Commentary

Battle of the future teammates?

It's Lee vs. Hughes on Tuesday night in the Bronx -- interesting, no?

Updated: June 29, 2010, 10:57 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNEWYork.com

NEW YORK -- It is a current No. 1 against a future No. 1 and both could be on the New York Yankees at this time next year as No. 2s. Or, No. 2 and 2-A.

Seattle Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee, and all he means to the Yankees this year and beyond, will pay a visit to the mound in Bronx, N.Y. on Tuesday for a dynamite pitching matchup against Phil Hughes. Hughes, of course, means so much to the Yankees this year and beyond, as well.

[+] EnlargeHughes
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireThe Yankees feel it's important to limit Hughes's innings, hoping he'll be able to pitch into November.

The main storyline will be on the Hughes Rules. Coming off the implementation of the first round of the new rules, a poor start will cause a roar that the Yankees are doing another Joba on Hughes. After 10 days off, Hughes enters at 10-1 with a 3.17 ERA.

In pushing Hughes' start back a week-and-a-half, the Yankees also likely revealed their strategy for the second round of the Hughes Rules. His final start of the first half now falls on July 8 in Seattle. After that, the fourth starter slot will not be needed until July 20th against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium. Hughes possibly could pitch to a batter or two in the All-Star Game on July 13, but, in effect, Hughes will have nearly another two weeks without essentially missing another turn.

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Lee, the most impactful starter potentially on the upcoming trade and free-agent market, could very well be a Yankee at some point, maybe sooner than later. He is once again pitching brilliantly with a 2.39 ERA.

The Yankees continue to monitor if the Mariners will make Lee available and what he will cost. The feeling is that Seattle wants a top-flight catching prospect to lead a package for Lee. The Yankees have two of those, Jesus Montero at Triple-A and Austin Romine at Double-A. They are in perfect position if they want to do something. The Yankees, though, could just wait for free agency. If a team like the Twins, who have a new cash-cow ballpark and a top catching prospect in Wilson Ramos, go get Lee, they likely won't sign him. By going for it in 2010, Minnesota would look at the deal as Lee and two compensatory picks (which they would receive when Lee signed with another team as a free agent) for a package led by Ramos.

The Yankees might have to face Lee again in the playoffs, as they did in last year's World Series, but they would hold onto their catching inventory, deciding who really is the heir to Jorge Posada -- Montero, Romine or Francisco Cervelli.

The decision Cashman stares at with the young catchers is similar to the one he wouldn't blink at with Hughes. Cashman chose to hang onto Hughes instead of having him lead a potential trade for Johan Santana, then on the Minnesota Twins, in 2007. Cashman instead waited for CC Sabathia to become a free agent and simply signed him for $160-plus million and kept Hughes for himself.

Hughes, who just turned 24, is making Cashman's strategy look brilliant, even if comes with the side impact of implementing controversial rules.

The Yankees have purposely tried to keep the rules low-key and there have only been a few stories about them, but they are real and they are now out in the open with scrutiny to follow.

Hughes, though, seems more prepared to handle his less-limiting rules than Joba Chamberlain. Hughes already has made the need for Lee less pressing.

With A.J. Burnett counting the minutes and seconds until pitching coach Dave Eiland returns on Tuesday, Hughes, along with the re-emergence of Javier Vazquez, has made it possible for the Yankees to overcome Burnett's awful pitching.

Hughes has shown high-end stuff, where you could easily imagine him receiving the ball in a playoff game. This means Lee is not yet a must-have. Though, on Tuesday, he will give the Yankees a preview of what is possibly to come, this season and beyond.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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