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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.