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May 6, 2011 at 11:41 AM

What the Mariners got out of the Cliff Lee trade

NOTE: If you missed Geoff Baker Live! last night, catch it in the video replay below. A viewer asked me about David Aardsma and whether the M’s are now “dragging their feet” with his recovery because Brandon League is doing so well. Here is a clip of my response. Another asked about the continued struggles on offense by Michael Saunders, who simply is not connecting on the hittable pitches. This answer about the M’s year-old revamp of their weight-training regimen contains a bit about what they need OPS-wise from players and the good job Luis Rodriguez has done. I was also asked whether I think the M’s will re-sign Erik Bedard for next year.
On to the post…
One thing that appears to be working out so far for the Mariners, strictly from a talent-for-talent swap perspective, was last summer’s Cliff Lee deal. And I say “so far” because you never know how things will turn out even a week down the road.
But let’s review.
To acquire Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies in December 2009, the M’s sent pitcher Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies and pitcher J.C. Ramirez to the Phils. And then, last summer, they flipped Lee to Texas, along with Mark Lowe, for first baseman Justin Smoak, pitcher Josh Lueke, pitcher Blake Beavan, and infielder Matt Lawson.

This past spring, Lawson was dealt to the Indians for pitcher Aaron Laffey.
So far, at least, the M’s appear to have come out ahead on all fronts.
Photo Credit: AP

Let’s review first where the M’s haul is right now.
Smoak — .315 avg., 5 HR, 20 RBI, .983 OPS
Laffey — 10 G, 15 IP, 1.80 ERA, 7 K, 4 BB
Lueke (AAA) — GP 5, 8 IP, 1.12 ERA, 4 K, 2 BB
Beavan (AAA) — GS 6, 34 1/3 IP, 4.98 ERA, 19 K, 7 BB
So, you’ve got a first baseman who is the best hitter and power hitter on the team at the moment and looking like that long-awaited middle-of-the-order fixture from both sides of the plate. Then, you have Laffey, a solid bullpen contributor so far. Lueke did not fare well in his first big league taste but appears to have regained his footing in Class AAA. Beavan may or may not pan out in the big leagues.
Smoak alone makes the Lee deal worth it if he continues to produce even close to this level. Yes, the M’s gave up Mark Lowe as well, but they have hard-throwing arms who can absorb that blow, both at the major league and minor league level. Here is how Lowe has done in the majors this year after an injury-plagued 2010.
Lowe — 4 G, 2 2/3 IP, 13.50 ERA, 1 K, 1 BB
As for Lee, no matter what he does with the Phillies this year, or did for the Rangers last year, odds of him signing with Seattle after 2010 were slim to none. The M’s were not going to meet his asking price and he really wanted to go back to Philadelphia, as we saw this past winter.
So, the real measurement of the deal is to look at what the M’s gave up in December 2009 to land Lee.
Aumont (AA) — 10 G, 12 IP, 2.25 ERA, 16 K, 4 BB
Gillies (AA) 2010 — .238 AVG, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .619 OPS
Ramirez (AA) — 5 GS, 29 IP, 1.86 ERA, 6 K, 8BB
The thing that jumps out at you is that none of the prospects given up has advanced beyond the AA level. Aumont is back to being the relief pitcher he was when the M’s gave him up in the trade. Gillies had that cocaine possession arrest last year, though the charges have since been dropped. His game and reputation are still recovering, as is he from hamstring woes. Has yet to play in 2011.
Ramirez seems to be faring the best, but those K/BB numbers are a tad worrisome. Still, he’s a AA starter. When he gets to the majors, we can start wondering.
The key thing here, in my mind, is that the M’s swapped AA prospects for players who are contributing — huge in Smoak’s case — at the major league level. We talked yesterday about how this rebuilding plan for Seattle needs to maintain a sense of urgency because the ticket-buying public is dwindling and you never know how many could be lost forever.
Well, this is probably the best examole of GM Jack Zduriencik speeding up the rebuilding plan. He needs to do more. But so far, that Lee gamble is paying off big-time. Not only because Smoak has given him a power hitter. But because he looks to have bought himself a few years of time with the prospects swap.
You have three of the four already having tasted the majors (Smoak, Laffey, Lueke) while those given up are still in AA. And once you come to terms with the fact Lee would never have re-signed here (barring a playoff run early by the 2010 team), you realize that everything else the M’s gave up in the deal has been replaced within the organization. That’s progress. And we’ll always tip our hats when we see some.



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