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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 29, 2010 at 6:40 AM

More musings on the Cliff Lee trade saga

Can you imagine a starting rotation that already has Chris Carpenter (9-1, 2.70 ERA), Adam Wainwright (10-5, 2.47 ERA) and Jaime Garcia (7-4, 2.27 ERA) — with Brad Penny on the disabled list — adding Cliff Lee to the mix? A mix that also has Albert Pujols?

That’s the latest rumor, via a tweet yesterday by Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse. Price speculated that the Cardinals were the “mystery team” in the Lee bidding. His colleague, Jeff Fletcher, tweeted that he had confirmed via an MLB source that the Cardinals are indeed interested in Lee.

The trade chip mentioned by Price — RHP Shelby Miller — is an intriguing one. He was the No. 19 overall pick in last year’s draft, and is very highly regarded. But he’s just 19 years old and pitching in Class A ball, which seemingly doesn’t fit into the profile of players nearly ready for the major leagues that the Mariners are believed to be seeking. Miller is pitching at Class A Quad Cities and is 1-3 with a 4.67 ERA in 12 starts (44.1 ip, 46 hits, 17 walks, 60 strikeouts). Yet if the Mariners think he’s going to rise fast through the system and be a potential No. 1 guy, he could be a centerpiece to a trade.

But this horse race is extremely difficult to handicap, which is a good thing for the Mariners. Any number of teams — virtually every contender — can find a reason to covet Lee. (Although the Yankees have no plans to strip their farm system to get Lee, according to Jay Greenberg of the New York Post. Lee will oppose Phil Hughes tonight at Yankee Stadium in a dynamate matchup).

I’d still put the Mets and Twins at the top of the list, but the Mets’ chances were hurt when top pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia was shut down recently with a strained shoulder. GM Omar Minaya says it won’t slow down their trade pursuits.

The Rangers could be a factor, though they’d have to overcome both the bankruptcy mess and the ingrained reluctance of GMs to make a blockbuster trade with a division rival. The Dodgers need Lee but have money issues. The Phillies (again), Red Sox, and Tigers are wild cards. It wouldn’t at all shock me if there were another surprise team or two lurking out there. Padres CEO Jeff Moorad tells AOL they are looking for starting pitching and have the means to add salary. The suddenly resurgent White Sox are never averse to making a big splash. The Braves could decide to go for it in Bobby Cox’s final season. I believe Jack Zduriencik is dealing from a position of great strength here, especially if Lee keeps churning out masterful performances.

When the Mariners were in St. Louis, I asked Zduriencik what he thought, philosophically, about making a trade early, so the acquiring team gets more use of the player, versus waiting for the deadline and hoping to build a feeding frenzy that ramps up the bidding.

“I have a good feel for that,” he replied. “I’ve seen how it’s worked in the past. There’s been a lot of test cases with that.”

He wouldn’t elaborate, but rememeber, Zduriencik was in the Brewers’ front office in 2008 when they acquired C.C. Sabathia from the Indians. That deal — in which the Brewers sent one of their top prospects, Matt LaPorta, along with outfielder Michael Brantley and pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson — was made on July 7. Sabathia made 17 starts for the Brewers, going 11-2. The Brewers needed every one of Sabathia’s wins, making the playoffs by one game. (In the what goes around, comes around category, the Indians just called up LaPorta to take over first base when they traded Russ Branyan to the Mariners last week. La Porta has struggled in previous tries (hitting .237 with a .372 slugging percentage over two seasons), but since being demoted to Class AAA in early June, he was hitting .362 with five homers and 16 RBI, with a 1.094 OPS. The Indians still believe LaPorta can be a big-time power hitter).

With that July 7 date as a gauge, Lee’s time is winding down. Even if the Mariners go down to the July 31 deadline, every Lee start is one to savor.

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