Yes, it was one year ago today (Saturday, July 9) that the Mariners sent Cliff Lee, along with reliever Mark Lowe, to the Rangers for a package that included first baseman Justin Smoak, right-handed pitchers Josh Lueke and Blake Beavan, and infielder Matt Lawson.
In spring training, Yankees GM Brian Cashman confirmed to me that the Mariners had been on the verge of consummating a deal that would have sent Lee to New York, until the Mariners pulled out because of concerns over the health of second-base prospect David Adams.
The original deal was said to have had premier catching prospect Jesus Montero, Adams and pitcher Zach McAllister going to Seattle for Lee. With Adams out, the M’s asked for the deal to be reworked. According to reports out of New York, the Mariners wanted Adams replaced with infielder Eduardo Nuñez or pitcher Ivan Nova — wisely so, because both have performed well at the major-league level this season. When Cashman declined, the Mariners turned to Texas and got it done on July 9.
Cashman last week defended his decision to turn down the Mariners’ overtures for Nunez or Nova in an interview with Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
“We honestly believed at that moment, like now, that Nunez is going to be a very good starting shortstop in the majors and Nova has a big ceiling, to be a No. 3 starter,” Cashman told Sherman.
“I believe I made the right call,” Cashman added. “You have to have discipline. I had created a boundary and would not cross that boundary. Whatever anyone says about him, I continue to believe that Montero will be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the majors for a long time. That plus Nova or Nunez is a lot of cost-controlled value. That is a lot for a three-month rental when you are not sure you can sign the guy.”
Adams, by the way, only recently returned from his ankle injury, which turned out to be a fracture. In 10 games, mostly in rookie ball, he’s hitting .515 (17-for-33).
The wisdom of the Jack Zduriencik’s decision to turn down a Montero-based package in favor of one featuring Smoak will, of course, play out over time. In Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 prospect ratings released earlier this week, Montero had dropped from No. 3 overall in the preseason to No. 8 now. He’s not exactly tearing up Triple-A for Scranton/Wilkes Barre. In 70 games, Montero is hitting .289/.346/.418 with seven homers and 33 RBIs, but the power potential is still there.
The Rangers have no complaints about how the trade worked out. In 15 starts for Texas in the regular season, Lee wasn’t as good (4-6, 3.98 ERA, 96/12 strikeouts-to-walks ratio) as he had been in 13 starts for the Mariners (8-3, 2.34 ERA, 89/6 strikeouts-to-walks). But he earned his keep with sensational performances in the Division Series against Tampa Bay (2-0, 1.13) and the ALCS against the Yankees (1-0, 0.00). The Rangers don’t get to their first World Series without Cliff Lee — never mind that he was out-dueled twice there by Tim Lincecum. In a recent poll in the Dallas Morning News, at last check 74 percent said the trade was worth it, while 25 percent said it wasn’t.
Rangers fans, of course, are concerned about whether they’ll get burned by the prospects they sent to Seattle. If they are, so much the better from the Mariners perspective.
The jury is still out, obviously. Smoak, 24, was hot early in the season but has been in a prolonged slump that’s dropped his average to .235 after Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels. In 55 games since peaking at .315 on May 7, Smoak is hitting just .198 (39-for-197) with seven homers and 21 RBIs. Yet I’d say Smoak has shown enough flashes to give reason to believe he still has a chance to be a solid middle-of-the-lineup hitter.
Lueke. 26, arrived amidst considerable controversy, but he weathered that to make the Opening Day roster. He was sent down to Tacoma on April 24. In 6 1/3 innings with the Mariners, Lueke gave up 12 hits and walked six, allowing opponents to hit .429. In 27 games with Tacoma, he has a 3.05 ERA with nine saves. Lueke has given up 31 hits in 38.1 innings, with 33 strikeouts and 12 walks. The M’s still regard him as a future short reliever in the majors.
Beavan, 22, is now in the Mariners’ rotation, filling in for the injured Erik Bedard, and has made a very positive impression in his first two starts. He won his debut by limiting the Padres to one run and three hits over seven innings, and stood to win again on Friday after limiting the Angels to two runs over 6 1/3 innings, only to have the bullpen fail to hold his 3-2 lead. His future appears to be bright.
Lawson was traded to Cleveland during spring training for Aaron Laffey, who has been a contributor as a left-handed reliever (1.87 ERA in 26 games). Meanwhile, Lawson decided in mid-June to retire from baseball.
There are lots of tentacles to this trade, as you can see. After one year, it’s still too early to tell how many will take root and blossom, wither away and die, or come back to strangle them.
We’ll check back same time, next year for another update.
(Photo by Getty Images)