While the dust has yet to settle on the biggest deal of the offseason, it’s evident that Seattle’s acquisition of Cliff Lee will have some dramatic effects on the Mariner’s franchise for next year and beyond. Long an afterthought in the baseball landscape due to an incompetent front office’s baffling signings and trades, Seattle has put themselves back on the map by becoming a major player in the free-agent market for the first time since getting burned on the acquisitions of Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva (the team overpaid for Adrian Beltre too, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as Sexson and Silva). Under the guidance of new general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners are suddenly a chic pick to win the AL West in 2010 and possibly to make some noise in the playoffs if the team can acquire a few more bats for their lineup. Though there is much work left to be done, Seattle is certainly making their presence felt this offseason, and the Lee deal is a major step towards redemption for the Mariners’ franchise.
By trading for Cliff Lee the Mariners create the most dynamic starting duo in all of baseball, pairing the left-hander with righty Felix Hernandez (fresh off a second place finish in the 2009 Cy Young balloting). Lee, a pitch-to-contact type hurler, should thrive in the spacious confines of Safeco Field and will also benefit from having one of the best outfield defenses in the league (depending on who fills out leftfield). The left-hander has primarily been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career, but in recent seasons has induced more groundballs and will rely heavily on a strong left-side of the Mariners infield anchored by Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins. Though not overpowering, Lee has a solid fastball and an above-average curveball, which should allow him to average six to seven strikeouts per start. The fact that Lee is lefthanded will also pay dividends for the Mariners if they reach the playoffs, allowing them to neutralize some of baseball’s best hitters, many of whom struggle against southpaws (Ryan Howard, Curtis Granderson, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, Raul Ibanez, etc). Additionally, Lee does a stellar job of neutralizing opposing team’s running games, having never allowed more than nine stolen bases in any one season, which will take pressure off Seattle’s young catchers. Cliff Lee is a certified staff ace in every since of the word, and his addition alone significantly closes the gap between the Angels and the Mariners in the AL West.
The one caveat to this trade is the fact that Cliff Lee is only signed through 2010 and there are rumors that he is looking for C.C. Sabathia type money (7 years/$161 million). While it’s clear that the Mariners won’t have the necessary funds to sign both Lee and Hernandez to long-term deals, Seattle’s commitment to winning will give the franchise leverage when (if) they decide to resign one of these two pitchers. If somehow the Mariners find themselves out of contention at the trade deadline Lee will be the best pitcher available once again, and would allow Seattle to recoup prospects for their farm system. The other scenario, Lee leaving at the end of the season and testing the market, would also net the Mariners two draft picks (a first round pick from the team that signed him plus a sandwich pick) because Lee would be a Type-A free-agent. Zduriencik really covered all the bases with this trade; however you slice it, the Mariners are going to come out winners.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Seattle Mariners traded away a package of prospects for another left-handed pitcher, and it’s painfully obvious now that the Erik Bedard deal was doomed from the start (except for the Baltimore Orioles). This time around though, the Mariners are acquiring a pitcher with a much stronger track record for success and durability, and they aren’t selling the farm in order to bring him aboard. It appears that Seattle will be sending three prospects to Philadelphia; pitchers Phillipe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies. While all three players have some upside none of them are labeled as “can’t-miss” prospects, and they presumably won’t haunt the Mariners like Adam Jones and Chris Tillman.
Aumont was Seattle’s first round choice in the 2007 draft, a long, lean right-hander who was originally a starter but since has been converted to the bullpen. The 20-year-old was good but not great between Single and Double-A in 2009, struggling with control at times while walking 11 batters in only 17 innings for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Ramirez projects as a number two starter, a right-hander with a hard fastball and developing off-speed pitches. If he is unable to handle the strain of starting, Ramirez has the stuff to be a quality arm at the end of the bullpen, possibly even as a closer. Gillies is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues (he has 96 speed on a scale of 100) who stole 44 bases for the Mariners’ High Class-A affiliate. He had an outstanding season at the plate in 2009, hitting .341 with 9 HR’s and 42 RBI’s, though it should be noted that the High Desert Mavericks play in the hitters’ friendly California League. Out of all the prospects involved in the deal, Gillies has the best chance to become an impact player at the next level, but Seattle already has a long-term answer in centerfield with Franklin Gutierrez.
Thanks to an aggressive general manager and some key offseason moves the Seattle Mariners are once again relevant to the baseball world. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago this team lost 101 games, but the franchise has clearly turned over a new page in their history, and GM Jack Zduriencik has the team poised for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. With King Felix and Lee anchoring the rotation, and Ichiro and Figgins setting the table, Seattle is a very dangerous team on mission to win and win now. Next stop, the 2010 World Series?
Filed under: AL West, Baseball, Free Agency/Trades, Seattle Mariners | Tagged: adam jones, andre ethier, baltimore orioles, bill bavasi, carlos silva, chase utley, chone figgins, chris tillman, cliff lee, curtis granderson, erik bedard, feliz hernandez, franklin gutierrez, jack wilson, Jack Zduriencik, juan ramirez, Phillipe Aumont, Raul Ibanez, rich aurilia, richie sexson, ryan howard, Seattle Mariners, tyson gillies |