Everyone has been all atwitter* lately about the possibility that the Reds might land Seattle lefty Cliff Lee for the stretch run. I will admit that the thought of adding Lee agrees with me. Will it happen?

I’m skeptical, but reports seem to indicate that the Reds are in the running, at the very least. Buster Olney thinks that the Twins are “in the lead,” whatever that means, while Ken Rosenthal says the Rangers could be “the favorite” to land Lee. All seem to agree, however, that the Reds are certainly in the discussion. According to Rosenthal:

A number of people in the industry say the Cincinnati Reds are motivated to get Lee — and have the prospects to entice the Mariners.

Cincinnati has become a “sleeper” team in the Lee sweepstakes, one rival general manager said Wednesday. A separate source said the teams have exchanged names “in preliminary fashion” but have yet to discuss firm proposals.

Lee is the most-talked-about commodity on the midseason trade market, and there are several reasons why the Reds could be a fit.

… The Mariners need offense, and Cincinnati has two big hitters at Triple-A who could headline an offer for Lee: third baseman/first baseman Juan Francisco or first baseman/left fielder Yonder Alonso.

… The Reds also have pitching prospects to trade, including starters Matt Maloney and Travis Wood. (Both are currently on the major-league club.)

… Unlike the talent-rich Rangers, the Reds don’t play in the same division as the Mariners — or even the same league. (The Rangers are a strong suitor for Lee, but trading within the division can be problematic.)

… The recent injury to Aaron Harang, Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter, has given the front office great incentive to trade for a pitcher.

One source said the Reds are aware that they would probably need to surrender Francisco or Alonso in order to obtain the Mariners’ ace.

They can have Francisco, as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I certainly don’t have any problem with Cincinnati dealing Alonso, either. The question is what else will it take to get the trade done? “A ton,” according to John Fay:

The Reds know it will take a lot to get Cliff Lee.

“It’s going to take a ton,” an insider said.

The Reds are in a good position because the Mariners reportedly want players close to major league-ready. Yonder Alonso, Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco all fit into that category. All three are blocked from getting into the starting lineup over the next two seasons. The Reds may also be willing to part with Travis Wood or Matt Maloney.

I do not get the sense that anything is in immediate offing. But Walt Jocketty and two of his top people, Bob Miller and Cam Bonifay, are on the trip. That is unusual.

So there you go. I don’t like the idea of renting a player for two months; I would prefer having Lee past 2010, of course. That isn’t likely to happen, in my opinion. The question then becomes: what would you give up for a Lee rental? Using some names that have been tossed out, I’d trade Francisco, Mesoraco, and Maloney in about one second or less. Obviously, there’s no way that trade would be accepted by the Mariners. What about Alonso and Wood as the centerpieces of a trade? Is that too much?

I say no, that is not too much to give up. Everyone overvalues their prospects, including us. I really like Wood, and I remain very high on Yonder Alonso, but we know what Cliff Lee can do on the major league level. I’d get rid of both Alonso and Wood in a second for a World Series appearance. Wouldn’t you?

The problem, of course, is that the Reds aren’t guaranteed even a playoff appearance if they make this upgrade to their rotation. I think it’s worth the gamble, though. According to Accuscore (and take this for whatever it’s worth), Cliff Lee projects to be worth two additional wins to the Reds for the remainder of 2010. Cincinnati’s playoff prospects (Wild Card or division title) bump up to a 75% chance, while the Reds improve to a 51% favorite to win the division over St. Louis.

Okay, I know those numbers just made your eyes gloss over. Mine too. Suffice to say that adding Lee to the Cincinnati rotation improves the team. I’m all for improving the team. That said, I’d be very surprised if the Reds landed Cliff Lee. There are a lot of suitors out there. I’m just not sure Walt Jocketty is going to be willing to pull the trigger when it comes down to decision time.

*See what I did there?