Monday, July 05, 2010

Everything Cliff Lee....

It's been way too long since I've updated regularly, and since I'm back from vacation, and since the Cliff Lee rumors are flying, let's just heave all these thoughts into cyberspace and hope it looks a little better than fingerpainting.

So is Seattle starting pitcher Cliff Lee really that good?
Well, yeah, he's that good. The usual sabermetric caveats apply with the big one being: he's very, very good, but that doesn't mean he would be very, very good for the next three months. But all the signs are there.

1. The Twins have to LOVE these numbers - 89:6. That's how many strikeouts and walks Lee has so far this year. Thinks the brain trust would like someone like that in the rotation?

2. He certainly has one heck of a lot of incentive. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and the big money teams are going to care a lot about how he performs in the heat of a pennant race and in the playoffs. He (literally) can't afford to choke.

3. And his history has shown that he shines in the spotlight. What really gets people excited about Lee is his performance in the playoffs last year. Facing the very best teams in the majors, he finished 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA. Excuse me while I swoon a bit.

What would it take to get him?
Considering that he's already been traded twice in the last year, we have a pretty good idea what it might take.

When he was traded from the Phillies to the Mariners, the Mariners traded away:
  • Phillippe Aumont - A 21-year-old pitcher who was the Mariners #1 pick in 2007. Lots of upside (he's 6' 7") but also was converted to a relief pitcher already with the Mariners.
  • Juan Ramirez - Another young pitcher who projects to be a mid-rotation starter.
  • Tyson Gillies - A 21-year-old outfielder who excelled last year in High-A (but has struggled mightily this year in AA.)
Aumont was possibly on par with someone like Wilson Ramos, though I think someone like Carlos Gutierrez might be a better comp. Ramirez was a throw-in (though he's performed the best of the three). And Gillies I would put on par with someone like Joe Benson.

Of course, that's part of the reason that Philadelphia was criticized so vehemently when they made the deal. It just didn't seem like they got enough in return. How about when they traded for Lee? They sent the following players to the Indians (and also got back utility outfielder Ben Francisco):
  • Jason Knapp - A 19-year-old flamethrower who needed arthroscopic shoulder surgery shortly after the Indians got him. He's the high upside guy in the deal.
  • Carlos Carrasco - A 23-year-old who was the Phils top pitching prospect but struggled in 2009 in AAA before the trade, and has struggled since.
  • Jason Donald - A 24-year-old shortstop who was also struggling at AAA when he was traded. He looked like a competent starting shortstop, but now looks more like a utility infielder.
  • Lou Marson - A 24-year-old who looked like he could be a lower-tier starting catcher, or a competent backup catcher.
So, as I go through that list and look for Twins comps, I see Deolis Guerra, Kevin Slowey, Trevor Plouffe and Jose Morales. That's taking some liberties, but it's not too far off.

For either of those packages, I'd pull the trigger.

Would the Twins be giving up too much if they offered Aaron Hicks and Wilson Ramos, as was reported by Jeff Fletcher of AOL FanHouse?
That package, in my mind, is better than either of the ones he was traded for previously. However, it is consistent in one way - both of those guys are struggling this year. The same thing was the case for an awful lot of the guys in the first two trades - they were struggling when they were traded for Lee. And not a lot of them have worked out.

Hicks is repeating Low-A ball as a 20-year-old. He's hitting just .259 with 5 home runs. He had an awful start, a stretch where he was an absolute monster, then another awful stretch and he's now settled in at "underwhelming." So while he was probably a better prospect than any of the other guys on this list last offseason, you can bet he's going to be down one or two "stars" in the same evaluations this next year.

And Ramos had an amazing spring training, a fantastic two-game debut with the Twins, and then a whole lot of nothing. He's still just hitting .208. He has been injured again this year. He's struck out 41 times while walking just 8 times. And in his brief major league debut he threw out exactly 0 basestealers (in four attempts). Will his prospect status next offseason go up or down?

Is that too much? I'm not sure it is. It would be nice if it also included a relief pitcher in return, though it's not like the Twins have any shortage of options. They just don't have room for them all on the roster.

Are there any other teams that could drive the price up?
Hmm, how deep do I want to go on this...

Aw hell, I'm already not sleeping tonight. Let's go deep. Here are the teams likely to be buying at the trade deadline:

Probably Looking for Something Else
Atlanta - is likely looking for offense, not pitching.
Boston - already has plenty of pitching options, too.
Chicago White Sox - also needs offense, not pitching.
Cincinnati - is a possibility, but the bullpen is a much, much bigger concern.
Colorado - needs to focus on offense, especially with the injury to Troy Tulowitski.
New York Yankees - had had great starting pitching and are battling injuries in their lineup. Plus, there is no need to trade for a guy they plan to sign this offseason anyway.
San Diego - needs offense, not pitching.
San Francisco - ditto.
Toronto - won't derail it's long term plans by giving away top prospects.

Could Be Interested But There are Obstacles
Los Angeles Angels - They need pitching and have money, but they're also in the same division as the Mariners. I can't imagine them giving up top prospects knowing they'll need to face them 18 games over the next six years.
Los Angeles Dodgers - They need pitching, but it looks like they don't have any money because of the nasty divorce settlement going on with their owner.
Philadelphia Phillies - Often mentioned, but if they didn't have money in the offseason to pay Lee, why would they have it now? Plus, their starting pitching has been pretty good and has J.A. Happ coming back soon.
Texas Rangers - They are often mentioned, but the starting pitching is pretty good and they also don't have any money to spend, as their creditors (including MLB) would need to approve it.

May Be Worth Worrying About
New York Mets - Their pitching has been really good lately, but it's come from suspicious sources, like RA Dickey. They also have money. But GM Omar Minaya has never really pulled off a big deadline deal, and the bullpen looks like a bigger priority.
St. Louis - I don't think they have the prospects to really draw much interest, but they could use a fifth starter, they have the money, and the trio of Lee, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter could get that region REAL excited about the playoffs.
Detroit - They seem like a decent possibility. Again, offense seems to be more the need, and they have had luck rehabbing Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Still, I'm surprised we never hear them mentioned.
Tampa Bay - They've already got a lot of good pitching, but I suppose they could look for an ace, or simply acquire him as a defense of anyone else getting him. They have the prospects, that's for sure. I bet Seattle would love for them to be interested.

The Twins are a better fit than any other team. They have a bigger need than all but a handful, they have the money, and they have the prospects. They aren't the only game in town, and so they'll need to pony up some decent talent in return, but Lee should be attainable if they're willing to make a fair offer.


SethSpeaks said...

Not sure how Kevin Slowey is the equivalent of Carlos Carrasco, but great stuff!!

John said...

Seth, that was the biggest stretch, but here's the thing: entering 2009 Corrasco was a young SP with a K/9 of 9 who was supposed to nab the 5th spot in the Phils rotation. That sounds like Slowey to me.

Now, he's been nowhere near that good since. But when he was traded, he still had that shine from the previous season ( not unlike Hicks & Ramos).

John said...

Seth, Carrasco was the toughest to find a comp. But entering 2009, Corrasco profiled as that Phils top pitching prospect. Here was his writeup at

"After a successful stint in Double-A Reading for much of the 2008 season, Carrasco, the Phillies' 20-year-old top prospect, was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in early-August and saw continued success. Over the course of the year, Carrasco went 9-9 in 25 starts and finished with a 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 155 strikeouts in 151.1 innings pitched."

That, to me, sounds like what we thought Slowey would be back in the day. Carrasco doesn't look like that now, but at the time, he was this stud pitcher thag was just having a tough time in AAA, much like we want to think about Ramos or Hicks now.

JimCrikket said...

For some reason, I thought I had read somewhere that the Tigers had, in fact, been talking to the Ms about Lee. I can't find anything now (other than a mention that they've been among the teams scouting him... but who hasn't been?), so it may have been my imagination. I just remember thinking, "wow, that would suck if the the Tigers somehow ended up with him."

James said...

Hopefully Bill Smith learned from the Santana trade that the Mariners fans will be pushing for them to trade Lee and not get 'nothing' for in him in free agency. The general public doesn't understand the value of the draft picks. I also hope he remebers the iron-clad law for tradeds: one team must get screwed.

Walter Hanson said...

In reading your post you failed to mention two very important points that make the Lee trade for Minnesota worthwhile.

One, Seattle wants an offensive hitting prospect.

And two, if the Twins assume that Mauer is healthy and wants to get the full use of Mauer Ramos really won't have a major league career in Minnesota. So trade him for something useful even if it's a half season that might get the Twins to the World Series again.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN