clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Remembering how Cliff Lee was supposed to be a Yankee

Cliff Lee is retiring before the 2016 season. His career was quite impressive, but it still hurts that he never played for the Yankees, even though he was almost a Yankee...twice.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Earlier this week, rumors amounted that former ace Cliff Lee would not return to the Major Leagues. His agent has since stated that "[he doesn't] anticipate him playing at this point." Lee was considering a comeback since elbow injury ended his 2014 season early, but after sitting out all of 2015 he has not received any suitable offers for 2016.

Lee is not remembered fondly around these parts. Though the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series despite his two dominant starts, he is most notorious for his sheer domination of the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS while with the Rangers. In his Game 3 start, Lee pitched an eight-inning gem in which he allowed no runs, two hits, and struck out 13 batters as the Rangers ultimately won the game 8–0.

What made this defeat at the hands of Lee even more devastating was that he was supposed to be a Yankee. On July 8th, 2010, talks began to swirl that a trade between the Yankees and Mariners for Lee was imminent. The Mariners were set to acquire Jesus Montero, David Adams, and Zach McAllister in exchange for Lee. They accepted the deal. The consensus was that the trade was as good as complete.

But then, early on the morning of July 9th, the Mariners balked at Adam's medicals. The Yankees offered Adam Warren instead, but the Mariners only wanted either Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez. Certainty turned to disappointment and the deal fell through. Lee was traded to the Texas in exchange for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson, ultimately setting the stage for his tremendous ALCS performance in a Rangers uniform.

Hindsight is 20/20, and knowing what we know now, of course Cashman should have offered the Mariners either Nova or Nunez in addition to Montero and Adams. But at the time, Montero was one of the top prospects in the game, and Nova and Nunez were no spare parts themselves. Cashman himself stated:

Now we're being asked to give a future middle-of-the-lineup bat [Montero] and either a future starting shortstop [Nunez] or a potential high-end starter [Nova] who is 6-foot-4 and throws 95 miles per hour with a nasty breaking ball.

Cashman's hesitance to trade such promising young talent thus made a lot of sense, but after Lee signed with the Rangers, expectations in the baseball world shifted with fans and writers alike sensing that he would become a Yankee once he hit the open market in the 2010 offseason.

The main players in the Lee sweepstakes that winter were known to be the Rangers and the Yankees. However, Lee was the clear prize of the offseason, so no team could be counted out. In a stunning development, Lee opted to return to his former team, the Phillies, on a 5 year, $120 million contract (with a sixth year vesting option) despite receiving a higher offer and more years from the Yankees.

Maybe it was Lee's fond memories of his previous tenure in Philadelphia or maybe he didn't take kindly to New York fans harassing his wife during the 2010 ALCS. Either way, the Yankees missed two huge opportunities to sign one of the game's best pitchers.

It's probably for the best that the Yankees did not sign Lee, as their six year deal (plus a seventh year vesting option) would have meant that the team would still be paying him in 2016. The Yankees are in the process of trying to rid themselves of large contracts, especially for players who are no longer productive or are major injury risks. With the large contracts of CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez already on the books, it's of benefit to the Yankees that they aren't also paying Lee not to pitch.

Lee had an amazing 13-year career, finishing with a 3.52 ERA and a 118 ERA+. He was supposed to use his talents to help the Yankees, but he ultimately never did, and now he never will. Thanks for nothing, Cliff.