Cliff Lee was going to a contender no matter what. Turns out it was the Texas Rangers, not the New York Yankees.
” Lee texted to ESPN The Magazine’s Amy K. Nelson. “It’s official. From last [place] to first.”
After talks between the Seattle Mariners and Yanks fell apart Friday afternoon, the Rangers jumped in and reached agreement on a trade for the left-hander.
The M’s sent Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak and minor leaguers Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson.
The Mariners will also send $2.5 million to the Rangers to subsidize the $4 million still owed to Lee. Texas has financial limitations due to bankruptcy hearings associated with the sale of the team. There has been speculation the Rangers — despite leading the AL West — would not be able to add weapons for the stretch run.
And there still could be trouble. An anonymous official of an MLB team said the Rangers taking on $1.5 million in salary “is going to be an issue” since the team is currently being run by the league. It is not clear if the bankruptcy court would allow the team to take on that kind of debt.
Lee is 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA this season for the Mariners, his first in Seattle. The Phillies traded him this offseason after acquiring Roy Halladay.
Lee won the Cy Young while with Cleveland in 2008. Over nine seasons he is 98-55 with a 3.84 ERA.
It’s unusual for a team to trade a start pitcher within it’s own division, but the Mariners have been a huge disappointment. Heading into Friday’s action, they trailed the Rangers by 16 games.
When asked how he felt about the deal, Lee texted “good I guess. Gonna be on a very good team. Definitely gonna be hot!”
By trading for Lee now, the Rangers potentially gain four more starts from the lefty than they would have gotten if the acquired him at the trade deadline.
The Yankees had offered Seattle a three-player package, centered around catcher Jesus Montero — who is rated as one of the best prospects in baseball, despite questions about whether he can be a catcher in the big leagues — second baseman David Adams and a young prospect.
But the deal began to unravel, a source told ESPN.com, when the Mariners became concerned about the health of Adams, who is out with a sprained ankle.
A source told ESPN.com that Seattle and Texas were very close to a deal for Lee on Wednesday. But the Mariners were pushing for Smoak, the Rangers balked and that deal stalled.
So on Thursday, the Mariners turned their attention to the Yankees and began closing in on that deal. But when those talks blew up, the Rangers — who by then were aware of all the reports about that Seattle-New York deal — got back into the picture and agreed to trade Smoak. So the pieces came together very quickly at that point because the two teams almost had a deal done 48 hours earlier.
And now Lee is on his way to Arlington.
“Bout to go get my stuff from the field,” he texted. “Gonna miss my teammates and coaching staff! Good people!”
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney and ESPN.com Amy K. Nelson contributed to this report.