Yankees: Revisiting the Cliff Lee Non-Trade That Sank the 2010 Season

Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Cliff Lee should’ve been a New York Yankees co-ace in 2010. Didn’t happen.

The New York Yankees, fresh off a World Series win over Cliff Lee and the Phillies in 2009, nearly benefitted tremendously from Philly’s shifting parts the very next summer.

Alas, it was not to be. It was never to be.

In order to import Roy Halladay for the 2010 season, the Phillies orchestrated a contingent deal that sent Lee, their venerable ace, to Seattle. Win-win for the Yankees, right? No Halladay in the division, Lee in the pacific northwest…a godsend upon godsends!

When Seattle struggled with Lee as King Felix Hernandez’s running mate, things got even better for the Bombers. Lee wasn’t only out of striking distance — he was available.

On July 8, 2010, the Yankees were set to offer top prospect Jesus Montero, infielder David Adams, and Zach McAllister in exchange for Lee. This was seen as a good enough package to finish the job.

Instead, trouble was afoot. Literally.

Seattle suddenly became offended by the medical reports on Adams’ bothersome foot injury, and the scramble began. Adams was replaced by Adam Warren? No deal. Seattle wanted Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova? NO deal.

Before you knew it, the ever-thinning finish line had disappeared faster than Brett Gardner’s hairline — Lee went to Texas for a package headlined by Justin Smoak, and led them to an American League pennant, out-dueling Andy Pettitte in Game 3 of the ALCS in resounding fashion (8 innings, 2 hits, 13 K).

Adams, meanwhile, didn’t develop — he was released early in 2013, returned, and didn’t contribute much in a lost season, hitting .190.

Of course, the 2010 trade deadline was not the last time “Cliff Lee to the Yankees” went from fait accompli to depressing dissolution.

At the end of the year, Lee was viewed as likely to sign in New York as a free agent. The chips were lining up. Even Lee’s wife Kristen shrugged off her improper treatment during the ALCS, where fans spat in the direction of the family section and hucked beer at the visiting Rangers clan (cool stuff).

However — stop me if you’ve heard this one — it was not to be. Lee signed a five-year deal with the Phillies, and New York followed CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon in 2011. It did not go that well.

Losing Lee at the 2010 deadline probably cost New York a pennant — if Lee’s not in their way, they probably don’t lose to the Texas Rangers, and they certainly don’t get blanked by the man in Game 3. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the NYY had a better shot against Max Scherzer in Game 2 of the 2011 ALDS with the best postseason pitcher of that stretch of time instead of Garcia. Call it like I see it.

Next. 7 Prospects New York Can Afford to Trade. dark

The weirdest part? Jesus Montero, the prized sacrifice in this deal, went to Seattle anyway. A year and a half later, he was dealt for Michael Pineda. Life, huh?

The 2009-2012 Yankees, known as a rebirth for the franchise, could’ve easily captured four consecutive rings if this deadline deal had gone differently. We’ll take the singular title, but…this one still hurts.