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Comparing the Cliff Lee Hauls

July 23, 2010

Two weeks and three starts ago, the Texas Rangers swooped into the mix and pulled off a trade with the Seattle Mariners for starting pitcher Cliff Lee – easily the most coveted pitcher available this season. Despite the weeks of rumors, there was little said about the likelihood of Texas being able to make a deal due to the organization’s ongoing bankruptcy concerns and the still-pending sale. Yet, despite the inability to take on additional payroll the Rangers were the ones who came up with a package offer that Seattle opted to accept.

The trade marked the third time since the start of the 2009 season that Lee has been traded. Each trade has varied greatly, both in terms of players given up and publicity leading up to the deal. Each of the three trading teams (and acquiring teams) had varied motives for making such a deal. So let’s take a look at how the situations compare.

Just two days prior to the July trade deadline in 2009, the Cleveland Indians sat 12.0 games back in the division with a 42-60 record. Mired in what was shaping up to be yet another losing season, Indians management saw an opportunity to seek a group of younger players to contribute to the rebuilding efforts that ultimately the organization was about to be facing. Having already dealt away an ace starting pitcher the previous season, Indians fans felt a sense of déjà vu as Lee was clearly about to be dealt away.

Lee and seldom used outfielder Ben Francisco would be dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies, who sat 6.0 games up in their division with a 58-41 record, in exchange for four prospects – pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson.

Lee would go on to make 12 starts for the Phillies, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.39 ERA. He’d prove to be the pitcher they’d need in order to hold onto their division lead and the team would advance all the way to the World Series, only to lose in six games to the New York Yankees. In five postseason starts he’d post a 4-0 record with a 1.56 ERA, including winning both games the Phillies would take from New York. Lee fit right in with the Phillies, he dominated the National League, and fans adored him. Francisco, meanwhile, has amassed just over 200 at bats over the latter half of the 09 season and thus far in 2010. He’s posted a .254/.302/.434 line with 7 HR and 26 RBI while serving primarily as the fourth outfielder for the Phillies.

Knapp, a hard throwing righty drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, was shut down shortly after being acquired by the Indians due to an injury to his pitching arm. He has yet to get back on the mound this season but most within the Indians organization still feel he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter once he develops.

Carrasco would put up a 5-1 record with a 3.19 ERA for the Indians AAA affiliate after the trade and would earn a September callup. He’d make five starts with minimal success, 0-4 with a 8.84 ERA. After missing out on a spot in the rotation at the onset of the 2010 season, he’s flourished in the minors. Carrasco is 8-4 in 19 starts with a 3.98 ERA, 100 strikeouts, and a .230 opponent’s batting average. Sometime in August he should get the callup he’s earned and once he joins Cleveland’s rotation it likely will be a permanent move.

Donald, once a standout for Team USA, also was shutdown with an injury shortly after the trade last season. The versatile infielder got off to a slow start to the 2010 season but did make his Major League debut with a 2 for 3 showing on May 18 after Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera went down with an injury. Over 51 games (169 at bats) he’s put up a .272/.324/.420 line and impressed defensively. Long term he will likely find himself a home at second base.

Finally, there is Marson. Over the end of the 09 season and early on in 2010, he struggled mightily at the plate. In 185 at bats he put up a .205/.287/.292 line with 1 HR and 16 RBI. While showing potential behind the plate, the offensive struggles simply could not be overlooked by an organization hurting to score runs. Once top prospect Carlos Santana had proved enough in the minors and earned a callup to Cleveland in early June, Marson was optioned back to AAA where his struggles have continued (.170/.310/.298).

During the 2009-2010 offseason, Cliff Lee again found himself being traded but this time it was to little fanfare. In fact, most were not even aware that he was available until news broke that he had been traded once again. After the Phillies made a splash by acquiring Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays, the team turned around and sent Lee to Seattle on December 19th in exchange for three players – outfielder Tyson Gillies and pitchers J.C. Ramirez and Phillippe Aumont. Many rival executives have since come out and admitted that Philadelphia didn’t shop Lee around as most teams would do. Many even went as far as to say that they’d of given up a package of players far superior to what Seattle gave up, had they been given an opportunity. Nobody knows why Philadelphia chose to only negotiate with the Mariners outside of GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and to date he hasn’t made any comments regarding that decision.

Gillies, in his first taste at AA at age 21, has struggled at the plate in just over 100 at bats. He’s put up a .238/.286/.333 line but hasn’t played since mid-June due to an injury. He showed good promise while in the Mariners organization, in particular in his ability to get on base and flashed great speed – stealing 80 bases in 113 attempts.

Ramirez began the 2010 season in A ball where he put up a 4-3 record and 4.06 ERA in 11 starts before being promoted to AA. There he’s gone 2-2 with a 4.80 ERA in 7 starts. Overall in 109.1 innings of work he’s allowed opposing batters to hit at a .268 clip while striking out about 3 for every 1 walk.

Aumont, meanwhile, was the “prize” of the package. The former first round pick (11th overall in the 2007 draft) was once viewed as a top of the rotation type starter before the Mariners moved him to the bullpen during the 09 season in an effort to expedite his rise to the Major Leagues. The Phillies opted to move him back into the rotation at the onset of the season and assigned him to AA. However, after 11 starts his numbers were less than impressive – a 7.43 ERA, 1-6 record, and as many walks as strikeouts (38) in just 49.2 innings. He was demoted back to A ball where he’s been primarily working out of the bullpen and has shown slight improvements. Through 28.1 innings he has a 1-1 record, 4.45 ERA, and his K/9 rate is back up over 10.0.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, Lee performed up to expectations after missing most of the first month of the season due to a late Spring Training abdominal injury. Over 13 starts and 103.2 innings he posted a 8-3 record, 2.34 ERA, 5 complete games, with an astonishing 14.83 strikeout/walk ratio (more than double his previous career high).

Brought in to provide a compliment to Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, Seattle was hoping to compete in the AL West this season. Things haven’t quite worked out as planned and with the team in dead last there seemed to be no logical reason for the organization to hold onto such a valuable player who was sure to leave via free agency this coming offseason.

So, the Mariners reluctantly began shopping Lee’s services and there were countless teams rumored to be in the hunt for the lefty. Despite rumored deals involving top prospects in Minnesota and New York, Seattle ended up shipping Lee to their own division rivals in Texas. Lee, along with injured reliever Mark Lowe (who’s out for the remainder of the season due to back surgery), went to Texas in exchange for four players – second baseman Matt Lawson, pitchers Blake Beaven and Josh Lueke, and first baseman Justin Smoak.

Lawson, a 2007 14th round draft pick, has primarily played second base but has also seen some limited time in left field. Over just under 1400 career minor league at bats he’s put up a .280/.349/.408 line with limited power and some flashes of speed. While a solid defender, he profiles most likely as a utility type player more so due to the depth ahead of him in the Seattle organization than from a lack of ability.

Beaven was drafted in the first round of the 07 draft (17th overall) and has shown a great deal of promise thus far in his professional career. He had a 10-5 record and 2.78 ERA through 17 starts in AA prior to the trade. He doesn’t strike out many batters (just 5.1 per 9 innings over his minor league career) but also doesn’t walk many either (1.4 BB/9).

Lueke has primarily been a closer throughout his brief minor league career. In 104 games (all out of the bullpen) he’s worked 157.1 innings, with 23 saves, a 7-13 record, a 3.38 ERA, and great strikeout rates (11.5 K/9). Like Beaven, he too has spent this season at AA and the two give Seattle some additional pitching depth that isn’t years away.

Smoak, a power hitting first baseman who made his Major League debut earlier this season, was clearly the top prize of this group. Despite being considered one of the top prospects in the game prior to this season, he wasn’t even the best prospect rumored to be heading to Seattle during all of the hoopla leading up to the Lee trade. It’s still early in his career but through 275 at bats Smoak has posted a .207/.302/.356 line with 10 HR and 38 RBI. The power has been there but he’s struggled otherwise offensively. He’ll be given time to straighten things out, however, as Seattle has a lot of faith that he can be a cornerstone to their rebuilding efforts.

After three trades within a 24 month period, Lee surely has to be tired of all the moving around and having to get used to new teammates, new organizations, and new cities. In a few short months he’ll be on the move again in all likelihood as he’ll hit free agency for the first time in his career. In the meantime his focus is on winning games and helping the Rangers into the postseason.

In total 11 players have changed teams for Lee’s services. Ranking them overall based on potential and performance gives another insight into determining which organization gave up the most and received the most.

Rank Player
1. Smoak
2. Carrasco
3. Knapp
4. Beaven
5. Donald
6. Lueke
7. Gillies
8. Lawson
9. Aumont
10. Marson
11. Ramirez

Most critics have said that when looking at the three groups of players it is obvious that Philadelphia received the worst package and gave up the most. Thus far, it would appear that Cleveland got the best. Of course, time will tell how things all work out. Hindsight only allows us to compare to a certain degree.

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