Revisiting The Cliff Lee Trade: The Verdict

Previous entries: The Centerpiece and The Secondary Pieces

So now that we’ve looked at all the players who were or could have been involved in the Cliff Lee trade, what’s the verdict?  The Mariners got a strong package from the Rangers, but could they have done better with the Yankee offer?

Rangers: Justin Smoak gives the Mariners their first baseman of the future, and he’ll probably be in Seattle for at least the next five years.  He figures to be a major part of Seattle’s lineup, providing both power and great on-base numbers.

Josh Lueke is in the bullpen now, and with his stuff and mentality, could easily be in the late-inning picture for Seattle in the near future, but he does bring the baggage of his past with him.  Blake Beaven will never be an ace, but he does have a strong chance of being a solid mid-rotation pitcher in the majors.  Matt Lawson didn’t project to be much, and was traded for Aaron Laffey, a middling lefty currently in Seattle’s bullpen.

Unlike the reported Yankees deal, the M’s had to give up Mark Lowe to the Rangers.  Lowe was on the DL at the time with a back injury, and there were some question as to whether or not he’d ever be able to pitch effectively again.  He’s done alright in Texas, though, and is currently a setup man in their bullpen.  However, Lueke is essentially a younger version of him with better stuff, so this doesn’t really hurt Seattle much.

Yankees: Jesus Montero is a premium offensive prospect, and the only thing holding him from the majors are defensive concerns, as it looks like the odds of him sticking at catcher are minimal.  Still, his bat projects well enough to be an elite hitter at any position.  He’d almost certainly be in Seattle if he was here, instead of being stuck with the Yankees’ AAA squad.

Zach McAllister is a very similar pitcher to Beavan, but his stuff on a whole grades out a little better.  He has a good sinker, a four seamer to add a little gas, and a quality changeup, plus a slurvy breaking pitch.  Not a bad arsenal.

David Adams projects to be a better player than Matt Lawson, but he hasn’t played in a game since last May because of an apparently severe foot injury.  It was because of that injury that the Mariners ultimately backed out of the Yankees’ offer.


This is a really tough call.  As much as I like Justin Smoak’s upside, I like Jesus Montero’s more.  He gets comparisons to Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas for a reason: he’s going to be a really, really good hitter.  He ultimately will wind up at first base or DH, but in the Mariners’ system he could probably be given a year or two to try and learn how to be a passable catcher, or at least pretend to.

I think I like McAllister more than Beavan, too.  His main two pitches, the sinker and change, are a little bit better than Beavan’s fastball and slider, and the change especially will make it a little bit easier for him in the majors.  The Adams-Lawson comparison is pretty much a wash considering how things have worked out, though at least Lawson brought the team some minimal value.

Lueke might wind up being the big thing that the Mariners got from Texas over what the Yankees offered, as relievers with his sort of stuff and control are not always easy to find.  Still, that’s not enough to edge the Rangers’ deal over the Yankees in my mind.

Again, I like Smoak, but Montero just has too much promise to ignore.  Even him being right-handed doesn’t matter that much, as his swing give him power to all fields, and enough to left that he would probably be able to conquer SafeCo Field’s “death to righties” dimensions.

The Verdict: The Yankees’ offer was the better one, in spite of Adams’ injury.  The deal the Mariners ultimately took was still a good one, it just wasn’t quite as good as what would have come from the Bronx.

Just for fun, let’s do a quick comparison of what the M’s sent to Philadelphia to get Lee in the first place:

RHP Phillipe Aumont: Converted back to starting, but the results have been mixed at best.  115/80 K/BB ratio across two levels in 2010, including an even 38/38 in 49 bad AA innings before getting sent down to High-A in June.  Averaged just under five innings per start, but did OK in a multi-inning relief role for his first few appearances in High-A.

OF Tyson Gillies: Struggled in AA with playing time limited by injury and legal troubles.

RHP J.C. Ramirez: Had a good 11 start stint in High-A before getting promoted to AA.  Scuffled his way through 13 starts there, managing only an average 4.50 FIP there.

In the end, I’d say the Mariners came out ahead.  I thought at the time that Ramirez would be the only prospect who would be truly missed, and given their 2010 performances, I’d still say that could be the case.


One response to “Revisiting The Cliff Lee Trade: The Verdict

  1. That Smoak swings a left-handed stick in Safeco & was ready for the majors sooner than Montero is enough for me. Lowe is getting arb money, so getting Lueke to provide comparable performance for the minimum is a plus. McAlister is better than Beavan but I can see why GMZ chose the offer from the Rangers.

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