it's widely speculated that Dustin Moseley will be added to the bullpen in advance of him exercising his opt out clause today.[UPDATE 6:45 PM: No Moseley tonight, as he's still with Scranton.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Chad Huffman LF
Francisco Cervelli C

RHP Phil Hughes
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 2B
Russell Branyan 1B
Milton Bradley DH
Jose Lopez 3B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Jack Wilson SS
Rob Johnson C
Michael Saunders LF

LHP Cliff Lee

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