Everybody thought earlier today that Cliff Lee would be on his way out of Seattle. They were right. Instead of heading to the visitor’s clubhouse in Seattle to join the New York Yankees, however, he joins the division rival Texas Rangers, along with RP Mark Lowe. Coming back to Seattle will be Justin Smoak and three others according to this Joel Sherman tweet. This deal has also been confirmed by Ken Rosenthal, who adds that the Mariners will be sending cash to the Rangers to help cover the $4M that Lee is owed over the rest of the season.
Earlier today, some thought that Jesus Montero was a solid haul for Lee, along with the rest of the package. In that case, the return of Justin Smoak has to be seen as an absolute steal. Smoak had an .885 OPS between three different leagues in 2009. Smoak then posted a 1.010 OPS in 15 games with AAA Oklahoma City before receiving a call-up to the big leagues. His power hasn’t really materialized at the big league level (.145 ISO), but a 13.8% walk rate in 275 PAs is incredibly encouraging, and his .238 BABIP is bound to see a boost.
Smoak was the #13 prospect by Baseball America entering the season, ranking below Montero’s rank as #4. However, Smoak is obviously closer to the big leagues and his position is clear; I feel that Montero’s #4 rank may be influenced by an unrealistic projection of him as a catcher. Smoak is probably better than Matt LaPorta was at the time of the Brewers acquisition of CC Sabathia in 2008, the gold standard of pitcher rental deals. Given that Smoak is already in the big leagues and carries tons of promise with him, the Mariners have to be exceptionally happy with this deal. The deal also includes RHP Blake Beavan, RHP Josh Lueke, and 2B Matt Lawson going to Seattle.
For the Rangers, they pick up the man who has obviously been the best pitcher in the American League. It’s a large boost for a rotation with a meager 4.54 FIP and 4.66 xFIP. Cliff Lee gives them the legitimate ace that just isn’t there with Rich Harden, Scott Feldman, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, and the others that have inhabited the Rangers rotation this season. Lee could ostensibly be a three win gain for this team down the stretch – likely unnecessary for making the playoffs, as I don’t think the Angels would’ve been able to make up 7.5 games, but this is another nail in the Angels’ coffin. Still, Lee has to increase the Rangers’ chances of making a deep run in the postseason, as he showed he can put his mark on a series last season.
This trade also has the interesting dynamic of being an intradivisional trade. Picking up Lee means certainly avoiding him in the remaining games that Texas has against Seattle. At the same time, though, the Rangers traded an exceptional hitting talent to a team that they play 20 times a season for the next six years. My initial reaction is that this trade is a dangerous proposition for the Rangers. With Lee only on their team for the next three months, the Rangers have to hope for instant gratification, in the sense of a World Series victory, as this trade has the potential to bite them for years to come.
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