The breaking news of the day is of course the first big trade of the season. The Seattle Mariners send Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe, and a chunk of cash to the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Matthew Lawson, and Josh Lueke. The Rangers camp has to love this trade since Smoak has been disappointing so far, and they have the playoffs in their sights for the first time in over a decade. And the gravy is that Lee will most likely become a Type A free agent at the end of this season, meaning that if he is offered arbitration and he declines, the Rangers will obtain two top draft picks from whoever eventually signs him.
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The Mariners, who have probably been the most disappointing team thus far this season, abandon ship on 2010 and stock up on prospects. Instead of looking at the value of this group and weighing it against Lee and Lowe to see if this was a fair deal, I’d like to weigh them against the group of guys Seattle traded to acquire Lee just a few months ago. I think this is more interesting because each team’s needs already dictate that this was a win-win trade, the Mariners don’t need Lee right now and the Rangers need a playoff push. The question I’d like to address is did the Mariners get more for Lee tonight than they gave up for him back in December?
The first trade was of course a blockbuster involving four teams. But here’s how it breaks down from the Mariners’ view with the two trades combined:
Cliff Lee for 13 starts
Justin Smoak, 1B
Blake Beavan, RHP
Matthew Lawson, 2B
Josh Lueke, RHP
SEA gives up:
Mark Lowe, RHP
Juan Ramirez, RHP
Phillippe Aumont, RHP
Tyson Gillies, OF
So they trade 4 guys for 4 guys plus a couple intangibles that for the purposes of this analysis are probably a wash. Depending on how you want to value Lee’s production so far this season (which has been stellar), it was probably worth more than $2.5MM. But not enough to worry about. As far as the prospects go, they have never been my area of expertise, but I’ll do my best to collect data from people who know more than me…
Starting with the package that Seattle received, Smoak stands out as the only one with Major League service. He was rated #23 by Baseball America entering 2009 and #13 entering 2010. Those are some pretty big shoes, and he has not quite filled them just yet. Of course he has only been in the majors for less than half a season, so I’m not saying than anyone has or should be giving up on him. Scouts seem to believe that he has star potential, and the Mariners must agree.
Next up is the Rangers’ 2007 1st round draft pick, Blake Beavan. He has been pretty impressive since then, especially this season. Through 17 starts in AA he has pitched to a 2.78 ERA and an impressive 5.67 K/BB. That kind of command for a young player is hard to find, and Baseball America rates him as a 4th or 5th starter now, even with no improvement.
Matthew Lawson is not as popular with the scouts, but he is hitting .277 with 7 HR for AA this year. The same goes for Josh Lueke, who was promoted to AA earlier this year after posting a dazzling 0.46 ERA and 7.20 K/BB for single-A. It seems the Rangers are trying to sell high here, and you bet they are expecting to get two guys just like these or better with those compensatory picks for Lee this winter.
And now for what Seattle surrendered in this pair of deals. Mark Lowe is a former 5th round pick who has been around the majors for a few years now. He will miss the rest of this season with a back injury and was not incredibly effective before that. He has kept his ERA down between 3.0-3.5 but has been plagued by control problems.
Juan or J.C. Ramirez has struggled a little in the minors so far. He has yet to finish a season with an ERA under 4, but teams are enticed by his high strikeout totals. 21-year olds who average 7.7 K/9 innings are not to be discarded. With some patience and some good coaching this kid definitely has some potential.
Phillippe Aumont has been ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects each year since 2008. But he too has struggled, accumulating a 4.58 ERA through 177 innings across A and AA. He is similar to Ramirez in that he wows teams with his strikeouts, sporting an 8.7 K/9 in his minor league career. He has struggled with walks mightily though, walking 4.8 per 9 innings.
Last but not least, Tyson Gillies is a speedy outfielder. He is currently hitting just .238 for AA, but last year he turned in a fantastic season in high-A ball, finishing with a .341/.430/.486 line and 44 stolen bases. He also had 18 outfield assists and just 2 errors. He was a 25th-round pick back in 2006 and seems to be playing above that level, but he still has a long way to go before he cracks the big leagues.
So what does all this mean? It sounds to me like the Mariners are coming away with a bit more than what they lost. I think the two best players of that group of eight may be Smoak and Beavan, and the worst has got to be Mark Lowe. When you add in the fact that they got to gamble with Lee for half a season, the Mariners are coming out of this looking pretty sharp. Well done, Jack Zduriencik and the rest of the front office.