Revisiting the Cliff Lee Trade: Part Three

7 12 2010

Posted by Teix4MVP

So as Wilchiro and MagicSox have already told you, Cliff Lee has been traded along for prospects and whatnot, and he has performed well everywhere he went, whether it be in Philly or Seattle, or Cleveland. After the addition of Lee to the Mariners, many picked them to win the AL West. However, when the Mariners were quickly smacked out of contention, they decided to trade their second ace, who they would lose to free agency after the season.

It was hard to see Lee go, but M's fans knew it was all for the good.

At first, it looked like the Yankees were going to get him (I remember refreshing the website MLB Trade Rumors every 10-20 minutes just to see if they’d get a deal done) with a package centered around top 5 prospect, catcher Jesus Montero. The deal looked done; that is, until the Mariners opened up conversations with the Rangers again after they apparently didn’t like the package that also included prospect David Adams and probably Zach McAllister (who was later dealt for Austin Kearns) and liked a package centered around Justin Smoak more, along with guys like Blake Beavan, Matthew Lawson, and of course, the now-infamous Josh Lueke. They made the deal, sending Lee (and an out-for-the-season Mark Lowe) to the Rangers on July 9th, So, I’m going to break down the players as they’ve progressed through this year. Let’s start with the player(s) the Rangers got.

The Texas Rangers received:

Cliff Lee (and cash)

The 32-year-old Cliff Lee didn’t perform as well as expected in Texas. He went 4-6, had a 3.98 ERA, and saw his WHIP jump to 1.058 from .945.  His BB/9 went from .5 to 1.0, and his SO/BB dropped from a godly 14.83 to 8.00. His September was pretty good, as he went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, but in August he went 1-4 and had a 6.35 ERA. He was a great clubhouse presence for the upstart Rangers, and he led them straight to the World Series in the Playoffs. He defeated two of the best offenses in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees, easily, giving up just 2 ERs in 24 innings pitched. He allowed just 14 baserunners (he had just one walk allowed) and he struck out 34 batters. And just like that, Lee and the Rangers had reached the World Series, the first the franchise had reached against the San Francisco Giants. The Rangers looked like the favorites to many, particularly because of their ace, Clifford Phifer Lee, and he was starting Game 1. He was 7-0 in his career during the playoffs, and he looked to improve to 8-0 against the Giants hitters, who didn’t have a 30 HR guy.

Or a 100-RBI guy.

Or even a 90-RBI guy.

They DID end up showing Cliff Lee what it was like to lose, actually handing him 2 losses and a 6.94 ERA. He had an over 10 WHIP, compared to a .375 WHIP against the Yankees and a .688 against the Rays. And just like that, the Rangers had lost their first World Series, and their ace was sent towards his first huge payday and a decision of what team to join next season.

Mark Lowe

This was an interesting addition to the trade. Lowe was out for the season with a back surgery, but managed to make it back at the very end of the regular season, pitching in 3 games but had a 12.00 ERA. In the postseason, he pitched in 2 games, and gave up 5 earned runs. At age 27, he isn’t a prospect player, so he was included in the deal as a probable throw-in, although the Rangers want him. He’s arbitration-eligible, so look for him to  be in the Rangers plans for 2011.

Mark Lowe has a fastball that reaches 100 MPH at times, and he could be an elite pitcher in the Texas bullpen in 2011.

The Rangers’ GM Daniels was widely praised for making this deal, as he greatly improved his team’s chances to make it to the playoffs but also did it without giving up any of his blue chip minors prospects. Lee was the obvious prize of the trade, but look for Lowe next season, as he’s one year removed from 75 appearances and a 3.26 ERA, although that should go up due to the park he’s now pitching in. The Rangers have the financial flexibility to sign the best free agent this year’s class has to offer, although the offer has to stack up against those of the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, and Tigers, among others. The Rangers do have an edge in the Lee negotiations, however, as Texas is close to his Arkansas home. Whoever signs Lee will get an immediate impact pitcher.

Let’s move on to the M’s part of the deal, starting with the centerpiece, rookie first baseman…

Justin Smoak

Smoak came up to replace the struggling Chris Davis at first base on April 22. He struggled in his time with the Rangers, having a slashline of .209/.316/.353, which wasn’t much better than Davis’s mark of .192/.279/.292. But this does not take away from Smoak’s potential. Smoak was a top fifteen prospect entering the season, rated by Baseball America and MLB Network. He has a solid glove at 1B as evident by a UZR of 2.2, and has drawn comparisions to stars such as Mark Teixeira and Lance Berkman in the past. This guy looks like the real deal.

Josh Lueke

Lueke shows a ton of potential and this is shown by an impressive year, going 5-2 with a 1.86 ERA in 50 games. He posted alot more K’s then he pitched innings, and he will likely be utilized in the Mariners bullpen entering the 2011 season. When acquired, the Mariners were not aware of previous problems with rape, and that is why they have begun to dangle him on the trade market.

Blake Beavan

Justin Smoak was the centerpiece of the Lee deal. He has drawn comparisions to Teixeira and Berkman.

Blake Beavan is a solid piece. At 6’7″ 250 pounds, Beavan posted great numbers in three levels with Texas and Seattle this year, going 14-8 with a 3.90 ERA in 168.1 IP. It doesn’t seem like he blows anyone away with just 101 K’s on the season, but this shouldn’t be an issue as long as he is getting the outs. Beavan is currently in AAA Tacoma, and could fight for a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training, depending on the health status of recently re-signed lefty Erik Bedard.

Matthew Lawson

Lawson was essentially a throw-in piece who likely won’t play a huge part in the Mariners future plans, and will likely be used as trade bait, as he is blocked by stud prospects Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. He did post decent stats on the year, though, hitting .293/.372/.439 with a solid OPS of .815.

Although it was hard for Mariners fans to see Lee go after such a great offseason followed by a solid 2009, it was evident that a trade was on the way. Jack Zduriencik likely got a maximum return for the lefty, considering the status of his contract and the demands for his salary. This was a trade that worked perfectly for both sides; the Rangers got one of the best pitchers in baseball in Lee who eventually led them in their surge to the World Series, with a fireball arm in Lowe who has a shot as the closer slot if Feliz becomes a starter in 2011. The Mariners got their future 1B in Smoak who fits perfectly with their plans with his left handed bat, solid glove and marginal power, a couple of solid bullpen arms in Lueke and Beavan, and a young 2B in Lawson. This trade was a win-win for both sides.

Revisiting the Cliff Lee Deal: Part One

4 11 2010


Cliff Lee was a major key to the Phillies playoff success in 2009

Posted by MagicSox

Over the next couple of days, both Wilchiro and I will be working on a two-part Cliff Lee feature article.  I’ll be recapping the trade that brought him to Philadelphia from the Cleveland Indians, and Wilchiro will cover the deal where they shipped him to Seattle and Teix will analyze the trade to Texas that landed him in his second World Series.

We all remember the anticipation surrounding the sweepstakes.  For Indians fans who stopped by to catch a game during the early weeks of summer, you knew that every time you saw Cliff could be the last.  This was an Indians team far, far out of contention, relying on young players and having a pitching staff as awful as an AMC Pacer (that is, besides Lee of course, him being more of a Chevy Camaro).  The path of any team with such a poor record and a superstar on their hands is to trade him for multiple young prospects that will help the team.  The Indians had done the same the previous year, sending staff ace C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a number of young guns, including current Indians regulars Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.  The path was simple, but Mark Shapiro knew that with Lee he had a goldmine; a player coming off of going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, the kind of starter a playoff contender needs to push it over the top.

I personally remember seeing Lee’s last home game for the Indians, July 16th, 2009.  A meaningless game against the Mariners, another team not going anywhere in October anytime soon.  Lee pitched a complete game, allowing one run and striking out six without giving up a walk, a fine outing.  His opponent on the mound was Garrett Olson, and the Indians made short work of him.  It ended up being a 4-1 Indians victory.  I felt happy for Lee and his excellent performance, but a nagging voice in my head said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to see him do this when it actually counts?”

Thirteen days later, Cliff Lee was traded to the Phillies in a 6-player deal.  Let me break it down right here:

Going to the Phillies:

SP Cliff Lee: Although Lee only gave them half a season of pretty good pitching (7-4, 3.39), he had a 7.4 K/BB ratio that would make most starters jealous, not to mention a sub-1 WHIP for the first time in his career.  However, his most valuable contributions to the team came in the playoffs.  Over the course of the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, Lee had a 4-0 record with a 1.56 ERA, outdueling Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies in the opening game of the NLDS, pitching a complete game, 3-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, and leading the Phillies to their only two wins of the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees in Games 1 and 5.

It’s safe to say that Lee’s outstanding performance in the postseason was one of the main factors in why the Phillies made it as far as they did.  I’m going to give him four and a half stars out of five, the only thing keeping him from a perfect score being the fact that he only contributed for 2 months of regular season ball.

OF Ben Francisco: Francisco was coming off of a solid 2008 rookie campaign as the starting leftfielder for Cleveland, hitting .266 with 54 RBIs and a 1.4 WAR value (comparable right now to, say, Kurt Suzuki), along with a mediocre 2.7 UZR/150.  Not a starter on most other MLB teams, and a throw-in in deals like these.  Upon his arrival in Philly, he was moved to the bench (not being a better starter than Raul Ibanez), and proceeded to slug .526 as a pinch-hitter.  In contrast to Lee, Francisco did nothing during the playoffs, going 0 for 11 while only reaching base once.

In 2010, Francisco’s been hitting a pedestrian .252 with little to no power as Philadelphia’s fourth outfielder.  He provides spot-on defense in left with a 27.2 UZR/150, while he’s been horrid in right, with that statistic measuring -44.4 on that side of the field.  The bottom line is, Philadelphia acquired a slightly below-average hitting backup outfielder who can adequately fill in in leftfield, but is a liability anywhere else you put him.  I’m going to give him 1 and a half stars out of five, because this spot on the roster could be filled by someone with more speed, defensive skill, and pop in the bat.

Phillies’ average: 3 stars out of five

Going to the Indians:

SP Carlos Carrasco: Carrasco was a highly touted prospect for Philadelphia, dominating the lower ranks of the minors with his fastball, which topped out at 96.  Although some scouts questioned his command, the sheer ferocity of his fastball and the added bonus of two plus off-speed pitches (a changeup and a curveball) made him a very attractive commodity.  After a 2008 season in which he averaged over eight and a half strikeouts a game for AA Reading and had a successful taste of AAA Lehigh Valley, he was poised to take the International League by storm in 2009.  Despite an ugly ERA of 5.18, his high strikeout rating and velocity kept his value high.  After the trade, he reported to the Indians’ AAA Columbus affiliate, going 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA and holding opponents to a .196 batting average.  This made the Indians think that he was ready, and he proceeded to get absolutely hammered in the majors: 0-4, 8.87 ERA, as many walks as strikeouts, and giving up 6 home runs in 5 games.

The Indians still had faith in him

Jason Donald is best known throughout baseball for being called safe on Armando Galaragga's near perfect game that was blown by umpire Jim Joyce

despite that major rough patch, and have kept him in AAA all year for more much-needed seasoning.  He’s currently at 10-5 with a 3.71 ERA, respectable numbers.  His days of unreal K/BB ratios are gone, his strikeout numbers have tanked, and his BAA is higher than it used to be, but there is still potential there.  Baseball America ranked him as the #8 prospect in Cleveland’s system, and the #4 pitcher in the organization.  Carrasco has been one of the most puzzling pieces of this trade: I’m giving him 2.5 out of 3 stars, because the jury’s still out.  He could still be able to contribute to Cleveland whether as a starter or reliever, and just as easily he could flame out and leave baseball.  Only time will tell.

C Lou Marson: Marson was fresh off of two high-RBI seasons in 2007 and 2008 for Class A+ Lakewood and AA Reading.  Baseball America had him ranked #3 in the Phillies’ system, praising him as “the Phillies’ most polished minor league hitter, with the system’s best plate discipline and a professional approach.”  Pretty good for someone who hadn’t even turned 23 yet, eh?  He was hitting .294 for AAA Lehigh Valley at the time of the trade, with a 4 for 17 cup of coffee with Philly.  Like Carrasco, he reported to Columbus, and his batting numbers immediately dropped.  He only hit .243, with his OBP and and SLG in the low .300s. He has yet to shine in the majors since coming over in that trade from the Phillies.

SS Jason Donald: Remember the guy that was called safe on Armando Galaragga’s near perfect game on June 2nd, 2010? That was this guy. He was a top 10 prospect in the Phillies orgininzation in the 2009 season, and since then, he hasn’t done much. In 88 games with the Indians MLB club this year, he managed just a triple slash line of .253/.312/.378 with 4 homeruns and 24 RBI’s. He is most likely a career utility guy at best.

P Jason Knapp: This was the last piece of the deal. At the time, Knapp was having a bad year in the Phillies A-Ball team, with just a 2-7 record and a 4.18 ERA. He is now regarded as a highly touted prospect, as he was ranked #64 throughout baseball by Baseball America entering the 2010 season. Although he has a long road before he hits the majors, this guy is showing promise.

In part two, Wilchiro will be reviewing the trade that sent pitcher Cliff Lee to the Mariners in a blockbuster deal. I hope you enjoyed my post.

2011 Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching

5 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425

Before I even get this ball rolling, two things:

1. The Chicago Cubs will NOT sign Cliff Lee.

2. The Chicago Cubs SHOULD not sign Cliff Lee.

With that out of the way, we can move on to realistic possibilities.

I thought about writing this article for a moment, and I realized just how much of a mess this rotation really has become. Randy Wells has regressed worse than I could have ever imagined (and I didn’t like him going into this year AT ALL). Tom Gorzelanny did it again (looked good for a bit then imploded–just like in Pittsburgh). Carlos Silva summed up the epitome of the Cubs’ season (high hopes to start, then a complete wreck by the middle of the year). Carlos Zambrano starts the puzzling offseason questions (should they keep him? Will they keep him? Can they even move him?) by being the reverse of Gorzelanny and Silva.

With all of the above statements made, I went to work on Zambrano.

Five days ago, I looked at Zambrano in this post. When it came right down to it, I determined that Zambrano’s troubles outweigh all of the good he has done on the mound since his return. That didn’t stop the wonderful Jim Hendry from committing to him for next year, meaning that the Cubs will be committed to his $17.875 million salary for next season as well.

Unless something drastic changes in the Cubs’ front office, it appears that this sad mess of a rotation will be the exact same in 2011 as it was at the end of 2010. That would mean:

1. Carlos Zambrano – 129 2/3 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 131 ERA+

2. Ryan Dempster – 215 1/3 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1,32 WHIP, 113 ERA+

3. Randy Wells – 194 1/3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 102 ERA+

4. Tom Gorzelanny – 136 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 106 ERA+

5. Carlos Silva – 113 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 103 ERA+

Here is what I notice from this:

Anyone that expects Zambrano to replicate a 3.33 ERA with a WHIP above that of Randy Wells, who posted a 4.26 ERA, is dead wrong. Seeing that alone lets me know that Zambrano needs to be gone. What’s worse is that the bottom-3 starters are barely average. That means that the Cubs would need a great offense to make up for it, and they certainly do not have that at this time. I’m seeing another losing season.

Originally, I came into this post looking to find a taker for Zambrano, but now Jim Hendry has ruined those hopes. So, now, the Chicago fan base has to pray that the Cubs move one of Wells, Gorzelanny, and Silva in a trade or to the bullpen so they can bring in a starting pitcher. Of those three, I see Silva as the most likely because of his age and injury concerns.

The first target in free agency to fill a rotation spot was Brandon Webb. He has since managed an outing where he topped 81 MPH and demanded a contract that rivals those of Rich Harden and Ben Sheets, ignoring that both of those pitchers were utter failures for Texas and Oakland, respectively. So, no Cliff Lee, no Brandon Webb. Where does that leave the market?

At a glance, the names that pop out are: Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, and Jorge De La Rosa. Taking Lilly back if he is offered arbitration would make little sense. It would mean giving up a draft pick to bring a player back that we clearly sold low on (Blake DeWitt was really the best we could get?). Harang is dead, no doubt about it. Vazquez would be Carlos Silva with more strikeouts. So, Jorge De La Rosa it is.

If this is the best the market has to offer, then the Cubs are in serious trouble. His 110 ERA+ was actually WORSE away from Coors Field. His K/9 drops from 9.5 to 6.9. His ERA rises from 4.10 to 4.36. His WHIP goes from 1.24 to 1.42. This is a 30-year-old whose 110 ERA+ has actually ranked as his best season in his career.

Now, after looking at the free agent market, I think it makes more sense to just let Carlos Silva get shelled rather than dish out money to watch someone else do it for him. So, does anyone have any ideas on trade options?