mlb: fallout from the cliff lee deal

For the third time in the last year, Cliff Lee has been traded. This time, he’s headed to the Texas Rangers, who are currently in first place in the AL West with a record of 50-36. So what’s the deal on this?

For starters, I gotta give the Rangers props on pulling off this deal. Early Friday morning, the Yankees had an agreement in principle to acquire Lee for prospects Jesus Montero (no. 6 prospect in baseball), David Adams and a third prospect that was reported to be a right-handed pitcher. However, in the early afternoon, talks broke down presumably because of Adams’ health and the Mariners broke off discussions. The Rangers immediately jumped in and, within two hours, shipped first baseman Justin Smoak and a trio of prospects to Seattle for Lee.

As a Yankees fan, I was upset at first, but after some thought, I realized that this was probably for the best. I’m curious as to how Bud Selig let this trade go through given that the Rangers don’t currently have an owner and aren’t supposed to take on salary because MLB has to pick it up for the time being. Alright, so the Mariners chipped in $2.5M for Lee, but he’s still owed $2M by the Rangers…er…MLB. That aside, the Rangers gave up a sizeable amount for Lee even though they have the best farm system in the majors. Smoak isn’t having the best year (.209,  8 HR,  34 RBI in 235 ABs), but he is still considered one of the top switch-hitting prospects in baseball. The other guys they gave up were decent in the AA and AAA levels. But what does this mean for the Rangers? If they don’t make it to the World Series, this trade is a huge disappointment. Lee is a free agent in the offseason and there’s no way the Rangers could afford him (he reportedly is seeking CC Sabathia money) with the way the ownership situation is right now. Of course, the Yankees will be involved with Lee in the offseason, along with the Red Sox, Mets and several other teams.

Keeping the focus on this season, the Yankees missed out on Lee, but last night they became only the third team in AL history to have three starting pitchers with 11+ wins before the All-Star break. It’s not like they’re dying without him. Sure, he would’ve made the rotation one of the most formidable in baseball history, but you win some, you lose some. The Yankees have made it clear that they were only in on Lee because they covet him so much, so don’t expect them to get involved with guys like Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren or Ted Lilly. Their plan for this trade deadline is to acquire a veteran utility person with a good bat, someone like a Ty Wigginton of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m also proud of Brian Cashman because, as tempting as this deal must have been, in the end, he stuck with his philosophy of not trading prospects for impending free agents. He stuck to his guns when Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia all hit the market in recent years and, whatever the reason for this deal breaking down, he stuck to them now.

So let’s look ahead to the postseason. I mean, that’s the point of all this, right? The Rangers rotation in a 5- or 7-game series will look something like this: Cliff Lee, Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson. Lee of course is terrifying in the postseason, but of those three, he’s the only one who really poses a shutdown threat. If the season ended today, the Rangers would be facing the Rays and their probable rotation of David Price, Jeff Niemann and Matt Garza. I would take Niemann and Garza over Feldman and Wilson any day. We all know that the Rangers can hit…look at Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz. But good pitching beats good hitting and honestly, I don’t think the Rangers have enough pitching to get by a team like the Rays or the Yankees.

With the trade deadline only a few weeks away, you can expect the Tigers to be in on a Dan Haren or a Ted Lilly and watch out for the Rays, who have some money to spend for the first time in their existence, to land either a big-name bat or a big-name starter. Either way, fans can expect a much tighter race this year than in recent memory.

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