So. Today has been quite the marathon.
A lot of us, including myself, woke up to find that a trade of Cliff Lee to the Yankees for a very desirable package was imminent. Then, a few hours later, that deal suddenly and almost inexplicably fell apart. We all waited with bated breath over the next couple of hours as details emerged. We learned that there was an injury concern over a piece in the Yankee deal, and that other teams stepped up their offers for Lee. Then, slowly, details emerged that the Texas Rangers were willing to part with Justin Smoak, one of the best prospects in the game, and then things started falling into place from there.
Shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon PST, it became official. Cliff Lee had been traded, along with reliever Mark Lowe and cash, to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three other prospects. We were losing Cliff Lee (boo!), but we’d just gotten ourselves the top first base prospect in the game (yay!) and the Yankees were left pissed off and with no prize (YAY!).
Smoak is, quite simply, a monstrous prospect. A switch-hitting first baseman, he makes great contact at the plate, draws plenty of walks, and has power that ultimately could translate to 30 homers or so a year. Add that into the fact that he’s been a plus defender at first base throughout his career so far, and there’s just nothing to complain about. The ONLY drawback for me is that it means that Rich Poythress and Dennis Raben are now spare parts in this organization, and they were both prospects I was a big fan of.
The rest of the package isn’t star studded, but it is solid. RHP Blake Beavan is a 21-year old former first round draft pick who’s already pitching up at AAA. He’s a big man, standing at 6’7″, and throws a heavy sinking fastball that sits around 90 and can touch the mid 90’s on occasion. He also throws a nice slider, though his command of it tends to drift at times, and has a developing changeup that seems to be a very interesting pitch if he can get it to progress. His command of the fastball is excellent, especially for his age, and on a whole he projects to be a better version of Doug Fister thanks to his better overall pitching stuff.
Matt Lawson is a second baseman who also plays some center field, and is an interesting, though not exciting, prospect. He’s fairly athletic, and has solid overall tools, though none stand out as spectacular. For a contending team, Lawson probably projects as a utility player, and if someone gets hurt or a club needs a lineup gap filled while waiting for a prospect to be ready, he can probably fill in without hurting you too badly.
RHP Josh Lueke is another big right-hander (6’5″), and one that comes out of the bullpen. His fastball pounds the strike zone in the mid-90’s, and he also has a slider and splitter he can use to put any batter away. His strikeout rate is insane at 11.4 K/9 over his career, and 14.6 so far this year, and gives up just 2.3 walks per nine innings. He’s essentially Mark Lowe, but younger, with better command, and that split gives him a nastier extra out pitch over Lowe’s change. Lueke does have one major red flag in his past, however. I’ll let you make up your own mind on it, but let me say this: if that incident stays in his past, and he has no major incidents going forward, I am perfectly OK with him. He seems like a good kid who just made a bad mistake, honestly seems to regret it, and wants to keep it behind him.
Does losing Cliff Lee suck? Sure it does. Does losing Mark Lowe suck? Indeed it does. Both players are beloved by Mariner fans, and this is a tough pill to swallow in some ways. That said, from a pure baseball and business sense, this was a fantastic deal for the Mariners. Put simply, Lee was not going to be a Mariner in 2011 and beyond. With what he’s likely to get in free agency, there’s no way we could afford him. So that left the Mariners to get as much in return for him as they possibly could, and in this trade I think they did just that. Add in that they got that package from a division rival that also has no realistic way to afford Lee beyond this season, and it’s a huge win all around.
As for Lowe, there’s two factors working against him. First and foremost, the nature of his back injury means he may not ever be the same pitcher again, especially added with his previous elbow injuries. In fact, I’d almost be willing to say that it’s likely he’ll never be the same. The second factor, which works a little with the first, is that the bullpen as an entity is a very fungible thing, and probably one of the easiest to build in an organization. Lueke on his own will probably replace him down the line, and might even be in Seattle by the end of the season. Guys in the minors like Dan Cortes who scuffle as starters because of command issues can be flipped to the bullpen and become great back-end guys. In point of fact, that’s exactly how Lowe developed. He’s a great guy, and I’ll miss him for that, but in a purely organizational sense, Lowe is not a crippling loss at all.
The bottom line: the Mariners upgraded their team and organization, both now and in the future. Will it help them contend this year? Of course not, 2010 has been basically over for them for over a month. Looking ahead to 2011 and beyond, however, things just got a lot brighter for your Seattle Mariners.
I just want to say, one more time, thank you Cliff Lee. Thank You. You have been wonderful to have in this organization. Watching you pitch isn’t just a pleasure, it’s been a privilege, and an honor. I wish you nothing but success in your future.
Mark Lowe, same goes to you. You’ve been the forgotten man to an extent through this, and I want to say that I appreciate everything you’ve done here. This team won’t be quite the same without you and your goofy grin and antics, and your arm will be missed in the bullpen. Best of luck!
Megan’s note: I do have some things to say about this, but tomorrow when I’m in a far better mood than I am now from watching our boys take it in the babymaker from New York. I think I took three photos, it was all I could manage. I’m going to stop griping before I bring the tone of this one down too far. More tomorrow.