Will Cliff Lee pitch for M's tonight ... or Yanks?

Is it "all but certain" that Cliff Lee is about to join the New York Yankees? Every other contending team in the American League must hope not. Joel Sherman this morning:

    The Yanks were not assured of obtaining Lee since other clubs such as the Mets, Twins and Rangers were in talks.

    But the Yanks were definitely making the strongest move last night, coming from seeming disinterest into the clear front-runner -- and last night it seemed they were all but certain to obtain the 31-year-old lefty.


    Yankee management looked at its rotation and had some pause. CC Sabathia again was an ace and Andy Pettitte is pitching as well now as ever. But A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez are not fully trustworthy, especially for the playoffs, and Phil Hughes has an innings limit of about 175, and might not be available to start.

    Cashman might now be in position to either put Hughes in the bullpen to bolster that shaky area or trade a starter, possibly Vazquez, for a few prospects. It was possible that injured Double-A second baseman David Adams also was part of the deal to Seattle since he is a player the Mariners like a great deal.

    The Yanks also were obviously worried about being in a highly competitive division with the Red Sox and Rays, and Lee is the kind of player who can separate them. Having Sabathia and Lee -- one-time Indians teammates -- as a 1-2 punch atop the rotation turn the Yanks into even stronger favorites to repeat as champions.

Coals to Newcastle, right? The Yankees have the best record in the majors and their top three starters are 32-7.

But as Sherman points out, Hughes is eventually going to run into a management-prescribed innings limit, and both Burnett and Vazquez have ERAs approaching 5.

Granted, both could start for any other team in the majors. But the Yankees are going to make an immense profit this season -- and for as many seasons in the future as you care to count. Should they not apply their financial advantage when a moment like this arrives? Ownership seems to take some pride in not simply grabbing all the best free agents every winter, which is why they've got eight All-Stars rather than a dozen, and a $210 million payroll rather than $250 million (which they could afford, with plenty left over). But Vazquez actually makes more money than Lee this season; if the Yankees get Lee and trade Vazquez -- even if they have to send some money along in the deal -- they can claim that they've actually lowered their payroll.

Anyway, that's the Yankees. They've got little reason to not do this deal.

What of the Mariners, though? There are still questions about Montero's future as a catcher in the majors. Sure, maybe he'll hit enough to play first base and the Mariners could use a first baseman. But shouldn't they be a little concerned about Montero's struggles in Triple-A this season?

No, probably not. He's 20. At 19, he was devastating in both the Florida State League and the Double-A Eastern League. Maybe the scouts have some concerns, but numbers-wise there's nothing wrong with a 20-year-old doing what he's doing this year.

Which isn't to say the Yankees have this thing locked up. As Buster Olney reports this morning, "it's possible another team could step in and make a more aggressive bid."

I think this deal might hinge upon the secondary prospect. The Yankees can offer Montero. The Twins can offer a catcher, Wilson Ramos. Other clubs might not have similarly talented catchers they're willing to trade, but they do have similarly talented players. The price is presumably one Grade A prospect, and at least one lesser prospect. So then it comes down to how much lesser.