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Yanks will get Lee — but when?

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Yankees are going to end up with Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee. The only question is whether they land him in a trade this summer or as a free agent this winter — and a trade might not be as far-fetched as it appears.

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True, the Yankees currently boast five healthy and effective starters. True, they simply could wait for Lee to become a free agent and sign him in the offseason without losing any young talent. But one rival executive says the Yankees will be undeterred in their pursuit of Lee on the trade market.

His reasoning is simple.

“Top of the rotation starter,” the exec says.

In fact, the Yankees might even have landed Lee last winter if the Phillies had been more willing to trade the left-hander to the team that beat them in the World Series.

The Phillies, who drew criticism within the industry for not shopping Lee more aggressively, actually approached the Yankees in the final 36 to 48 hours before completing the three-team blockbuster that brought right-hander Roy Halladay to Philadelphia and sent Lee to Seattle, major-league sources said.

The Yankees were willing to include top catching prospect Jesus Montero in a package for Lee, according to two sources. But the Phillies’ overall asking price was so high, the talks never advanced, another source said.

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The dynamic now is different; the Yankees’ rotation is perhaps their greatest strength, ranking second in the American League in ERA. Javier Vazquez is pitching better. Phil Hughes is developing into a star. And remember, the Yankees refrained from trading for Johan Santana after the 2007 season in order to wait for CC Sabathia as a free agent the following year.

The Mariners, however, are preparing for the Yankees to pursue Lee, according to the New York Post, which quoted a “person familiar with Seattle’s thought process” as saying the team would ask for one of the Yankees’ young catchers as well as Triple A shortstop Eduardo Nunez.

The Yankees, to part with such a package, would want assurances that they could sign Lee to an extension, the Post said.

The Mariners, according to the newspaper, already are scouting the Yankees’ farm system. The Yankees, in turn, are certain to scout Lee in the coming weeks, but perhaps only as preparation for his free agency. Yankees scouts saw approximately 20 of Sabathia’s starts in 2008 before the team signed him as a free agent at the end of that season.

Lee repeatedly has made it clear that he wants to hit the open market, but the Yankees almost certainly will be his high bidder and perhaps he would make an exception to get to them sooner.

The Mariners would need to grant the Yankees permission to open a negotiating window with Lee for such a deal to transpire.

Lee, for his part, is leaving his options open regarding a possible extension.

“If we were to get to that point, we would just take it on a team-by-team basis,” Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker, said.

Tagged: Yankees, Mariners, Phillies, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes

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