The Cliff Lee Trade: Seattle’s Perspective

As originally reported by Joel Sherman, and confirmed by most others, the Mariners are on the verge of trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees for a package of prospects headlined by Jesus Montero. For the Mariners, this is the kind of deal they simply could not pass up.

Once the team fell out of the race in May, trading Lee became inevitable. His value as the best pitcher in the American League ensured that the team would get significantly more from trading him than letting him walk and taking the draft picks. The only questions were when Lee would be moved, where he would go, and what the team would get in return. The answers appear to be today, New York, and a lot.

Montero is a premium prospect whose value comes from having one of the best offensive profiles of any 20-year-old on the planet. For a team that is last in the league in scoring runs, this has obvious appeal. Given the team’s woes behind the plate the last few years, the fact that he’s ostensibly a catcher also adds to his value, though I’m one of the disbelievers who don’t think he’ll stick there.

The rest of the offer is reported to be 23-year-old infielder David Adams and a third guy. I’ll let our resident prospect gurus get into their futures, but suffice it to say that they aren’t Montero quality pieces. He’s the get in this deal.

So, how’d the Mariners do on this deal? Better than expected, I’d say. If the blueprint for a premium rental pitcher at the deadline was the CC Sabathia trade from two years ago, you have to think the M’s are getting a bit more than Cleveland did. Matt LaPorta was a fine prospect, but probably a good step behind what Jesus Montero is right now. When Lee was originally being shopped, the idea that they could get a prospect of Montero’s quality for him seemed unlikely.

And, of course, there’s the reality of what the Mariners gave up to get Cliff Lee in the first place. Going from Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez to Montero (and other stuff) is a substantial upgrade in terms of future value. The Mariners are getting more in this deal than they gave up, though that’s mostly a function of how bad a deal Ruben Amaro made this winter.

Over all, this has to be viewed as a win from the Mariners perspective. They rented Lee, saw his value increase, and then spun him for more than they paid originally. The rest of the season hasn’t worked out well, but this series of transactions is a net positive for the Mariners.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

55 Responses to “The Cliff Lee Trade: Seattle’s Perspective”

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  1. Alex Remington says:

    How did Sherman find out about the deal before it was consummated? Nothing further has been reported all morning, and these last-minute leaks have a habit of changing deals. The longer it goes before the deal is officially announced, the less likely it is that the deal will go down as reported.

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  2. Adam says:

    How good is Montero’s offensive ceiling? Are we talking MVP-level bat, like .300/.420/.560 in his prime? There’s been a bunch of talk about him ending up at 1B/DH, so I’m guessing his bat projects to be amazing to justify this high prospect ranking.

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    • RJ says:

      The comparison I’ve seen is to Carlos Delgado – both in terms of hitting ability, and in terms of likeliness to stick at C in the majors.

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  3. scottdsimon says:

    Aside from the Zombie Sweeney/Griffey farewell tour, most agree that Jack Z has made the “right” choices since joining the M’s. The proposed Lee-for-Montero+ swap is more of the same.

    But the on-field results for the MLB team have been awful, compounded by the apparent renaissance of Carlos Silva in the National League.

    It leads me to think that the Mariners are more like the Indians and A’s, other “smart” teams whose records don’t match up with the IQ of those in charge.

    Is this all just a case of good process, bad luck? Or are we missing something?

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    • Salty Dog says:

      One major difference between the Mariners and Indians/A’s is payroll. The Mariners have the ability to spend more than those teams. It hasn’t yet translated into success, but if you pair the ability of those teams to develop players, along with the ability to either lock them up long term or pair them with free agent talent, theoretically it could work.

      All in all, I like what Zdurenziek (sp I know, but you get the idea) has done. You’re not going to get every deal right. But, on the whole, I think we’re moving in the right direction.

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  4. Disco says:

    This Yankees fan is not pleased.

    Sure, you can hand us the trophy right now.

    But we were the favorites without Lee and I’d rather stay “only” favorites than give up Montero. Montero straight up isn’t even a good deal for us, but David Adams is a decent player as well.

    So it’s a good and bad trade for NY. Good- plan the parade today. Bad- in terms of just value, we got fleeced. IIRC, Victor Wang found out top 10 hitting prospects are worth $36mil in their first few seasons. That’s more than Lee is worth and I have a feeling Montero will be worth more than $36mil. A lot more.

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    • Steve says:

      So the thinking for the Yankees is this: they have no use for Montero because he isn’t gonna be able to stick behind the plate. He’s a tremendous hitter but he can’t play 1B for them because Texiera is their long-term and he’s useless at DH for them because eventually A-Rod will have to move off of 3B so he really doesn’t have a spot on their major league roster. If they wait until the end of the year they have to give up a 1st round pick because whoever has Lee will offer him arbitration. So instead they will trade for Lee move Montero out of the system and then maybe they look to flip Vazquez somewhere for an outfielder possibly Werth. Then at the end of the year they will be able to sign Werth and Lee long-term and not give up any compensation picks. Basically the Yankees are ridiculously stacked at this point.

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      • Chops says:

        Regardless, why do we have to move him now? If he really has no use to us, why not wait till the offseason to make a trade, sign Cliff Lee, and then use Montero to get another big name player?

        You are still selling him short no matter which way you cut it

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  5. KAKA says:

    One question,please

    If this trade proceed

    Will Montero soon beocme Mariners starter (catcher) everyday ?

    Will Montero soon beocme Mariners starter (catcher) everyday ?


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    • BX says:

      Let Montero take a few more reps at Tacoma.

      The M’s aren’t in a rush here.

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      • KG says:

        Montero doesn’t seem like he’s quite ready – particularly with his defense. Offensively, he started the year out slow, and has definitely come on as of late, but he’s still a teenager – I’d let him work on his defense for another year, and bring him up next summer, if all goes right, or next September. He’s going to be what, 20 years old at that point?

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      • don says:

        He’s 20 now (born Nov. ’89) so he’ll be 21 next year. Of course that’s still quite young.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      No. Montero is not particularly close to being a Major League starting catcher.

      If they move him to DH or 1B, he could feasibly move up into the Majors next year, though I’m not sure he’d start the season there. He’s struggled a bit in AAA this year (which is understandable, it’s his first year and he’s only 20), but unless he starts seriously mashing to close out this year, I would think he’d start in AAA next year and move up in the summer.

      If they want him to be a catcher, though, he’s going to need a while longer. He’s improving, and he’s working hard, but he’s not really close. At this point, his defensive liabilities at the Major League level would counteract a lot of his offensive contributions. So it’d be more like 2012 before he came up, and there’s a chance that even with more time to develop he’ll never be a big league catcher.

      So: as a DH/1B, Montero could absolutely be in the Majors next year. As a catcher, almost certainly not until 2012. The Ms could certainly give him a shot next year at catcher if his bat is ready, but it’d be an iffy proposition.

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  6. jld says:

    Lee is scheduled to start tonight against the Mariners. Does he mow down the Ms tonight?

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  7. don says:

    It’s also a better prospect package than what the Indians got last year for a year and a half of Lee. It makes sense that he was finally traded for high profile prospect.

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  8. Random Guy says:

    If they pull the trigger and Lee pitches for New York instead of Seattle tonight, that flips the game from a likely loss to an almost certain win for New York and probably justifies about half of Lee’s remaining 2010 salary right there in one day.

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    • Steven says:

      I’m hearing that if Lee does get traded, one of the conditions would be that he wouldn’t pitch against Seattle this series. It wouldn’t be a big deal for the Yankees, as the drop from Lee to either Olson or French (whichever the M’s pick to take Lee’s slot) is pretty steep. The M’s probably lose that game anyway.

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  9. dancariaz says:

    as a Yankee fan I don’t know what to think about this trade. I love that we’ll get Lee and the chances to win the WS this year too are rising. But trading our top hitting prospect is the bad part of this deal.

    If the Yankees are sure that he can’t stay behind the plate then I accept the trade because he won’t see much playing time at 1B/DH anytime soon. Guys like A-Rod, Jeter play DH once a week, Posada at least twice. Not to mention we have a top prospect that is more likely to be a major league catcher in 2 years (Romine).

    Sure, Seattle looks like the winner of this trade but if the Yanks win the WS this year then I can live with that. Nobody knows how good Montero will be in the majors, at what position etc. Perhaps he’s the next Albert Pujols, perhaps he’s just one of many good players. We’ll know who really won that trade in a few years.

    And tbh: we all knew the Yanks would trade Romine or Montero sooner or later. I’m glad we keep Romine. Whoever will stay behind the plate will be the more valuable player in the future imo.

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  10. lee d says:

    accordnig to rotoworld they will not start lee against the mariners

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  11. Jack says:

    “Matt LaPorta was a fine prospect, but probably a good step behind what Jesus Montero is right now. ”

    Not really. LaPorta was a recent 1st round pick, he was absolutely destroying AA at the time of the trade, and he at least had/has a position, unlike Montero, who very likely will bring little to no defensive value. In terms of all the subjective rankings and BA and whatnot, LaPorta was a consensus top 25 guy coming into the year given his performance that season he only went higher.

    The only thing you could say about Montero is that he has probably performed equally (at the plate) to LaPorta at a younger age. But that is somewhat mitigated by his relative (yet overblown) struggles this year.

    They’re pretty much equal trades in terms of at-the-moment value. Zduriencik might look like a genius next to Amaro, but Shapiro did fine himself.

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    • hank says:

      Consensus top 25?

      Montero was consensus top 10…. Even if LaPorta moved up some was he consensus top 10?

      Also the value of a prospect is a a function of age… you can’t just dismiss age and say they’re equal “at the moment” value. If there was a 26 year old LF prospect the Yankees were trading would you apply the same ‘at the moment’ value?

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      • Jack says:

        Um, LaPorta was what, 22 at the time of the trade? Stop it. You’re being influenced by his performance since the trade. Ignore that.

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    • Dag Gummit says:

      What’s the most compelling argument against his struggles this year are that they were just a large BABIP-fluke in the first two months.

      On his page, you see that his career MiL BABIP is ~.340, while it was .279 in April and .226 in May. In June and thus far in July, though, it’s right back where it had been in the past at .333 and .353, respectively. His power is still not all there, but his patience is and he is still only 20 in AAA. He’s hitting like Delmon Young in AAA but with a K/BB that’s about 3 times better.

      Bittersweet moment for Mariner and Yankee fans, alike, it seems. To me, that’s indication #1 that it’s actually an even deal.

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  12. lee d says:

    as a yankee fan im kinda overjoyed. Losing montero sucks, but even though he is a ebastly prospect he’s still a prospect.

    Idk if AJ can be trusted again in the playoffs, so having a three of CC-Lee-Andy is nasty. I dont see how he is overkill either, he’s clearly the ebst pitcher in the AL, can pitch thwe big game, and gives us two aces (thats huge in 5 or 7 game series).

    plus CC-Lee gives us a good chance to rnu another dynasty out there

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  13. Rally says:


    What about the Brandon League for Morrow swap as an evener in the deals from last winter. Officially it’s a separate deal, but could they be related?

    I think you were the first to mention that possibility. Are you convinced they were separate now?

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  14. kevinM says:

    As a Yankees fan, I HATE this trade… in fact, I’m hoping it falls through. Trading one of the top 5-10 prospects in baseball for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who they will have to give a ton of money to is idiotic.

    I’m not saying prospects are untouchable, but this isn’t a trade I would do.

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    • Eugene says:

      I’m feeling the same way. It’s 1/2 of a season of Lee vs 7 seasons of Montero. Even if Montero isn’t going to have a role in the Yankees team, he’s worth more than a partial season from a pitcher, even a #1 pitcher.

      The only way this deal looks anything but a failing for the Yankees in five years, heck two years, is if Montero’s bat turns to cardboard.

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      • AlecTrevelyan006 says:

        He won’t be a rental, Yanks will sign him long term. They’ve got the money and are a guaranteed contender.

        And the rest of the league’s fans (including me) will cry as CC/Lee dominate baseball together for the next several years

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      • lee d says:

        “”Even if Montero isn’t going to have a role in the Yankees team, he’s worth more than a partial season from a pitcher, even a #1 pitcher.”””

        1. i dont believe he is
        2. the yanks WILL sign lee

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  15. susan says:

    The rest of the offer is reported that 23-year-old infielder David Adams and a third man. I’ll let our resident gurus perspective into his future, but suffice it to say that there are pieces Montero quality. Cliff Lee

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  16. Michael C. says:

    Putting on a Yankees hat (which I would never ever own, thank you very much):

    Premier: Lee is better than good. He becomes their best starter.

    Preemptive: No Lee for Red Sox or Rays or Rangers. No other Yankee-killer on the market they need worry about come play-off time.

    Prescriptive: Fits well for their ballpark. Matches up well against current and future (postseason) opponents. Actually, Lee’s so good thinking about individual opponenet match-ups is meaningless. Never mind.

    Presumptive: Pennant winners? Probably. Duh! Although the Rangers may have a clearer path to the ALCS and seem poised to make some move to improve their pitching, too.

    The dominoes will start to fall now, up until and after July 31.

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    • Jason B says:

      I would strongly argue that the Rangers’ path (through BOS/TB) is more difficult than the Yanks’ path (thru MIN/DET/CWS).

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      • Michael C. says:

        And I would suggest that the Rangers’ path to REACH the postseason (thru LAA/OAK) is far easier than that of the Yankees (thru BOS/TB) and hence a greater chance to reach the ALCS.

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  17. oompaloompa says:

    Please note the AL all star team is on display everday in pinstripes.

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  18. zoned says:

    David Adams is getting sold short here.

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  19. CircleChange11 says:

    AJ is not doing as expected. So, we’ll add Cliff Lee.

    Wow, the NYY are smarter than everyone else.

    I give the NYY credit. They are really good at being located in a 20M and wealthy populated area.

    I’m not disgruntled, but this type of stuff gets old. Acquisitions of Burnett and Vasquez don’t hurt at all, so we’ll get Cliff Lee. No ramifications for anything.

    What are the odds that Montero loses quite a bit of his potential the moment he leaves the NYY system, ala Tabata.

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    • Dag Gummit says:

      Hasn’t Tabata been better since leaving the Yankees system? This year, in particular, he’s hitting quite well at 21 in AAA. Maybe your just referring to how he’s been moved to COF and his speed-minus-power bat doesn’t profile as well, there?

      Still, McCutchen + Tabata looks like one heck of a haul for Xavier Nady + Damaso Marte

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    • TonyC says:

      You sound disgruntled. The NY market isn’t really relevant considering this is a trade, not a free agent signing. Especially since Lee makes a whopping $4million for the rest of the season.

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  20. kevinM says:

    Why on earth would you compare Tabata and Montero?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Because, at 19, the were both the “next” big prospect.

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      • Tom says:

        Tabata was never ranked as highly as Montero. The highest he ranked was 27th in 2007. Throw in the fact that’s he a few years older than his listed age (although I guess Montero could have the same problem but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about it) and he might not have ever been ranked in the Top 100.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        It probably was not fair to mention Tabata as being equivalent to Montero.

        I haven’t followed MiLB players thoroughly, but I knew about Tabata for quite a while, and for one reason … the organization he played with. He was the 19yo that had all the potential.

        Like most prospects, reality set in.

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  21. lexomatic says:

    If I’m the Mariners….
    As soon as this is confirmed, I call up Edgar Martinez and ask him to be a special coach. Help Montero refine his hitting technique and plate discipline.

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  22. Tom says:

    Is there any way Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps his job after this season? When he traded for him from the Indians he gave up Carlos Carrasco (2nd Phillies/52nd overall), Lou Marson (3rd/66th), Jason Donald (4th/66th), and Jason Knapp (10th/unranked). All ranking by Baseball America for 2009. It’s a little more difficult to get the team rankings for 2010 as the trade happened after they had already started their rankings so the players don’t appear in any one team rankings but only Aumont was ranked in the Top 100 at 92nd. Then the Mariners get Montero (1st Yankees, 4th overall), Zach McAllister (5th team) and David Adams. So he gave up way more than any other team and received way less.

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  23. Randall says:

    Pineda pulled from his Tacoma start.

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    • Jack says:

      Yeah, he’s probably getting called up to Seattle. What possible scenario would have the Mariners trading their best prospect?

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      • Randall says:

        Randall says:
        July 9, 2010 at 12:48 pm
        Unless the M’s call up Pineda to start. Hope they don’t, but they could.

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  24. Rally says:

    “And I would suggest that the Rangers’ path to REACH the postseason (thru LAA/OAK) is far easier than that of the Yankees (thru BOS/TB) and hence a greater chance to reach the ALCS.”

    Yankees path is easier. Because they don’t have to beat both TB and BOS (though they probably will), all they have to do for the postseason is not finish third in that race.

    Rangers have to win the division. Odds are looking good right now but the Angels will have another run at them or two before this is over. They still have something like 13 head to head games.

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    • don says:

      Angels are 5.5 back and their run differential is 90 worse. Throw Lee on the Rangers and it’s not real close. The Angels could make up the difference, but the odds are pretty long.

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  25. Omar says:

    And they might turn them down over David Adams’ ankle…I’d hate to say it but:

    #6 Org.

    Seriously, it’s a broken ankle not an arthritic hip…

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