July 09, 2010
From a real-life perspective, the Rangers and Mariners both did well with Friday's Cliff Lee trade. Texas gets a legitimate front-of-the-rotation ace, a move that helps solidify the division and makes them more formidable for the playoffs. The Mariners get a decent haul from their flipping of Lee - Texas certainly paid more for the lefty than Seattle did back in the winter.
But from a fantasy perspective, the move is a little backwards. We don't like to see the star pitcher going to a hitter's park, or the ready-made hitting prospect going to a pitcher's park.
Let's go player-by-player (in the deal and around the deal) and figure out what it all means:
• Cliff Lee: He's got seven career starts at Arlington and the results haven't been pretty: 7.62 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, .311 BAA. To be fair, a handful of those starts were made before he developed into the dominant ace that he is today, and Lee's only start in Texas this year was a dazzling one. When a pitcher of Lee's magnitude is on his game, the yard isn't that big a deal.
That all said, we have to consider the change in parks at least on some level. Safeco Field is currently the second-worst park in the AL when it comes to impacting scoring, while Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is the second-best environment. Bottom line, if I had Lee in a league of consequence, this is not where I'd want him to be traded to.
The supporting cast in Texas is a step forward, of course. The Rangers hit much better than Seattle, and the bullpen is a lot better too (3.26 ERA vs. 4.80). Then again it's not like the Mariners were holding back Lee from victories - the guy had seven wins in his last nine starts.
If I were doing a Shuffle Up and Deal right this moment and Lee were guaranteed to be on the Mariners through the season, I'd call him a $31 pitcher. Shifting to Texas, I'm going to chop a buck or two off the price. Nothing major, but a summer in Arlington will be felt, even if it's a mild bump in the ratio stats.
• Justin Smoak(notes): From a playing-time perspective, this swap might save Smoak's season. The Rangers were giving a lot of consideration to making Smoak a platoon player for the balance of 2010, given how he's been utterly lost against left-handed pitching (.139/.207/.266, albeit it's a sample of 79 at-bats). The Mariners would be wise to just let Smoak play every day and grow as a hitter; they're not going anywhere in 2010, so the focus needs to be on player development.
Smoak won't get to enjoy the Arlington undertow any longer, but he wasn't really getting a bump from that anyway - his home and road stats are pretty similar through 70 games, and he's actually slugging 44 points higher on the road. He's still just 23 and projects to be a very good first baseman for the Mariners for the balance of the decade. But for the rest of 2010, he's probably a marginal corner option in a mixed league.
• Chris Davis(notes): Here's the point-and-click move you want to consider Friday night, the player not in the deal that gets the biggest bump. The Rangers recalled Davis from the minors Friday, where he assembled a robust .354/.403/.555 line over 67 games. You should know the upside (all that power) and the downside (all those strikeouts) here, but the pot odds justify a grab-and-hope pickup in any competitive mixer. Look for Ron Washington to give Davis a chance to prove himself, starting on Saturday.
• Michael Pineda: He wasn't in the deal but this is a prospect you want to familiarize yourself with. Pineda is a big right-hander in the Seattle system, just 21, and he could get a shot with the big club sometime this summer. He was superb in two months at Double-A earlier this season (2.22 ERA, a strikeout per inning) and he's been dynamic since his promotion to Triple-A three starts ago (2.37 ERA, five walks, 26 whiffs over 19 innings).
• Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, Matt Lawson: These are the three minor leaguers the Mariners recoup in the Lee trade. Beavan is a former No. 1 pick who's got a chance to be a Doug Fister(notes) clone; a tall righty that gets by more with location and guile as opposed to raw stuff. He's currently in Double-A. Lueke is a right-handed relief prospect who's probably a solid year away from seeing Seattle; he's piling up the strikeouts this summer (62 in 38.1 innings) but that's also coming from a 25-year-old who's been at Single-A and Double-A in 2010. Lawson is a 24-year-old second base prospect who's had an up-and-down minor league record; he's a longshot pick, not a blue chipper.