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Rumors from the trade market

If the Mariners trade Cliff Lee in the next 24 hours, the Yankees wouldn’t have to face him on Friday.

Yesterday, I wrote about the Marlins making right-handed outfielder Cody Ross available to potential trading partners. Subsequently, it was reported that the Fish might also make 26-year-old closer Leo Nunez available as well. Nunez isn’t expensive by the standards of most teams, but he’s arbitration eligible and the Marlins don’t do arbitration unless literally forced to by the Commissioner and the players’ union. It’s a bit odd that their owner thinks they can win a pennant while not actually paying anyone but Hanley Ramirez, but that’s the way his mind apparently works -- hence the firing of Fredi Gonzalez.

Nunez, a useful reliever, started out with the Royals, who traded him to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs, a non-useful first baseman. Over the last three years, he’s pitched 151.2 innings, allowed but 132 hits, walked 51, and struck out 121. Batters have hit .234/.304/.382 in that period -- the .382 slugging represents 16 home runs (he’s a fly ball guy) and a seemingly high nine triples, something at least partially attributable to defense. His ERA for that period is 3.50. In truth, he hasn’t been quite that good, as over the years he’s been bailed out by subsequent relievers quite a few times, something that keeps a fellow’s ERA artificially low. His home run rate also means he’s ill-suited to close.

Despite this, the Yankees need bullpen depth and Nunez is an established reliever with a solid fastball who could help out in the middle innings. I smell package with Ross… or day-old sushi. Maybe both.

CC Sabathia is hitting on all cylinders, and AJ Burnett has had two good starts in a row, but Phil Hughes has struggled since April and Andy Pettitte’s age and history makes him a constant threat to regress. Javier Vazquez has a 3.05 ERA in 11 games going back to the middle of May, but is anyone prepared to believe that this is the way things will be from now on, or to trust him in a big spot? These are the issues that must be weighed as the Yankees decide whether to make a serious bid for Cliff Lee.

If you believe that the rotation will show consistency, that Sergio Mitre (when healthy) could step into the fifth spot if someone got hurt, or that a young pitcher like Ivan Nova or David Phelps (2.07 ERA in 16 starts at Trenton and Scranton) could take a spot in an emergency then the Yankees have absolutely nothing to gain from burning prospects and treasure to acquire Lee. If, on the other hand, you think that one of the aforementioned five is going to pitch their way is due for a breakdown in body, mind, or outcomes, then that’s a different matter.

If the latter is the case, then the key question is if the Yankees could successfully construct a three-way deal that would dispose of Vazquez at the same time that it reeled in Lee. This would have the effect of reeling in prospects at the same time that they went out, although the haul would inevitably be less than what the Yankees had to spend. A National League team with a large ballpark, say the Mets if they have the capability to add a salary, even that of a free agent to be, would be an intriguing choice, though their collection of prospects leaves a lot to be desired and they need them rather desperately.

The most likely scenario is standing pat. The Yankees have more to gain and less to lose in terms of minor league talent by tinkering with the offense and the bullpen than they do with the starting rotation. They need four starters to get through the playoffs; the purpose of rotation depth now is to get there. With only a two-game lead on the division title and wild card spot, they’re hardly safe, but they’re in a stronger position than if they were trying to come from behind.

The Mariners got right back to losing since taking two of three games from the Yankees at the big ballpark in the Bronx, going 1-5 against the Tigers and Royals. Their hitting has been truly incredible in those few games; as a team, they’ve batted .228/.307/.345. In fairness to them, they saw a very difficult set of pitchers, guys who are very good or can be very good if you catch them on the wrong day -- in order, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Brian Bannister, and Zack Greinke. The sixth was Kyle Davies, who is almost never good (just eight quality starts in 17 tries), but they lost anyway. During that same stretch, the pitchers put up an ERA just over 5.00, but Lee and King Felix were just as dominating as ever. This is the frustrating thing about the Mariners: they’re on a pace for about 98 losses, but you can’t take them for granted, not with their rotation, and not at home, where they’re playing just under .500 ball. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of pitching around Russell Branyan in the big spots, and maybe a suddenly hot Casey Kotchman (9-for-18 with three homers in his last five games) -- there’s just not much else going on.

Broken record time: one interesting aspect to this series will be how well Marcus Thames does, as the Yankees will see three lefties in four games. Another key will be how often Curtis Granderson sits. Kudos to Joe Girardi for giving him half a game off against Gio Gonzalez in the Oakland finale. That’s the funny thing about platooning Granderson, given his defensive skills -- you’re talking about his missing just two or three plate appearances a game. It’s a bit like football in that he’s going to play even if he doesn’t start.

Last night’s big game put him over the top. I stand by my believe that Kevin Youkilis is having a bigger year, but there was nothing in that to say that Swisher is undeserving or has been less than greatly valuable to the Yankees. Congratulations to the effervescent outfielder.