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Yankees would love life with Lee

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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ALTERNATE NEW YORK

My, what a weekend it’s going to be at Yankee Stadium.

At some point during the next four days, Yankees legend Derek Jeter will likely collect the 3,000th hit of his storied career at Alternate Reality Yankee Stadium. And on Saturday, the Yankees will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the trade that effectively clinched their most recent pennant.

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The acquisition of Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners, of course.

You remember, don’t you? Early on the morning of July 9, 2010, it was reported that the Yankees and Mariners had agreed on a trade that would send Lee to the Bronx, pending physical exams. The deal included the Yankees’ top hitting prospect, Jesus Montero, along with infielder David Adams and right-hander Zach McAllister.

The physicals were a mere formality. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik declared, “Our doctors tell me that David Adams has the finest right ankle they’ve ever seen.” Mariners club president Chuck Armstrong added, “We repeatedly Googled, Binged, and Wikied all three young men and concluded that they possess impeccable character.”

And so that was that. The deal was done. The Texas Rangers, disappointed that they missed out on the market’s biggest pitching prize, traded a little-known hitting prospect named Mitch Moreland (and a couple young arms) to Arizona for righty Dan Haren. There was a rumor that the Angels had interest in Haren, but owner Arte Moreno insisted that they “never made an offer.”

Lee’s impact on the Yankees was immediate. Javier Vazquez was no longer needed as a starter, leaving the Yankees with perhaps the best rotation in the game: CC Sabathia, Lee, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett. Immediately, columnists demanded that Joe Girardi announce his plans for the playoff rotation.

Girardi was uncharacteristically forthcoming.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re going to play the Twins in the first round, and we always beat the Twins in the playoffs. So I know we’ll make it to the ALCS. Texas is going to be there. I don’t like the way A.J. matches up with Bengie Molina, so he’s going to be the odd man out.”

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It was a brilliant move. The Yankees beat the Rangers in six games, with Lee striking out Texas rookie first baseman Justin Smoak for the final out.

The Yankees won their 41st pennant but couldn’t repeat as World Series champions. The Giants’ pitching was just too good. Edgar Renteria was the Game 6 hero, homering off Lee into the left-field stands at AT&T Park. San Francisco won the decisive seventh game, 1-0, in a tightrope ninth inning that ended with a screaming line drive off the bat of Mark Teixeira. It grazed Brian Wilson’s blackened whiskers before landing in the glove of Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

Still, the Yankees’ acquisition of Lee was deemed a success. He signed a five-year, $120 million contract extension to stay in New York. An important consideration was how quickly Lee’s wife, Kristen, grew to love attending games at Yankee Stadium. “I’ve never felt so welcomed at a ballpark,” she said during the playoffs. “This is where we belong.”

Lee’s presence in New York heavily influenced Andy Pettitte’s decision to pitch another season. Pettitte re-signed with the Yankees on an incentive-based one-year deal. The veteran lefty is 9-3 with a 3.21 ERA as he nears the All-Star break, and the Yankees have what is widely regarded as the best pitching staff in baseball. The five starters – Sabathia, Lee, Burnett, Pettitte, and Hughes – were the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story earlier this year.

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The Phillies, meanwhile, signed Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to minor-league deals in January.

“We have no money left,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “None.”

Not surprisingly, the Yankees have the best record in baseball, which eased criticism on the aging Jeter as he neared the milestone. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman looks like a genius for moving Montero when he did, since the 21-year-old’s production at Class AAA Tacoma this season isn’t what it was in 2010.

So, this weekend will be a celebration of on- and off-field Yankee greatness. Maybe Jeter will get his 3,000th hit on Saturday, when Lee pairs up with Tampa Bay’s David Price in a matchup of premier left-handed starters. Makes you wonder what would happen if the two ever met in the postseason.

Tagged: Angels, Yankees, Mariners, Phillies, Giants, Rays, CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes, David Price

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