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August 3, 2012 at 9:52 AM

Wacky, fun idea: let’s see Mariners put a waiver claim in on Cliff Lee

We’re about to see whether the Mariners can extend their winning streak to eight as they go after the second wild-card slot and a possible World Series berth where Hisashi Iwakuma would be your Game 3 starter.
Speaking of wild, wacky and fun ideas, let’s get serious for a moment and put our thinking caps on, since that’s the objective of this blog. Not to write stuff that you think will play well for all the people who think “correctly” (which is often a bunch of guys agreeing on the wrong idea). But to actually extend our minds a bit and contemplate what others don’t want you to.
I spent part of yesterday reading from everybody in the greater North American blogosphere about how nobody is going to put a waiver claim in on Cliff Lee. The Phillies put Lee on waivers yesterday, not because he’s suddenly gotten bad but because that ballclub has spent a ton of money making the playoffs the past half-decade and now has to shave costs in order to keep all the All-Stars it has accumulated.
Turns out, they don’t get to keep Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels and Lee and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. No, they only get to keep four of the five. Weep for them, please. I’m sure their two World Series appearances since 2008 and their perennial lock on the division since Lee was still pitching in Cleveland and rumored to be a non-tender candidate (remember that?) has been ruinous to their franchise.
Anyhow, since the “correct” line of thinking is that nobody will pick Lee up, as he is owed $95 million through the 2015 season including a buyout for 2016, why not throw everyone a Lee curveball? Why not find a team with a ton of payroll room, no poisonous long-term deals after 2013 and with a need to make a splash locally?
A team that — heck — could spend the next two months letting its fanbase think it is serious about going for this whole second wild-card thing?
Why don’t the Mariners put a waiver claim in on Cliff Lee?
Photo Credit: AP

Stop laughing at me and listen for a second. You can all go back to being boring, predictable followers in a minute. (OK, you’re not all boring, some of you are quite entertaining, especially when you post on the comments threads and take offense to lines like the one I just wrote).
What’s the worst thing that could happen if the Mariners put a claim in on Lee? The Phillies could try to negotiate a trade and then, if the M’s don’t want to give them anyone good, can opt to simply stick Seattle with Lee for nothing. Well, nothing except his salary, that is.
Can force the Mariners into taking a premier pitcher for the next three-plus seasons at the cost of his salary alone. In other words, the Mariners could reunite the Lee-Felix Hernandez combo for nothing except money.
Where’s that salary coming from? Well, Lee costs $25 million per season.
The Mariners just rid themselves of Ichiro at $18 million. And they just dealt Brandon League’s $5 million.
Both guys are being replaced by others making MLB minimum salaries at a cost of roughly $1 million. So, I just accouted for $22 million of Lee’s $25 million salary for next year.
The remaining $3 million? Ticket sales, pal. Ticket sales for being relevant again because that’s all part of my plan.
What’s that, you say? The replacements for Ichiro and League are going to command arbitration raises in a couple of years? Sure, and you’ll pay for them when Chone Figgins and his $9 million and Franklin Gutierrez and his $7 million come off the books after next season. And you’ll have plenty left over to bring in other guys as well.
That’s assuming you want everything to balance out to where it currently sits. And where things currently sit right now — based on players still here in uniform — is that this is a $60 million team. Not an $82 million team like the Mariners began their season with. Yeah, you still have to pay for it all this year, but the figure drops dramatically once this season is over and stuff comes off the books.
So, it is possible to bring in Lee and keep next year’s payroll almost exactly where you began this season. Of course, the team could always raise payroll to where it was, say, way back in the mid-$90 million “glory days” of last year. That’s the plan, right? For ownership to spend once the team is “ready”?
Well, here’s what I say. Let’s make it ready right now.
Lee right now is running an ERA of 3.73 but that’s a bit deceptive because he’s allowing home runs at an abnormally unlucky rate based on his history. His home run normalized xFIP (Fielding Independant Pitching) says he’s actually doing better than Hernandez this season. Put him in Safeco Field for home games and I guarantee you that homer rate will come tumbling on down.
So yeah, you really would be bringing back the Lee-Hernandez combo. They are both as good as each other.
For this season, you throw the two of them out there and see whether they can’t start racking up wins in a hurry. See whether this team can use the next two months to actually make this second wild-card “race” a reality instead of a folly of fans’ imaginations. You could sell a few more tickets and get folks interested in next season. Give your marketing department something to sell other than talk and hope.
That’s the real reason you get Lee. To start to take a more serious wild-card run next year while continuing to develop at the same time. Since we’ve been told that this team’s bats are coming along as planned development-wise, they should be better next year. And the offense should be better than the 2010 joke that Lee and Hernandez had to pitch in front of.
I’ve been hearing from the usual protest suspects the past few off-seasons and trade deadlines that the reason the M’s can’t go out and deal for a premium player is because you don’t want to hurt the rebuilding plan. Fine. This won’t hurt. Lee won’t cost you any players.
Will it hurt the payroll? Again, the Mariners have been cutting, cutting, cutting. They have more payroll room short and long-term than just about any team in the game if they want to try to compete within their own division. They have a massive TV payload on the way in a couple of years and the only reason yearly revenues are down is because they keep putting bad teams on the field nobody wants to see.
Very few teams in the game have the ability to claim Lee and not hurt themselves.
The Mariners are not one of them.
Yeah, there are risks. Lee is 34. He’s no spring chicken. But his strikeout rate is still high and as I said, he’s running a better xFIP than Hernandez. Some lefties keep on pitching well into their late 30s.
Finally, I can hear it all now. What to do with Hernandez? Isn’t he owed a big raise, too? Don’t the Mariners want to try to extend him once his current contract runs out in 2014?
Yes they do. And what better way to get Hernandez to put ink to an extension in the next 11 months than by showing him you are serious about winning at some point before he has grandkids? Take a run at the impossible dream this year, then a real run at 85 wins and a second wild-card next year. Have Lee or Hernandez pitch that one wild-card entry game and the M’s could have a World Series type of rotation.
And then, once Hernandez’s new contract is due to start in 2015, you’ll have the TV money to offset it and will only have one final year of Lee’s deal remaining. Perhaps you can still flip Lee to a contender at the deadline.
And if Hernandez won’t agree to an extension by next July? Or, if the Mariners’ current hitters turn out to be mostly flops and the team stumbles around in last place yet again? Well then, you have to trade a pitcher.
No, not Lee. You trade the other guy that every East Coast writer from West Conshohocken to East Rutherford has been shouting at you to trade since the Hernandez-Lee combo made their debut act two years ago.
Yeah, it’s not everybody’s first choice. But at least you’d get a bunch of major league ready bats in return to try to jumpstart the offensive part of this rebuilding plan.
And, unlike your current setup, you’d still have a staff ace around the next few seasons while the team waits for Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton to blossom. That would be Lee. He fills the staff ace role the team is now using as a reason for why it won’t trade Hernandez.
You’re welcome.
Now, we can all go back to being boring and wait for some other team to try to trade for Lee once he clears waivers.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Hisashi Iwakuma


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