Well, it looks like the conversations about him being traded are finally over, as Cliff Lee was finally traded today. With the Twins, Reds, and half a dozen other teams in the conversation yesterday, and the Yankees looking like they were nearly a done deal this morning, it was a bit of a surprise to have this turn out the be the trade:
Texas Rangers acquires SP Cliff Lee, SP Mark Lowe and $2.5 M
Seattle Mariners acquire 1B Justin Smoak, P Blake Beavan, P Josh Lueke, and 2B Matthew Lawson.
Clearly, the Rangers get the ace that their pitching staff needs. By slotting Lee into the top of the rotation, it can really help them push everyone else back a step to a better fit. Their rotation, with Lee, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Scott Feldman, and potentially Rich Harden later on, seems to me like a real strength now. The team was already well ahead of the pack in the AL West, and I think that with Lee they now are in that group with the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox. The playoffs in the American League are going to be something else.
In terms of fantasy impact, clearly the Rangers aren’t quite the defensive team that the Mariners are, and the Ballpark in Arlington is much more of an offense driven stadium than Safeco Field was. However, Lee pitched excellently last season in Philadelphia, a similar stadium environment. I have no concerns about Lee for the rest of the season.
I did find it a bit interesting that the Rangers asked for Mark Lowe as well, who is out for the season. There had been some concerns as well that the Rangers were going to need to get the full salary paid by the Mariners as well, since the Rangers are in bankruptcy proceedings at the moment. However, it appears that this will not have any impact on the trade.
At worst, the Rangers will have the next 2+ months of Lee, and will most assuredly offer him arbitration and get two draft picks of compensation for losing him. I wonder if they may even be able to sign him long term potentially, as he is from Arkansas originally, and not terribly far away from home.
Clearly, the top piece they acquired here is Justin Smoak. Smoak will be penciled into the 1B spot for the Mariners, and while I think that he will see a drop in some of his power numbers compared to what he would have done with the Rangers, but he should still be a solid 1B. Long term, I can see him hitting .300+ with about 20 homers for the Mariners in a season. I think that his slugging percentage, while it should be slightly lower, should still be solid with the large alleys in the outfield of Safeco Field.
What about the other prospects that the M’s got back?
Blake Beavan is a 21 year old right hander who had been at AA for the Rangers. He has a 10-5 record with a 2.78 ERA and a very respectable 68/12 strikeout-to-walk rate while there. The numbers appear legitimate, as he has a 3.23 FIP this season, and a 5.1% HR/FB rate for the season. As strange as it sounds, he’s was almost an extra pitcher for the Rangers, as he was not even in their top 10 prospects according to Baseball America before the season. I imagine he’s going to still be in AA for the Mariners, and spend next season at AAA. A career 48% groundball rate leads me to believe he’s going to do well in Seattle once he gets there, even without the dominating strikeouts.
Josh Lueke is a bit of an older prospect, only at AA this season in his age 25 season. A closer, he has recorded 12 saves between High-A and AA this season. The strikeouts are a bit ridiculous though, with 62 so far over 38 1/3 innings pitched between both levels. Even at AA he has managed to maintain an excellent rate, striking out 12.5 per 9 innings. I would guess that his ETA is probably next season sometime, as he could be fast tracked up to AAA by the Mariners potentially before the end of the season.
Matthew Lawson seems like a bit of a throw in, as he looks like a solid prospect but nothing amazing. A 14th round pick originally, he looks like he might fit the mold of a good fielding, reasonable hitting 2B. At AA, he has hit .277/.371/.438 this season with 7 homeruns and 3 stolen bases. To me, he’s a bit of a project, as he’s not dominating in the way you would hope he would to be a top prospect, but he is only 24 still and this is his first go around in AA. I think he does have a reasonable chance to be useful at the Majors, potentially as a utility type player.
Overall, I think this looks like a trade that both teams can win over time. The Rangers get the big arm that they need to help propel them through the playoffs, and the Mariners got not only an elite prospect in Smoak, but also top tier talents in Beavan, Lueke and Lawson. Amazingly, the Rangers didn’t really empty the system particularly either, and will still receive 2 draft picks if they can’t resign him after the season. Job well done from both general managers.