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SEATTLE -- There is still a feeling around baseball that it is a matter of when, not if, Cliff Lee will become a Yankee.
The Yankees just missed out on Lee on Friday as he was shipped to Texas, but the in-bankruptcy Rangers acquiring Lee assures he will become a free agent.
The Rangers are renting Lee. The Yankees will look to buy.
The Yankees will have one more postseason in which they could possibly face Lee, but then the expectation around baseball is he likely will sign as a Yankee during free agency.
On Friday, Lee guarded his hand, but he knows the situation very well. The Yankees can offer the most money, and Lee has been told good things about the organization by his buddies CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. You can do the math.
There were times Friday when Lee thought he had found his home. He called Sabathia to see what he had heard. Sabathia told Lee that coaches Dave Eiland and Mike Harkey had asked about Lee's background. On Friday afternoon -- when the Yankees were in the driver's seat -- Lee and Sabathiahad lunch together while their wives plotted on where the Lees should live.
Lee sat back and watched "SportsCenter," seeing the reports he could be going to the Yankees. He texted Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik and asked whether he would pitch against the Yankees on Friday night. Lee was told to stay by his phone. When it finally rang, he thought he might be heading to the road clubhouse at Safeco to become a Yankee.
"It seemed like it nearly happened," Lee said.
Although Zduriencik denied it, it felt like the Yankees were used so Texas would include first baseman Justin Smoak in the deal. In the end, Seattle said Yankees second-base prospect David Adams was injured.
There is fallout from the Yankees' failure to land Lee now. There is still a feeling Phil Hughes, an All-Star, could eventually be the Yankees' answer in the bullpen. It confirms what was assumed, that Javy Vazquez certainly will be one-and-done in pinstripes. It shows that a year and a half into Burnett's stay, the Yankees don't fully trust him.
Manager Joe Girardi, who avoided specifics, said he will get a pulse of how those guys will react to the fact the Yankees were trying to add a sixth starter to their team.
"Anytime you add a player, there is always a trickle-down effect," Girardi said.
For the Yankees, it also reveals a willingness to give up on Jesus Montero. A baseball official with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking told ESPNNewYork.com that the team views Montero as a plus-hitter and thinks he has improved his catching skills -- although he still needs some work on, among other things, his accuracy on throws to second. He does have a powerful arm.
The Yankees also really like Double-A prospect Austin Romine and project him to be possibly a .275, 20-homer catcher one day.
Even if Montero ends up being a monster player, it wouldn't be with the Yankees for a few more years and it is unclear where he would play if he remained in the organization. While the Yankees say the 20-year-old has improved as a catcher, he likely isn't ready to take over for Jorge Posada any time soon. Monetro can't move to first base because of Mark Teixeira, and they don't want to clog the DH rotation.
It is a sign of respect for Montero's potential that he could have been dealt for Lee. Now, Montero remains with the Yankees and -- who knows? -- one day, he could be catching Lee.
The Sabathias may already be picking out the neighborhood for the Lees to move in.
"Hopefully, we can get him next year," Sabathia said.
For now, Lee is heading to Texas, traded for the third time in the past year. He knows, though, his next move will be on his terms.
"I think this will be the last time I will have to do this for awhile," Lee said.
He gets to pick his next team, and all signs point to the Bronx.
Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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