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Cliff Lee Potential Trade Partners Monday, June 14, 2010

Posted by jkcmason in Mariners.
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It is time for the Mariners to start looking into improving their team for next year.  There is around a 1% chance that we can close the gap and make the playoffs this season, and the Mariners still don’t look like a team that is going to play to the potential that they appear to have.  The best thing that we have going for us is Cliff Lee currently looks to be the most valuable trade chip available. 

Looking ahead at next year, there are currently three position players that look like they have their position locked up in Ichiro Suzuki – RF, Franklin Gutierrez – CF, & Chone Figgins – 2B/3B. With that the Mariners need help at C, 1B, one of 2B or 3B, SS, LF & DH before we even look into pitching.  A lot of help is available in next year’s free agent class, and a couple positions can be held down by people already in the organization.  If the Mariners want to improve at Catcher and Shortstop however they are likely going to have to trade for any new talent.  The most logical trade partners to fill these holes with talented players that are close to ML ready would be the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Twins have a very solid shortstop in JJ Hardy and the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer that just signed an 8 year extension.  With that extension Wilson Ramos became a quality prospect that is blocked for at least a couple years and could be used as a valuable trade chip.  Ramos is heralded for his defense and his power, he won’t lead the league in batting average or be the most patient hitter, but he shold be able to hold his own defensively at the major league level and brings a solid bat to the ballpark.  Also available could be Trevor Plouffe, a young shortstop that has filled in for Hardy this year during injuries.  Plouffe’s potential is not the easiest to predict as he has been aggressively promoted through the Twins system.  He will turn 24 tomorrow, and his skills currently place him in the grey line between AAA and the majors with definite time to improve.  He looks to be a contact hitter with gap power, and has solid range with a good arm that needs a little more time to refine his defensive skills.

It pains me to write the Yankees name on this list for 2 main reasons.

1-      Imagining Cliff Lee in pinstripes makes me want to throw up.

2-      The Yankees and Red Sox have such a large following that their prospects are commonly over rated.

That being said the Yankees could potentially offer help to the Mariners at both catcher and shortstop.  Eduardo Nunez is another contact hitting shortstop that can hold his own with the glove and is evidently a year to the day younger than Plouffe (though he looks 30 in his picture):

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=SS&sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=456488

The true talent that the Yankees could offer in a trade would be either Jesus Montero or Austin Romine.  Montero gets rave reviews for his bat, as comparisons to Manny Ramirez and Mike Piazza are not unheard of.  He does lack defensively with many people doubting that he could be a catcher in the majors.  Nobody truly knows where he will be playing, but there is no doubt that any team would find a spot for him.  Austin Romine on the other hand is a very capable defensive catcher, but doesn’t have as much potential as Montero at the plate.

The Tampa Bay Rays have never been a team to make large impact trades at the deadline to acquire big name “rentals”.  They tend to make smaller trades for relievers and protect their farm system.  With that in mind, the Rays are also in jeopardy of losing a lot of talent this offseason already.  With Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena likely singing a large contract with other teams after the season ends.  Trading for Cliff Lee would provide them with an ace starting pitcher with playoff experience and leadership that could lead them to a World Series Championship before these key players depart.  Lee and Crawford are type A free agents and Pena is a type B none of which are likely to accept arbitration offers.  The Rays could potentially trade for Lee and easily restock their farm system with the 5 compensation picks they receive in next year’s draft. 

The players that could help the Mariners the most at shortstop and catcher are Reid Brignac and Nevin Ashley.  Brignac appears to be a slightly above average fielding middle infielder that is a switch hitter with a little bit of pop.  He is however blocked from playing every day by Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist.  Brignac has been very valuable to the Rays this year posting a .303/.361/.428 line in 145 at-bats.  Nevin Ashley is the best defensive catcher mentioned in this post.  He has a very strong arm and quick feet.  He has never been considered the best hitter, but is currently posting a .305/.370/.404 line in AA Montgomery.  While the Rays are the least likely of the three teams listed to make a play for Lee, they could provide the most overall talent between positions.  The Twins and Yankees could both offer top end catching prospects, but the shortstop talent is not as solid.  While the Rays aren’t leading with the top end prospects, both catcher and Shortstop would be able to improve the positions next year. 

The Tigers and Dodgers have been mentioned in rumors, but the talent that could be offered is either not ready to make an immediate impact or wouldn’t fill the most important holes that the Mariners need help with.  If I had to make a bet at where Lee would be traded to, I would put money on the Yankees because he would likely be more willing to sign an extension on a team that is a perennial winner.  I would much rather see him winning a world series with the Rays, but that is probably the least likely scenario.  It is sad to see Cliff Lee leave, but we couldn’t ask much more out of him as far as accumulating value.