Cliff Lee Won't Be Walking Through That Door

Mariners ship ace to Rangers; Mets, Yankees both left hanging

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Cliff Lee could be wearing another shade of blue.

    Friday started with word that the Yankees and Mariners were "on the brink" of a deal that would have Cliff Lee helping the Yankees win a World Series a year after he did his best to keep them from the title. It closed with a good chance that the Yankees will have to go through Lee again this year if they want to defend their crown.

    After a long, loopy day, the Mariners wound up dealing Cliff Lee to the AL West-leading Texas Rangers in exchange for four prospects highlighted by top-flight slugging prospect Justin Smoak. They became the surprise winners in the race for Lee's services after the Yankees saw their own deal for the lefty unravel over a sprained ankle. David Adams, a second baseman, has one and the Mariners don't want a wounded prospect. 

    That makes the Rangers a mighty good choice as a potential playoff foe for the Yankees. Their lineup has the third-most runs in the American League and they've already got three good starters to go with an All-Star closer in Neftali Feliz. Lee gives them an elite starter, always nice to have in a short series, and makes it a lot easier to see them as serious competition for the American League title.

    The nice thing for the Yankees is that they are still the Yankees. Lee was a luxury item, not a necessity, which means they're still just as good with just as good a record as they were when the day began. It also means they hold on to prized catching prospect Jesus Montero, either to develop or deal for someone else down the line. Best of all, Lee's still likely to be a free agent this winter and the Yankees are likely to get their man at that point.

    Same goes for the Mets, although these things are relative. The Yankees are just as good as they were when the day began and the Mets have just as much of a need for pitching as they did when the day began. Lee was never the only person out there who would improve the rotation (or, alternatively, the bullpen) so this isn't any reason for the team to throw their hands up and say they just tried and failed. What it means for them right now is that shopping season started earlier than expected and they'll need to figure out what other options are most appealing.

    It's also a bit easier to swallow because it never really felt like the Mets were on the verge of getting Lee. Interested? Sure, but they weren't kicking down any doors. For better or worse, he seemed like a dream for the Mets which makes it impossible to feel as if they really missed out on something here. As long as Lee didn't go for a ridiculously low price and stayed out of the National League the Mets seemed like they'd be just fine.

    So, for both New York teams, it's just a shrug of the shoulders and back to work after a sweaty day ends with a blockbuster trade.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.