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For Yanks, M's, what if Lee went to NY?

National League All-Star Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia

National League All-Star Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the third inning of the 82nd MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field. (July 12, 2011) Credit: Getty

It is way too early to judge the Mariners' Cliff Lee trade, one year and 17 days later. The young players they acquired July 9 last year are still young, and the jury is still out on whether they really are players. Anyway, it's a heck of a lot more fun to judge the trade they didn't make.

Imagine if, instead of dealing Lee to the Rangers, they had shipped him to the Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero, who reportedly was offered. Maybe the Mariners would not have entered Yankee Stadium last night with a franchise-record 15-game losing streak that became a 16-game streak. Montero, or Eduardo Nuñez or Ivan Nova, might have been able to help win one game between July 5 and 24.

What's more, the Mariners probably would have been in town to face the American League champion -- and maybe the world champion -- Yankees. Don't you think that if Lee had been on the Yankees instead of the Rangers, the Yankees would have won the pennant?

Perhaps Montero will turn out to be great. This observer believes it is too bad for the Yankees that they didn't make the Mariners an offer they couldn't refuse. You also can make a case that it is too bad for the Mariners that they can't have a do-over.

"I remember the day exactly. I was in the cage and they came and pulled me out and told me. I was kind of in shock," said Justin Smoak, the key Seattle acquisition in the deal. He started at first base Monday night, carrying a .224 average with 12 homers and 43 RBIs. Then again, he's only 24.

He is learning the hard way, through some serious hard knocks. Three weeks ago Tuesday, the Mariners had won three in a row and were 2½ games out of first in the AL West. They were young overachievers, one of baseball's most inspiring stories.

But they haven't won since.

"We'll be tougher for going through this," manager Eric Wedge said. "We'll be stronger for it, better for it, a little bit wiser for the wear."

Wedge played his trump card Sunday, shaving off his bushy mustache. It didn't work. His club lost to the Red Sox, 12-8, and he was left looking for fresh superstitions. "I've got a few things left, I guess, but we've pulled most of it out,'' Wedge said. "You don't wait 15 games to start doing things."

Still, Wedge sees rainbows up ahead. "We're building something here," he said, adding that the Mariners are ahead of where the Indians were in their rebooting when he managed them.

Their cornerstones are youth and pitching, so it is unlikely they will trade Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez in a Lee-like deal. But you never know. Seattle has changed course twice, trading youngsters for Lee in December 2009, then trading Lee for youngsters last July.

Pitcher Blake Beavan, 22, acquired from the Rangers in the Lee trade, is 1-2 with a respectable 3.04 ERA. "Cliff Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball and probably always will be, as long as he plays,'' he said. "That kind of shows me that the Mariners liked all of us who were in the trade. I think it's a pretty good compliment for us, for them to give all of us the opportunity to play in the big leagues."

Smoak also sees it as a compliment that the Mariners held out for him rather than Montero in the Lee deal. "That's pretty good," the first baseman said. "Cliff Lee is a great pitcher, a Cy Young-caliber pitcher."

A question now is who might go this year. "We'll continue to find out who's going to be a part of this and who isn't. Ultimately, we want to have tough players," Wedge said. "Each trade is independent of one another, and if you're looking to get better and it makes sense, you have to consider it."

His team -- and the Yankees -- also might consider whether the best trades really are the ones you don't make.

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