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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.

May 5, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Looking at the three Cliff Lee trades (plus Mariner minor-league report, and Curto call of Ackley grand slam)

>leewhitehat.jpg.

(Here is today’s Mariners’ minor-league report, and yesterday’s. And as an added bonus, here’s Tacoma broadcaster Mike Curto’s call of Dustin Ackley’s grand slam last night. Mike is a Cal grad like me, though unlike me he did not go to school when Pappy Waldorf was still coaching football.)

In the span of 11 1/2 months, between July 29, 2009 and July 9, 2010, three teams traded for Cliff Lee, each one hoping that Lee was their ticket to the World Series.

Two of them were right. Lee helped pitch the 2009 Phillies to the National League pennant, and the 2010 Rangers to the American League pennant (though both lost in the World Series).

The Mariners were not quite so lucky. Lee missed the first month of the 2010 season on the disabled list, and when he came back the Mariners were in the very early stages of a freefall that would drop them like a rock to the bottom of the standings. Though Lee was outstanding (8-3, 2.34 ERA in 13 starts with the Mariners), they had little choice but to dump the free-agent-to-be in July to the Rangers.

Looking back at the three trades, the Mariners might have gotten the least impact from Lee in the standings, but so far they have gotten the most impact from Lee in sending him packing.

Of the 11 players acquired by the Indians, Phillies and Mariners in the three Lee trades, Justin Smoak has been by far the most impactful. Obviously, it will take years to give a true evaluation of the trades, but in Smoak the Mariners were able to acquire a player who looks to be the middle-of-the-lineup presence they’ve desperately needed.

To review, here are the three trades:

July 29, 2009: Cliff Lee traded to Philadelphia, with outfielder Ben Francisco, for RHP Carlos Carrasco, SS Jason Donald, RHP Jason Knapp and C Lou Marson.

Dec. 16, 2009: Cliff Lee traded to Seattle for RHP Phillippe Aumont, OF Tyson Gillies, RHP J.C. Ramirez.

July 9, 2010: Cliff Lee raded to Texas with RHP Mark Lowe for 1B Justin Smoak, RHP Blake Beavan, RHP Josh Lueke and INF Matt Lawson.

Let’s look at them one-by-one:

Indians: Lee was one of a series of star players dealt by the Indians, largely for financial reasons. They also traded C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez, among others. For the most part, the Indians have done an outstanding job of retooling, as their record indicates. But so far, their return in the Lee deal has been underwhelming. Carrasco is in Cleveland’s rotation, and the Indians still have hopes he’ll be a frontline starter, but he hasn’t shown it yet. Marson has settled into a backup catcher role, while Donald, slated to be the starting third baseman this year, wound up on the DL with a finger injury, and in the meantime appears to have lost the third-base job, for now, to Jack Hannahan. Donald was recently activated and is playing at Triple-A. Knapp is a hard thrower but is still at Single-A.

Mariners: Smoak is the jewel, with a .294/.396/.518 line that has the Mariners and their fans drooling at his long-term potential, not to mention his present value. The Mariners had to endure much criticism for the Josh Lueke acquistion, then watched him flame out in his first big-league stint in April before getting demoted to Tacoma with a 17.05 ERA in eight appearances. Beavan is also pitching for Tacoma and turned in one of his best start of the season last night, limiting Tucson to four hits and two runs over seven innings. Overall, Beavan is 1-0 with a 4.98 ERA in six starts. The Mariners traded Lawson to Cleveland for Aaron Laffey, who has been an effective left-handed reliever. Lawson, slated as a utility man, is at Double-A Akron, where he’s hitting .250 in 17 games.

Phillies: Their haul from Seattle was labeled a bust last year, when all three players acquired had trouble. Aumont, converted to starting, went a combined 3-11 with a 5.68 ERA at A and AA; Ramirez went 3-4 with a 5.45 ERA at AA before undergoing hip surgery; and Gillies was not only limited to 28 games by a hamstring injury, but was also arrrested for cocaine possession in June (the charges were dropped in October).

This year, however, things look better. Aumont is back in the bullpen and has been dominant at Class AA Reading. In 10 games, he has a 2.25 ERA and two saves, with 16 strikeouts and just four hits allowed in 12 innings, with four walks. Ramirez, also pitching for Reading, is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA. According to the Reading website, he has just six strikeouts in 29 innings, which seems amazingly low. He’s walked eight and given up 19 hits. Gillies, meanwhile, is still experiencing hamstring troubles and hasn’t played.

The upshot is that the Mariners appear to have gotten the first gem from trading Cliff Lee — but all three teams still hope other gems will emerge.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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