July 2010

Cliff Lee: Looking forward, looking back.

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So you know what
else this Cliff-Lee-every-fifth-day schedule means?

 

He’s in line to
pitch on Monday night, September 20, the opener of what could be a huge
three-game set in Anaheim.

 

And on Thursday night,
September 30, the first game of the season-ending, four-game series against the
Angels in Rangers Ballpark.

 

And his next day to
pitch would be Tuesday, October 5 . . . which ought to be when the playoffs kick
off.

 

A week and a half ago,
when the Yankees were thought to be on the doorstep of landing Lee, it was speculated
that the club was also working on a counterpart deal that would send righthander
Javier Vazquez elsewhere (Philadelphia for Jayson Werth?) because of New York’s
rotation depth.  The Yankees already had
C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Vazquez, and someone
was going to have to go to make room for Lee.

 

Think about what would
have happened if Jon Daniels had waited another week and a half to close a deal
with Seattle – or maybe more to the point, if Jack Zduriencik had been more
patient.  Pettitte strained a groin
muscle today and is now out for more than a month, and Burnett cut his pitching
hand slamming a clubhouse door shut yesterday. 

 

Think Brian Cashman would have said no today, as he reportedly
did when Cliff Lee was still a Mariner, to Zduriencik’s ask of shortstop
Eduardo Nunez along with catcher Jesus Montero? 
If you were a Mariners fan, would you want to know the answer to that
question?

 

As a Rangers fan, of course, I’m glad we’ll never know.  Texas may have lost both Lee starts since his
arrival, but I don’t remember the last Rangers starter I had more confidence
in.

 

Another thing: If New York now renews efforts to find a
starting pitcher (Ted Lilly?), it could take up resources that might otherwise have
been earmarked for a hitter like Ty Wigginton or Wes Helms that the Rangers are
also after.

 

A few days ago I wrote about
how crummy the Angels must have felt
losing a game in the standings to Texas
during a stretch in which the Rangers dropped seven of 10.

 

How do you think they feel now, getting the sad-sack
Mariners at home for four coming out of the Break, while the Rangers were off
to Boston, where they’ve been terrible for two and a half seasons, for four
games of their own – and not gaining any ground, as both Los Angeles and Texas
won three times, each falling one extra-inning loss short of a sweep?

 

It’s another almost impossible story line for Texas: the
Rangers lose the Cliff Lee start in Fenway Park, and still win the series.

 

When the Angels come here for four on Thursday, they’ll do
so without Ranger-killer Scott Kazmir, who has landed on the disabled list with
shoulder fatigue.  But before that, Texas
– now listed by Bodog as the third most likely World Series champion in
baseball (behind the Yankees and Rays) – visits Detroit for three, a second straight
appointment at a house of recent horrors for this club.

 

But the Rangers keep pointing out in 2010 that history may
not be all that instructive this year.

 

 

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Cliff notes.

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Cliff Lee’s drive-by
appearance in the All-Star Game last night (one-pitch Martin Prado groundout,
three-pitch Albert Pujols strikeout, two-pitch Ryan Howard groundout) didn’t even
really count as side work, but the way Texas has the rotation set up coming out
of the Break, Lee will have a second opportunity to get some between-starts bullpen
work in anyway.  Rather than keep their
new ace on regular rest by starting him in Boston on Thursday, the Rangers will
have Tommy Hunter open the series and send Lee out against John Lackey on
Saturday.

 

The starting five,
accordingly, will go to work this way over the next 31 games (home games in
all-caps):

 

Hunter:            bos       det
      LAA    laa
       oak      BOS    tb

Lewis:             bos       det       OAK   laa        oak      BOS

Lee:                 bos       LAA    OAK   sea       oak      BOS

Wilson:            bos       LAA    OAK   sea       NYY   tb

Feldman:         det       LAA    laa        sea       NYY   tb

 

Clearly, Texas wanted Lee to kick off the home series
against the Angels, who are hitting .136 against him since 2008.

 

Incidentally, a couple sources out of Boston last night
reported that Clay Buchholz (strained hamstring) won’t come off the disabled
list to make Friday’s start against Texas, but will instead make a minor league
rehab start that night.  Facing Lewis rather
than Buchholz could be lefthander Felix Doubront.  Tim Wakefield gets tomorrow’s start against Hunter,
and Jon Lester will go Sunday.

 

Buchholz has lots of company on the Red Sox disabled list: fellow
All-Stars Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez, plus Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury,
Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Manny Delcarmen, Jed Lowrie, Jeremy Hermida, and Junichi
Tazawa.  Adrian Beltre is day to day, and
Mike Cameron is being used cautiously.

 

And yet Boston is 51-37, five games back in the AL East (behind
the Yankees) and three out in the Wild Card hunt (behind the Rays).  While I’m no Sox fan, that’s the team that,
year in and year out, I admire more than any in baseball.

 

I’m not trying to avoid feeling lousy about how Texas
finished the first half, losing 7 of 10 against the White Sox, Indians, and
Orioles, but imagine if you were the Angels. 
Before that 10-game stretch, you’d just taken two of three from the
Rangers to carve the division gap down to 3.5 games.  Stay close over those next 10, and coming out
of the Break, when Texas would stare down the toughest part of its schedule,
you’d make your move.

 

In fact, with the Royals, White Sox, and A’s on your slate
in that same 10-day stretch leading into the Break, maybe you could knock
another game or two off that 3.5-game deficit before the first half ended.

 

If you knew then that the Rangers would drop those 7 of 10, you’d
probably feel good about getting seriously close to catching them by time the
league shut down for these three days.

 

Then what happens?  You
manage to win 2 of 10 yourselves, taking one of three from Kansas City and one
of three from Oakland, sandwiched around a four-game sweep at Chicago’s hands.

 

It’s easy to say Texas could, and maybe should, be sitting
with a lead of 6.5 or 8.5 games right now. 

 

But the Angels probably feel like they should be a half-game
out, if not a half-game up.

 

Last comment on that disgusting Orioles series: Texas came
into it with the third-best runs-per-game average in baseball (5.25, behind
only Boston and the Yankees), and Baltimore had the second-worst ERA in baseball
(5.14, better only than Arizona). 

 

The Rangers had baseball’s ninth-best ERA (3.90).  Baltimore was 27th in runs per
game (3.58). 

 

How did that happen? 

 

STATS, Inc. doesn’t quantify flatness.

 

One other thing about the All-Star Game:

 

Elvis?  Come on, now.

 

(So the National League won its first All-Star Game since
1996.  Think about what else last
happened in 1996, about three months later.)

 

I would have lost this bet: Despite leading the American League
in walks, C.J. Wilson has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight straight
starts.  Doesn’t seem like it.

 

Peter Gammons notes that Texas actually has three of the top
10 AL pitchers in “RSAA” (Runs Saved Above Average, a Lee Sinins creation that
measures a pitcher’s effectiveness by comparing runs allowed per nine innings
to the league average and giving weight to total innings pitched): Lee is
fifth, Wilson is eighth, and Colby Lewis is 10th. 

 

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated
issued his mid-season awards, naming Jon Daniels AL GM of the (Half) Year, Josh
Hamilton runner-up for AL MVP, Lee runner-up for AL Cy Young, Neftali Feliz runner-up
for AL Rookie of the (Half) Year, and Ron Washington third in AL Manager of the
(Half) Year.

 

Would Lee be a Ranger today if the Indians had given him a
no-trade clause back in 2006, when they signed him to the deal that, once his
2010 option was exercised (by Philadelphia), was worth $23 million over five
years?

 

Having been traded three times in less than a year, Lee is
going to make sure the mega-contract he lands this winter contains no-trade
protection. 

 

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe,
Texas checked in on Cleveland righthander Fausto Carmona before trading for
Lee.  

 

We talked a few days ago
about how Seattle targeted Justin Smoak as one of (and evidently atop the list
of) several young hitters around the league they wanted in a Lee deal.  In addition to Jesus Montero (Yankees), Ike
Davis (Mets), and Desmond Jennings (Rays), who we discussed, Joel Sherman of
the
New
York Post
reports that Domonic Brown (Phillies), Gordon Beckham (White
Sox), and Brett Lawrie (Brewers) were Mariners targets.

 

Daniels acknowledged in a radio interview that the
Rangers-Mariners deal changed between Thursday night and Friday morning, and was
then tweaked some on Friday once Jack Zduriencik made a concrete proposal.  It’s pretty clear that Smoak was off the table
until Friday, and that once he was in the deal, it didn’t take long for Texas
and Seattle to get things done.


Daniels also said he wouldn’t be surprised if Josh Lueke is in Seattle’s
bullpen by the end of the season. 

 

Lueke could be a younger version of Mark Lowe,
actually.  (Though, interestingly, he’s
only a year younger than the three-year veteran, who will be a factor here in
2011 and 2012, if not this September.)

 

Tanner Scheppers sat 99 in his two-thirds of an inning at
the Futures Game on Sunday, hitting 101 on the stadium gun once.  I’m not sure it’s the last time he’ll pitch
in Angel Stadium this month. 

 

I’m betting on two more significant moves this month: a
trade for a right-handed bat, and the promotion of Scheppers to give the
bullpen a boost.  (Of course, the returns
of Derek Holland and Rich Harden will also impact the available bullpen options.  Harden gave up one hit and one walk in 2.2 scoreless
rehab innings for Oklahoma City on Sunday, fanning two; he threw 48 pitches, an
uninspiring 28 for strikes, but it is the first time he’d competed in a month.)  Daniels’s July work isn’t finished.

 

(To that point, there’s less pressure now from a baseball
operations standpoint for the bankruptcy process to play out before July
31.  The Rangers didn’t need payroll
freedom to make the Lee trade – and really, if they didn’t need Seattle to
throw in $2.25 million, how much less do we think they would have had to put in
the deal in terms of prospects . . . if Blake Beavan, Lueke, and Matt Lawson
were downgraded significantly, would the Texas offer still have come out on
top? – and they reportedly still have some budget room to add the bench bat
they clearly still need.) 

 

Baseball
America
ranked Scheppers’s fastball as the best featured on Sunday.

 

Scheppers starts for Oklahoma City tomorrow.  RedHawks pitching coach Terry Clark told the Daily Oklahoman
a month ago that he’ll be held to five innings per start.  This gives Scheppers continued opportunities
to work out of the stretch and refine his changeup.

 

Mitch Moreland remains in right field for the RedHawks (no
move back in to first base yet), and is torching baseballs right now.  After a solid .309/.412/.468 June (17 walks
and 18 strikeouts in 94 at-bats), he sits at .349/.429/.721 in 43 July at-bats
(six walks and five strikeouts). 

 

After four games in Frisco (one at each outfield spot plus
one at DH), Endy Chavez has been moved up to Oklahoma City. 

 

In his first two starts for AA Richmond, Michael Main has
allowed 10 runs (six earned) on seven hits and five walks in six innings,
fanning two. 

 

Beavan, Lueke, and Lawson have yet to debut for AA West Tenn
in the Seattle system. 

 

Chris Ray has pitched six times for the Giants, permitting
one run on two hits and two walks in 6.2 innings, striking out five. 

 

Matt Nevarez has a 4.79 ERA in 21 middle relief appearances
for Houston’s AA affiliate at Corpus Christi. 
Jose Vallejo is back from his off-season hand injury, and has a .162
average in his first 37 at-bats for the same club.

 

Jason Botts is hitting .471/.526/.824 in 34 July at-bats for
AAA Syracuse in the Washington system.  The
Nationals have him splitting time between right field and first base.  If Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham gets traded
this month, could Botts get another big league shot?

 

Fox Sports Southwest produced a really good feature called “Spotlight:
The Rangers’ Minor League Gold Mine.”  I
can’t recommend it enough.  Dana Larson
interviews Jon Daniels, A.J. Preller, Josh Boyd, Don Welke, and others in the Rangers’
scouting and player development departments, and it’s as good a look into the
inner workings of one of the real key aspects of the organization as I’ve seen.  The 30-minute special re-airs on Saturday at
11:30 a.m., Monday at 10:00 p.m., and Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.  Set your DVR’s now.

 

Since being designated for assignment by Tampa Bay at the
end of June, Hank Blalock hasn’t surfaced anywhere else, as far as I can tell.

 

Gary Matthews Jr. is hitting .324/.352/.515 for Cincinnati’s
AAA squad in Louisville.

 

After Houston released infielder Drew Meyer from his AAA
contract at the end of June (coinciding roughly with the arrival of Ramon
Vazquez), the Angels added Meyer to their AAA roster. 

 

Milwaukee released lefthander A.J. Murray.  Boston designated lefthander Fabio Castro for
assignment.

 

Matt Purke is Baseball America’s 2010 Freshman of the Year.  Florida International outfielder Jabari Henry
made BA’s All-Freshman second team.

 

The Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League released
righthander Justin Miller.  The
Pittsfield Colonials of the independent Can-Am League released lefthander Matt
White.

 

Does anyone have their kid playing fall baseball in the SVAA
this year?  Let me know.

 

Buck Showalter is reportedly about to be offered the Baltimore
managerial job, and Bo Porter (whose one year in the Texas outfield preceded
Showalter’s arrival by two years) is a strong candidate to land the Marlins job
this winter.

 

My MLB.com this week: The Rangers’ top 10 July trades of the
last 10 years.  Goes live tomorrow.

 

I know I’m supposed to care a little about last night’s
result, not so much because It Counts but because it could conceivably Count
for the Rangers, but I just can’t get worked up about it.  I didn’t need the momentary frustration of
seeing Elvis give away an out right before Hamilton singled in what was then a
one-run game, but overall I was just happy that Feliz didn’t pitch and that no
Rangers got dinged up.

 

And that Cliff Lee did what Cliff Lee do(es). 

 

I’m ready for real games again, and while I’m not looking
past Hunter-Wakefield or Lewis-Doubront, I stinkin’ can’t wait for Lee-Lackey
on Saturday.

 

 

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The Cliff Lee Trade.

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It will be popular
to suggest that Jon Daniels has just made the opposite of his 2007 trade of
Mark Teixeira to Atlanta, buying now as he sold then, but I’m thinking of
another trade that Friday’s acquisition of Cliff Lee reminds me of, in a 180-degree
sort of way.

 

Daniels had been on
the job a little more than a month when, days before Thanksgiving 2005, Florida
traded big leaguers Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota for prospects
Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia.  It was clear from a barrage of local and
national media reports that, prior to the trade going down, Florida and Texas had
been on the verge of closing a deal themselves, one that supposedly would have
sent the same Marlins trio (though some reports omitted Mota) to Texas for Hank
Blalock, John Danks, and possibly Joaquin Arias.

 

Because Daniels, the youngest General Manager in baseball, had
no trading track record, there were columns written denouncing the 28-year-old
for failing to pull the trigger on the opportunity to land Beckett (the
groundwork having reportedly been proposed by Florida owner Jeffrey Loria to
Rangers owner Tom Hicks).  Daniels
himself has admitted he might have been too deliberate in his efforts to solicit
input from within the organization. 

 

But there has also been the notion that the player Florida
wanted all along was Ramirez, and that a key reason Loria approached Hicks at
the Owners’ Meetings was to get him fired up about the idea of bringing the budding
young ace home to Texas – which, the Marlins hoped, would be the leverage they
needed to get Boston to agree to part with Ramirez.  As talks progressed, stories emerged that a
deal between Texas and Florida was expected to be finalized at any moment.

 

In stepped Boston, and Texas was boxed out.

 

That’s the deal I thought about yesterday when I read this
comment from Tyler Kepner in the
New York Times:

 

[N]obody
likes to feel used, and privately, that was the Yankees’ prevailing sentiment
on Friday, when the Seattle Mariners traded the All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee
to the Texas Rangers for a four-player package headlined by Justin Smoak, a
switch-hitting first baseman they had coveted for weeks.

 

Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett.

 

Justin Smoak, Hanley Ramirez.

 

Texas, Boston.

 

New York, Texas.

 

The Yankees, according to Kepner, felt “they were a pawn” as
Seattle fielded offers for Lee, and nobody can accuse New York of being slow on
any trigger.  When the Rangers told Mariners
GM Jack Zduriencik, evidently on Friday, that they’d put Smoak in the deal, he
used the ankle injury to Yankees AA second baseman David Adams – unquestionably
the secondary piece in the New York offer that was fronted by 20-year-old
catcher Jesus Montero – as an excuse to back out of a deal that the entire
national media had characterized as virtually done, one that apparently was
agreed on pending the review of medicals. 
It took only two hours, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, for
Texas to pounce in and close a deal.

 

(Said Passan of the “livid” Yankees: “This is how it feels.  This, New York, is what it’s like to be a
baseball fan anywhere else in the country.”)

 

(An “angered” Yankees official to Joel Sherman and George A.
King III of the
New
York Post
, regarding the “double-dealing” Mariners: “The Yankees do
not do business that way.  When we say
something is a deal, it is a deal. . . . This is frustrating and disappointing.”)

 

When Zduriencik told reporters Friday afternoon, after the announcement
of the trade that sent Lee, reliever Mark Lowe, and $2.25 million to Texas for
Smoak, righthanders Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and second baseman-outfielder
Matt Lawson, that Smoak was one of four or five players he and his staff had
pinpointed around the league as key trade targets, it became clear that even if
Montero was on that list, Smoak was higher on it. 

 

He was their Hanley Ramirez.

 

More evidence that that’s what was going on here?  Seattle held the number one trade asset in the
league in Lee.  The conventional trade
deadline doesn’t arrive for another three weeks.  So why didn’t the Mariners sit tight, letting
demand build and desperation mount as July 31 approached? 

 

As of yesterday, they could get Montero but not shortstop Eduardo
Nunez (who they reportedly asked for in place of Adams [who hasn't played in
seven weeks], after the Yankees initially agreed to substitute righthander Adam
Warren for Adams). 

 

They evidently couldn’t get Mets first baseman Ike Davis.  

 

Or Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley or first baseman
James Loney.  

 

Or Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings. 

 

Or Twins catcher Wilson Ramos plus outfielder Aaron Hicks,
rather than Ramos plus righthander Kevin Slowey. 

 

But what if one of those teams reconsidered later this
month?  Why did Zduriencik jump on July
9?

 

Because he got his number one man.  He wanted Smoak.  Texas agreed to move Smoak.  Ballgame. 

 

(Not that it was a widely popular decision.  Several national writers have weighed in over
the last 24 hours, suggesting that Montero should have been the Mariners’ choice.  Said Joe Sheehan, for example: “You’re not
going to win a Cliff Lee trade because Blake Beavan or David Adams works out;
you’re going to win it because you got a player who anchors a future contender
or champion.  Justin Smoak
may be
that player, but Jesus Montero
is that player.”)

 

It obviously benefits Texas a ton to get Lee now rather than
at the deadline.  These three weeks that
remain in July should mean four or five extra Cliff Lee starts that might have
otherwise gone to Matt Harrison, or perhaps Rich Harden or Derek Holland coming
off of injury.  And not just any four or
five starts.  Though Texas could adjust
the rotation differently after next week’s All-Star Break, Lee could face Baltimore
tonight, then Boston on the road, Detroit on the road, the Angels at home, and the
Angels on the road, all this month. 

 

Put another way, a bad team that Texas desperately needs to punish
tonight after brutal collapses the last two nights (by a bullpen that
desperately needs a starter to go deep), followed by four very good teams.

 

I could lay out Lee’s numbers against those clubs the last
couple years, but what’s the point?  He’s
been brilliant against almost everyone.

 

Including in the biggest games.  In five post-season starts last year with
Philadelphia, Lee went 4-0, 1.56 (including the Phillies’ two World Series
wins), holding the Rockies, Dodgers, and Yankees to a .186/.219/.241 slash and
fanning 33 while issuing six walks in 40.1 innings.

 

That total of six bases on balls in 40.1 playoff innings is
the same number of free passes that Lee has given up in 103.2 innings this season.  Pair them with his 89 strikeouts and you’ve
got a pitcher averaging 14.83 strikeouts per walk, a ratio that has never been
matched over a full season.  (In fact, no
qualifying pitcher since 1900 has exceeded 11 strikeouts per walk.)  The next best rate in the big leagues this
season?  Roy Halladay’s 6.61.

 

Lee has almost as many complete games (an American League-leading
five) as walks (six) in 2010.

 

Diamondbacks righthander Edwin Jackson issued more walks
(eight) in his June 25 no-hitter than Lee has issued this season.

 

Among American Leaguers with at least 10 plate appearances,
who has the best career batting average against Lee?  Ian Kinsler (9 for 20, .450).

 

Who has the worst? 
Erick Aybar (0 for 10, .000).

 

While we’re at it, the Angels collectively against Lee, since
2008, have a .136 batting average, including .114 against his fastball, .077
when behind in the count, and .067 with two strikes.

 

That second of two starts Lee could make this month against
the Angels won’t be the first time he’ll wear a Rangers lid in Angel Stadium.  He’ll be there Tuesday, earning the second All-Star
Game nod of his career.


Lee is 8-3, 2.34 in 13 starts this season. 
He leads the league in ERA, and it’s not a product of Safeco Field.  The lefthander actually has slightly better
numbers this year on the road (2.24 ERA, .223/.239/.321 slash) than in Seattle
(2.47 ERA, .240/.243/.344 slash).  

 

I’m not going to get into the Lee vs. Roy Oswalt debate, one
that I never
understood
, but for many reasons, this trade made so much more sense to me than
any deal for Oswalt would have.  While I suppose
there might have been an argument as to whether Oswalt or Colby Lewis, at this
stage, would be a Game One starter in the playoffs, there’s no question in Lee’s
case.  He makes Lewis a very solid number
two.

 

Is it really a foregone conclusion that Lee, an Arkansas native
who still lives in Little Rock with his wife and two kids, will leave to sign
with the Yankees this winter (which would give Texas (1) an extra supplemental
first-round pick and (2) either a late first or possibly a late second or third
as compensation)?  That’s a discussion for
another time.

 

Deciding whether to pursue a pitcher of Lee’s caliber was the
easy part.  Determining how much to give
up – particularly given the reality that the offer would need to be padded a
bit to cover for the cash necessarily coming back – was trickier. 

 

Let’s dial back to the report I wrote
on Monday
that focused on what I figured it might take to get Lee.  I listed six categories – centerpiece players,
a second tier, and four more groups: upper-level and lower-level pitchers and upper-level
and lower-level hitters – and presumed it would take one player from each of
the first two groups and then two more minor leaguers to complete the trade. 

 

Specifically, I speculated:

 

1.     
Smoak or Holland or Martin Perez or Tanner Scheppers

2.     
Plus Alexi Ogando or Tommy Hunter or Julio Borbon or Nelson Cruz
or David Murphy

3.     
Plus two more players from a list that might have included Beavan,
Lueke, Omar Beltre, Michael Kirkman, Pedro Strop, Wilmer Font, Robbie Erlin,
Robbie Ross, Joe Wieland, Chris Davis, Engel Beltre, and Miguel Velazquez

 

I concluded that report by guessing that, after a number of exchanges,
the final Seattle proposal might be Lee for Smoak and Holland.  And that I’d say no.

 

That Texas landed baseball’s best left-handed pitcher, a
proven big game warrior on a short list of the league’s best pitchers, period, without
giving up Perez or Scheppers or Holland or Hunter or Ogando is sort of
stunning.  I understand that Seattle was targeting
a young hitter.  But I’m still having
trouble getting my head wrapped around a deal for a pitcher like this where you
part with a young blue-chip position player but don’t have to dip into what is
a very deep top tier of your pitching prospect stable – and that’s without even
considering that you had to have the Mariners put cash into the deal, something
other teams wouldn’t have insisted on. 

 

According to one media estimate, Lee and Lowe will earn
$4.07 million the rest of 2010.  The
Mariners’ subsidy means they will pay $2.25 million of it, Texas $1.82
million. 

 

You tell me I just got Cliff Lee, early in July rather than
late, and that Seattle is paying more than I am for him to wear my uniform, and
I would fully expect someone like Beavan to be in the deal.

 

As the third piece.  Not
the second.

 

When I wrote about the Bengie Molina trade with San
Francisco on
July 2
, I commented: “If Michael Main is the cost of $2 million in salary
relief to get a player like Molina, the price tag in prospects to get someone
like Cliff Lee along with a cash subsidy is one I don’t even need to see.”

 

To me, it would have made sense for a player like Beavan to
be the cost of Cliff Lee cash, if Main was the cost of Bengie Molina cash.  And if viewed that way, does that mean this
deal would have been Smoak and Lueke and Lawson for Lee and Lowe if there were
no cash component?

 

I sure would have hammered that angle home, just a week
after the Main move, if I were Zduriencik. 
I’ve got to have Beavan (a Rick Adair favorite), but I need an upgrade
on Michael Main as an added piece to the deal. 
If Seattle said righthander Joe Wieland needed to be in the deal, too,
would Daniels really have said no, and missed the chance to add
Cliff Lee? 

 

Clearly, Zduriencik didn’t find out.

 

Another way to view the Molina trade: By including Main,
Daniels bought himself $2 million to use in a bigger deal.  By getting Seattle to put $2.25 million in yesterday’s
deal, he still has that payroll cushion to use for yet another piece.  A right-handed hitter as protection at first
base?  More on that later. 

 

The Rangers’ apparent restraint in this year’s July 2 international
free agent market preserved cash as well, as one local beat writer points out.

 

Sherman made an interesting point regarding the Commissioner’s
Office’s green light on this trade, suggesting the added payroll not only still
fits within the club’s budget but could also be offset by a boost in attendance
on nights Lee pitches.  We’re about to
see what that looks like tonight.  I don’t
know if the club keeps records on walk-up ticket sales, but isn’t there a chance
that tonight’s will be the biggest in franchise history?

 

This is not to dogpile on Zduriencik.  In the span of seven months he turned the underwhelming
package of Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gillies (plus Lowe) into Smoak,
Beavan, Lueke, and Lawson, with three brilliant months of Cliff Lee added in.  Viewed solely on its face, that’s a fantastic
upgrade.  And trading within the
division?  What does Seattle care if Lee
pitches well for Texas for three months? 
The dilemma, if one exists, belongs to Texas, who has to envision facing
Smoak and Beavan for at least the next six years. 

 

The point is that there’s no reason Seattle should have been
reluctant to trade Lee to the Rangers just because they’re division
bunkmates.  Just the opposite – long
term, the Mariners stripped Texas of a couple players that they’re counting on to
make core impacts.

 

Even if Smoak becomes Adrian Gonzalez, and even if Beavan
becomes Brad Radke or Jeff Suppan, I can live with it.  (Partly because in Smoak’s case, Lee is not
Adam Eaton.)

 

The idea of Holland or Perez or Scheppers (the latter two of
whom are number 8 and number 25 on
Baseball America‘s
mid-season Top
25 Prospects list
, published yesterday) pitching near the front of the
Mariners rotation (or closing games) for years to come is what made me most nervous. 

 

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote earlier this
week: “The Rangers line up for a trade with Seattle extremely well if Texas has
the ability to make a deal due to their financial considerations, and if the
Mariners are willing to trade within their division.  Corner infielder Chris Davis is hitting .349/.397/.542 at Triple-A Oklahoma, and
while he’s struggled in the big leagues twice, his bat could be the long-term
solution to Seattle’s first base issue.  Seattle
would almost certainly ask for Martin
Perez
, one of, if not the top, left-handed pitching prospect in the game,
and Texas is a pitching-rich system that could also dangle top lower-level arms
like righties Wilmer Font and Robbie Erlin to help sweeten the pot.”

 

That’s the kind of trade – Perez, Davis, Font, and Erlin -
that I expected Seattle to be able to make, with some team, though I hoped not
with Texas.  It would have been too much to
give up, but closer to what I thought Lee’s market probably was.

 

Beavan had taken one of the two or three biggest steps forward
in the Rangers system this year.  He’s an
innings-eater and a relentless pounder of the zone – which describes Lee as
well – but the key difference between the two is that Beavan doesn’t miss enough
bats to project as a top-of-rotation starter (though he’s improved somewhat in
that aspect this season).  Without the
makings of a legitimate out pitch, Beavan can still be an extremely valuable
constant in a good rotation – think Radke or Suppan or Hunter – but he doesn’t
have the ceiling of a Perez or Scheppers or Holland.  Beavan’s sturdy 10-5, 2.78 encore in 17 Frisco
starts resulted in a promotion to AAA earlier this week, but he hadn’t yet appeared
with Oklahoma City when the trade went down.

 

The 6’7″ righthander will apparently report to AA for the
Mariners.  There’s been some talk that he
could get a look in Seattle before the season ends (there was talk about that
in Texas as well), but it would kill a roster spot this winter since he doesn’t
need to be added to the 40-man roster until November 2011.

 

An interesting observation from Sheehan: “Beavan is actually
a decent fit for the Mariners and Safeco Field, but exactly the wrong type of
player for them to acquire.  If the
Mariners have shown us anything this year, it’s that they can extract value for
very little investment in their rotation.  Doug Fister and Jason Vargas are middling guys
who have put up good numbers thanks to a big park and a strong defense.  The Mariners don’t need to be wasting the
trade value of a Cliff Lee on pitchers, because they can find pitchers.  Beavan’s place in this deal should have
belonged to Engel Beltre or Jurickson Profar or some other high-upside
offensive talent, because that’s what they’re struggling to develop.  It’s not that Beavan is bad, it’s that they
can make their own Beavan.”

 

As for Lueke and Lawson, both have taken steps forward this
year but were inventory in this system. 
Should the Rangers lose Lee this winter and recoup two first-round picks
(or even a first and second or a first and third), well, put it this way: if draft
picks were tradeable, Texas would certainly swap the 25-year-old Lueke (taken
in the 16th round of the Beavan/Main/Borbon/Hunter draft) and the
24-year-old Lawson (14th round, same year) for the picks they stand
to get for losing Lee.

 

Lueke, whose troublesome off-the-field story is one I don’t
feel like getting into, has been outstanding this year, posting a 2.11 relief
ERA between Hickory and Frisco, fanning an eye-opening 62 batters and walking
only 10 in 38.1 innings.  He’s a
fastball-slider type who figures to factor in as a seventh-inning type if everything
works out.

 

Lawson is an instinctive player and solid defender (primarily
at second base, a little corner outfield) who has hit more and more as he’s
moved up the chain (.277/.371/.438 for Frisco this season).  Ceiling? 
Maybe Joe Inglett.  Tug Hulett.  A role player.

 

As for Lowe, a 27-year-old with two years of club control after
this season, he’s a big righthander with a big arm who was effective last year
(3.26 ERA in 75 relief appearances, 69 strikeouts and 29 walks in 80 innings,
seven home runs) but whose 2010 season was cut short after a month due to a
herniated disc in his lower back.  He’s
recovering now from mid-June microdiscectomy surgery and is expected to miss
the rest of the season, but there are suggestions that his rehabilitation is going
well enough that he might be able to join the Rangers’ bullpen in September.  

 

It’s key to note that this isn’t an arm problem, and as hard
as this relief corps has been worked, getting a fresh power arm down the
stretch could be pretty useful.  And Lowe
(a UTA product) should figure in next year, perhaps to compete for the role
that Chris Ray was brought in last winter to handle.

 

Though he may or may not pitch this year, Lowe’s inclusion in
the trade is sort of equivalent to Ron Mahay being tacked on in the Rangers’ deal
with Atlanta in 2007.  That was the Mark
Teixeira Trade, not the Teixeira/Mahay deal.

 

And this six-player deal, with all due respect to Blake
Beavan, whose future I’d bet on more than Lowe’s, is the Lee-for-Smoak trade.

 

Here’s the thing about dealing Smoak, a player that I still believe
in.  Even if his career ends up looking
more like Gonzalez’s or Mark Teixeira’s or Justin Morneau’s than like Travis
Lee’s, it’s massively easier to go find a first baseman than a frontline
pitcher.  Is Chris Davis that guy?  Don’t know. 
Mitch Moreland (.668 OPS in AAA in April, .824 in May, .880 in June,
.885 so far in July)?  Really don’t
know.  (First things first: Will Moreland
be moved back from right field to first base with Davis’s promotion to Texas?)

 

But regardless of what happens with the ownership situation,
at some point within the next year this club should be in a position to spend
more on payroll, and there will be opportunities to go sign or trade for an
everyday first baseman, if that becomes necessary. 

 

Plugging holes in the rotation is a more complicated task,
and Texas is in as good a position as any team in terms of developing young
starters internally.  The only place this
trade really altered the Rangers’ farm system depth was at first base.  If I have to choose a position at which to
suffer a setback in depth (and again, Davis and Moreland and perhaps Chad Tracy
keep it from being an empty cupboard), I’ll live with it at first base.

 

If Davis doesn’t look in the next two weeks like he’s
figured things out, don’t be surprised to see Texas grab a veteran before the
trade deadline.  Cubs first
baseman-outfielder Xavier Nady’s name has already been mentioned in a couple
places.

 

For what it’s worth, and for various reasons it may not be
much, I do note that Davis was a more productive hitter in AA than Smoak
(.319/.374/.644 for Davis vs. .328/.449/.481 for Smoak) and in AAA
(.341/.407/.571 vs. .255/.386/.397), and has been in Texas as well
(.253/.301/.474 vs. .209/.316/.353), though it must be pointed out that Davis’s
big league numbers have regressed each season since he arrived in 2008.  If I had to bet on one’s future, I’d probably
still take Smoak, but his early work, particularly from the right side (not
necessarily an advantage if you believe Davis’s ability to hit AAA lefthanders
has the chance to translate), suggests he’s not the absolute lock for
superstardom that most have predicted.  His
plate discipline and unusually low batting average on balls in play promise
better things, but Seattle isn’t hoping they got Lyle Overbay.

 

There’s also the added benefit of getting Davis back in
there defensively.  Smoak made great
strides with the glove the last two months, but he’s not Davis’s equal.

 

I’m pretty sure I’d take Montero ahead of either of them,
even if he eventually has to move from catcher to first base.  Given the choice between a 20-year-old whose
ceiling might be Miguel Cabrera and a 23-year-old who could be Morneau, I’ll
take the younger guy, whether he’s a catcher or not.

 

Opinions differ on Montero vs. Smoak.  But we know where Seattle stands on that
debate.  And it wasn’t just good fortune
that had Texas in the position to do business with the Mariners yesterday.

 

I’m repeating myself, but drafting Smoak in 2008 set things
up for a Matt LaPorta/C.C. Sabathia trade down the road.  From the April 23 Newberg
Report
:

 

When
Texas chose Smoak on June 5, 2008, Davis was less than two weeks into his AAA
promotion, having hit his way out of the Texas League with a monstrous
.333/.376/.618 two months.  There was
every reason not to pop the 21-year-old Smoak with the 22-year-old Davis
barreling in toward the first base job that Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton
were attempting to hold down.  The
Rangers could have taken the second player on their board, Georgia high school
righthander Ethan Martin, and avoided the possible Davis-Smoak conundrum.

 

You never draft for need. 
You take the best player available. 
With ownership willing to spend what it would take to pay Smoak’s expected
signing bonus demands, Texas did take the best player available on Draft Day
2008.

 

And they had the best player available, at least in Seattle’s
eyes, again yesterday, enabling the execution of Step Five, for which It was
Time.

 

As a result Texas now suits up the best big league pitcher available,
the latest incredible development in what has been, and promises to continue to
be, an extraordinary baseball season in Arlington.

 

 

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Cliff Lee, Texas Ranger.

What’s the opposite
of writer’s block?

 

I have five leads in
mind for tomorrow morning’s Newberg Report.

 

No, six.

 

Eleven hours after I sent out the “just a brutal day”
message, this one feels quite different.

 

OK, gotta go try and let the game come to me and settle on a
lead.  Check back with you in the morning.

Trading a first baseman.

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It may not be as stunning
a number as Juan Gonzalez’s 101 RBI before the All-Star Break in 1998, but all
things considered, the Rangers reaching 50 wins with four games still to play
before the Break this year is pretty remarkable.

 

Only one other time in
franchise history has Texas had 50 wins through 84 games – in 1996, the club’s
first playoff season.

 

With Tommy Hunter
(5-0) set to go Thursday against Baltimore’s Jeremy Guthrie (3-10), followed by
Scott Feldman (5-8) against Brian Matusz (3-9), and Matt Harrison (1-1) and
C.J. Wilson (7-4) slated to face two Orioles starters to be determined to round
out the first half, Texas would seem to have a good chance to pack on another
three wins to that total.

 

Three more hitless, scoreless innings for the bullpen
tonight, and Alexi Ogando may have been the best of the three relievers Texas
sent out there.  He drew the toughest assignment,
drawing Grebeck Nix and Carlos Santana among his three slated Indians, and he
retired them in order, on 15 pitches, locating 11 for strikes, including three
straight good-looking sliders to Nix, who had punished Texas fastballs all
series.

 

Ogando became the first pitcher in 42 years to start his big
league career with three straight relief wins, but don’t expect many more from
him this year, or in the foreseeable future. 
He’s being entrusted regularly with leads now, and justifiably so. 

 

Major league hitters are hitting an anemic .093 (4 for 43)
off Ogando, including an 0 for 13 showing by left-handed hitters, against whom
he’s averaging just one ball per plate appearance.  The only run he’s permitted (not including
three inherited runners) came on a Nix home run on Monday. 

 

Justin Smoak is 3 for his last 33, with nine strikeouts in
that span (and four walks).  He was a
.130 hitter over one week in April, a .187 hitter in May, and a .266 hitter in
June, but back to .130 in July. 

 

I’m all for patience with young players, and there have been
a couple stretches in which Smoak has hit into some hard outs, but at what
point do you decide (1) for the long term, he’d be better off working on necessary
adjustments at Oklahoma City, where the pressure of a pennant race would be
off, and (2) for the short term, Chris Davis (.355/.404/.559) would give Texas
a better candidate to contribute offensively as the club nears a brutal
Boston-Detroit-Angels stretch coming out of the Break?

 

Maybe I’m making too much of the fact that, after playing
nothing but third base in 12 games since June 23, Davis slid back over to first
base in Game Two of the RedHawks’ twinbill tonight. 

 

Could it be that Davis seeing time at first base for the
first time in two weeks has something to do with multiple local stories tonight
that trade talks between Texas and Seattle “appear to be heating up” regarding
Cliff Lee, and that the Mariners are seeking a young impact bat – implicating Davis
or perhaps even Smoak, whose departure would certainly make Davis a first
baseman again as far as the Rangers’ plans are concerned?  (Seattle has also reportedly asked indicated
interest in Ogando, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though
Texas is disinclined to make the three pitchers available.) 

 

Sure seems like if Texas and Seattle do get together on a trade,
Davis is going to be a big league first baseman again, either here or with the
Mariners.  And even if no deal goes down,
Davis is pressing the issue.

 

The White Sox have just
finished once again putting the Angels away. 
The division lead is now 5.5, seven in the loss column.  If you are Texas and believe Chris Davis is
not part of your plans, his trade value (whatever it is) will probably never again
be higher.  And Justin Smoak still has
plenty of trade value, despite his rookie struggles. 

 

Some may view it as an unfortunate by-product of playing
winning baseball, but Step Five is here, and it seems, given the above, that Texas
ought to seriously consider trading one of their two young first basemen in the
next few weeks if there’s a real opportunity to significantly improve the club
elsewhere, likely in the rotation.

 

 

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Shutdowns and schedules.

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Thirty-five times
this season, Scott Feldman has taken the mound immediately after the Rangers
scored. 

 

He’s given up runs
in 14 of those innings – 25 runs overall, 24 earned. 

 

Thirteen times, he’s
had an opportunity to execute a shutdown inning, which is the half-inning
entrusted to a pitcher right after his team has take a lead in the game. 

 

Nine times he’s
allowed runs – 15 overall, 14 earned.

 

So Feldman’s ERA in shutdown inning opportunities is 9.69.

 

Derek Holland’s shoulder is fine, and his right knee is getting
better.  He will throw long toss today,
and he is scheduled to throw live BP tomorrow.

 

Rich Harden threw a bullpen Thursday and again yesterday and
is apparently throwing live BP today.  He’s
raving about his mechanics and his fastball.  

 

For what it’s worth, last year Harden’s ERA before the
All-Star Break was 5.47.  Afterwards it
was 2.55. 

 

Tanner Scheppers is apparently in the midst of his second planned
one-week shutdown
.  He last started
on June 28 and is slated to make four starts once he gets back on the hill, at
five innings apiece.

 

Cliff Lee didn’t throw his fourth straight complete game yesterday,
but he did go eight strong (one run, nine hits, one walk, 11 strikeouts) in an
8-1 win over Central-leading Detroit. 

 

Lee is on the same schedule as Feldman. 

 

So is Dan Haren.  And
Brett Myers.  And Fausto Carmona.

 

Presumably, at least two of Holland, Harden, and Scheppers
can have upcoming minor league starts set up so that they will be, too.

 

 

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An entirely too lengthy treatise on trading for Cliff Lee.

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On Monday, Todd Kaufmann
of BleacherReport.com ran a
story on the Rangers
and what Jon Daniels might do before the trade deadline.  In it Kaufmann included the following, regarding
a recent Twitter exchange I had with well-regarded Mariners blogger Dave Cameron:

 

==============================

 

For
those of you who didn’t see this before, Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report
was asked, via Twitter, by David Cameron of USSMariner.com what it would take
to get a deal done to send [Cliff] Lee to Texas.

 

Newberg’s
response?

 

“Martin
Perez (Double-A left-hander), Chris Davis, and a lesser prospect.”

 

Timeout.

 

For
those Ranger fans, or even Mariner fans, can you for even a second imagine the
Mariners taking two minor leaguers and Chris Davis for Cliff Lee?

 

If
I’m Seattle, I’m laughing Jon Daniels off the phone if he thinks that is all
it’s going to take for the Mariners to send Lee to the American League West
leaders.

 

Sure,
the Mariners got Lee from Philadelphia for just about nothing, but they’re not
going to take nothing to trade him.

 

==============================

 

One problem.  He got
it backwards.

 

Here’s the actual exchange:

 

==============================

 

[me to Dave]  @d_a_cameron
@LookoutLanding You’re Jack Z, JD calls you. What do you realistically
ask Texas for in exchange for Lee?

 

[Dave to me]  @NewbergReport
Assuming I have to pick up all of the salary: Perez, Davis, + lesser guy.

 

[Dave to me]  @NewbergReport
In my view, that’s pretty close to what Mil gave up for Sabathia two years ago.
Agree?

 

[me to Dave]  I’d take Perez
today over anyone MILW moved for C.C. @d_a_cameron @NewbergReport
pretty close to what Mil gave up for C.C. Agree?

 

==============================

 

Now while I might agree with Kaufmann that Perez, Davis, and
a prospect won’t be enough to land Lee (especially if Seattle has to pay for
the final third of Lee’s $9 million contract for 2010), it was Cameron’s Mariners-centric
proposal.  Not mine.

 

And what did the Brewers give Cleveland for Sabathia in July
2008?  First baseman Matt LaPorta, outfielder
Michael Brantley, and righthander Rob Bryson, all minor leaguers, and big
league lefthander Zach Jackson. 

 

The Rangers drafted Smoak a month before the Sabathia
trade.  Their deadline to sign him was a
month after the Sabathia trade.  The day
before that signing deadline, when the local papers were speculating that a
deal might not get done – and that it might not be a terrible thing for Texas
to walk away (and get an extra first-rounder in 2009) given the way Davis had
exploded on the American League with what was then a .900 OPS – I wrote this:

 

I disagree. 

 

There’s no telling
what players will be available at number 12 next June, but it’s not likely any
will have the upside of Smoak, who by all accounts should never have fallen to
number 11 two months ago.

 

And here’s the more
critical point: Milwaukee
got C.C. Sabathia last month because they had Matt LaPorta.

 

If he develops as
expected, an already signing-bonused Smoak will be more valuable as a trade
chip than having an extra pick at number 12 next summer would be. 

 

So we now come full-circle (to the extent that a Twitter
exchange between two bloggers registers), with one suggesting that the Sabathia
trade could be a prototype for what Seattle might expect to get for Lee (who,
amazingly, pitched with Sabathia on a 2008 Indians club that went only
81-81). 

Two teams haven’t gotten enough when trading Lee (Cleveland got
Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson from Philadelphia for
the reigning AL CY Young Award winner last July, and the Phillies got J.C.
Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies from the Mariners in
December).  Both packages were inferior
to what the Indians got for Sabathia in 2008. 

 

But Seattle will get more than a Sabathia package for Lee
this month.

 

So what is Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik asking for? 

 

Buster Olney of ESPN says “big bat potential . . . and two
guys fit the description: Justin Smoak of TEX and Yonder Alonso of the Reds.”

 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Seattle wants “major
league or major-league-ready hitters.”

 

If you asked Bob Nightengale of USA Today,
the Mariners “say they want hitters in return for Lee.”

 

Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press,
who makes Texas “a slim favorite for Lee,” says Seattle wants “lots of hitting
prospects.”

 

John Hickey of AOL Fanhouse gets very specific, suggesting
the Mariners are targeting “outfielders and . . . left-handed starting pitchers”
who project to provide an impact in 2012.

 

Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News
writes that Seattle “wants a young catcher in any deal” for Lee – but has no
interest in Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden.

 

So here’s what we know:

 

1.     
Lots of writers believe Seattle wants young impact hitters (and
maybe left-handed pitching) in any deal for Lee.

 

2.     
Writers aren’t always right.

 

3.     
A Mariners blogger I have a ton of respect for thinks a package
of Martin Perez, Chris Davis, and a prospect might be enough.

 

So what would you offer for Lee, whose simply awesome 7-3,
2.45 season (78 strikeouts and five walks in 95.2 innings, three straight complete
games and four out of five – with four of those five opponents leading their respective
divisions) continues with a start that’s underway right now in Detroit?

 

Obviously, the threshold question is whether the Rangers’
sale has gone through.  The Mariners aren’t
looking to move Lee just to shed a contract, but with Texas having sold Michael
Main to the Giants for $2 million in salary relief this week, let’s assume that
to cover the $3 million that Lee will earn over the final two months that Texas
has to toss in a prospect like Mitch Moreland, in exchange either for the cash
or for Seattle’s agreement to take Rich Harden in the deal to come close to offsetting
the salary.  (For what it’s worth, which
is probably not much, the Mariners were said to be interested in the British
Columbia native Harden this winter.) 

 

OK, here we go.

 

But before you assume that any trade for Lee, who would give
this club a lockdown ace to help protect baseball’s biggest division lead in the
second half and to pitch Game 163, would allow Texas to recoup a couple
first-round picks when he bolts for the Yankees this winter, hang on a second.

 

As of two weeks ago, Eddie Bajek’s reverse-engineered
Elias projections
have Lee as a Type A player, which is no surprise, but at
a projected 89.493 Elias number he’s in the same neighborhood as Phillies
outfielder Jayson Werth (85.125) and Rays outfielder Carl Crawford (83.000).  So? 
New York is rumored to be targeting both outfielders this winter.  If they end up outranking Lee and the Yankees sign
one of them along with the lefthander, then they would surrender their
first-round pick to Philadelphia or Tampa Bay, leaving their second-rounder for
whichever team finished the 2010 season with Lee.

 

Certainly not a contingency that would, on its own, convince
you not to pull the trigger on a Lee trade, but maybe worth tucking away.

 

Categories, if I’m Seattle:

 

CENTERPIECE PLAYERS: Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Justin
Smoak

 

NEXT TIER: Julio Borbon, Nelson Cruz, Derek Holland, Tommy
Hunter, David Murphy, Alexi Ogando

 

AAA/AA-LEVEL HITTERS: Engel Beltre, Brandon Boggs, Chris
Davis, Craig Gentry, Mitch Moreland, Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor
Teagarden, Chad Tracy

 

LOWER-LEVEL HITTERS: Jorge Alfaro, Teodoro Martinez, Guillermo
Pimentel, Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, Miguel Velazquez

 

AAA/AA-LEVEL PITCHERS: Blake Beavan, Omar Beltre, Cody
Eppley, Daniel Gutierrez, Matt Harrison, Beau Jones, Kasey Kiker, Michael
Kirkman, Josh Lueke, Brandon McCarthy, Guillermo Moscoso, Zach Phillips, Pedro
Strop

 

LOWER-LEVEL PITCHERS: Richard Alvarez, Chad Bell (PTBNL), Wilfredo
Boscan, Jake Brigham, Ovispo De Los Santos, Robbie Erlin, Wilmer Font, Trevor
Hurley, Joseph Ortiz, David Perez, Carlos Pimentel, Neil Ramirez, Robbie Ross, Matt
Thompson, Braden Tullis, Joe Wieland

 

AND: Rich Harden

 

This will be oversimplified (and probably overthought as
well), but let’s work on it this way.  Let’s
say the proposed parameters for Lee are: one player from each of the first two tiers,
and two more players coming from the remaining tiers.

 

The Rangers take Borbon, Cruz, and Hunter off the list, and
move Ogando into the first tier.  Profar is
also off limits.

 

The Mariners immediately eliminate Saltalamacchia and Teagarden
(I’m relying on Fraley’s note here), and Gutierrez and Kiker and McCarthy.  They also drop Murphy, who doesn’t really fit
the 2012 profile.

 

(Cameron and fellow Mariners blogger Jeff Sullivan respectfully
request that Zduriencik stay away from Guillermo Pimentel, the outfielder recently
promoted from Spokane to Hickory, because it would just be too confusing.)  (Not really.)

 

Several conversations down the line, the categories are whittled
down to:

 

CENTERPIECE PLAYERS: Ogando, Perez, Scheppers, Smoak

 

NEXT TIER: Holland

 

AAA/AA-LEVEL HITTERS: E.Beltre, Davis, Gentry, Moreland, M.Ramirez

 

LOWER-LEVEL HITTERS: T.Martinez, Sardinas, Velazquez

 

AAA/AA-LEVEL PITCHERS: Beavan, O.Beltre, Harrison, Kirkman, Strop

 

LOWER-LEVEL PITCHERS: Bell (PTBNL), Boscan, O.De Los Santos,
Erlin, Font, Ross, Thompson, Tullis, Wieland

 

AND: Harden

 

Holland was a favorite of Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair
during his time as the Rangers minor league pitching coordinator.  Adair told Mike Hindman in
a 2008 Dallas Morning News interview
,
regarding Holland: “He’s got tremendous baseball intelligence . . . . He’s very
consistent not only in his approach to pitching and his preparation, but in his
delivery.  Every pitch, every game, in
every situation, he looks the same.  He
worked extremely hard.  He’s extremely
competitive . . . . Every now and then, somebody just comes along . . . . [long
pause] Actually, I’ve never seen somebody improve so much, so fast in my time
coaching.  How do you not get fired up
about a guy like that?”

 

And let’s not forget the game Holland threw against the Mariners
on July 30 last year, with the rumors swirling that he might be on the verge of
going to Toronto in a trade for Roy Halladay. 
One out short of a complete game. 
A fifth-inning single and a ninth-inning single.  One walk, also in the ninth.  Ten strikeouts. 

 

I’ve changed my mind on Jon Daniels’s behalf.  Holland goes into the top tier (though he’s
no longer untouchable, and Tommy Hunter has a lot to do with that).  Ogando goes back into tier two, but if taken
it limits what the Mariners can have to round out the deal.

 

Zduriencik wants Smoak, Ogando, Beavan, and Engel Beltre, and
Moreland added on if the Rangers need a $3 million subsidy or for Seattle to
take on Harden.

 

Daniels offers Holland, Davis, Kirkman, and Engel Beltre.  Moreland for Harden gets tacked on.

 

Zduriencik, though seduced by Holland’s gem a year ago,
insists on Smoak, because Minnesota is offering catcher Wilson Ramos and Tampa
Bay is offering B.J. Upton to front their proposals.  He tells Daniels that he’ll put recently
reacquired Russell Branyan in the deal so that the Rangers have an option at
first base in case they don’t want to entrust the spot to Davis for the pennant
run.  Branyan’s left-handedness isn’t
ideal in that scenario, but he’s a useful placeholder, and in any event, as far
as 2010 is concerned, is going better than Smoak right now.

 

Zduriencik wants Erlin added to the deal in exchange for
Branyan.

 

Daniels isn’t willing to put Erlin in, but would put in
Tullis, a pitcher the Mariners are familiar with from his amateur days and his
work in the Northwest League last summer. 
And Moreland is out of the deal.

 

Zduriencik: Lee and Branyan for Smoak, Ogando, Engel Beltre,
Beavan, Moreland, Erlin, and Harden.

 

Daniels: Lee and Branyan for Smoak, Ogando, Saltalamacchia, Tullis,
and Harden.

 

Zduriencik says he can do better with another club.  His compromise offer: Lee for Smoak and Holland.  And Branyan for Tullis is fine.

 

I’m not sure I’d trade Smoak and Holland and Tullis for Lee
and Branyan, even though the idea of adding Lee to this rotation makes the pennant
run look a lot stronger, not to mention the odds of doing something in October,
and even though there’s a part of me that still believes Chris Davis (now
.343/.390/.535 at Oklahoma City and actually hitting better against lefties
than righties, though with 60 strikeouts in 245 at-bats) may figure it out, and
even though I’m going to get two extra first-round picks (or maybe a first and
a second) next June after Lee leaves for pinstripes.  It would be different if I thought Lee was
open to extending long-term here (like Roy Halladay did with Philadelphia last
year).  He’s likely not.

 

But still, that’s a deal I’d have to think about.

 

Before saying no.

 

And by the way, you can disregard this entire report.  Everyone, from the papers to the blogs to the
talk shows to water coolers, is just guessing.

 

 

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Big Game.

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Tommy Hunter’s first
big league win came on his 23rd birthday, a 3-1 win in Rangers Ballpark
over Tampa Bay.

 

Tommy Hunter’s most
recent big league win came on his 24rd birthday, a 3-1 win in
Rangers Ballpark over Chicago.

 

There were lots of differences between the two wins.  Hunter lasted only 5.1 innings in last year’s
win, needing 90 pitches and throwing only 61 percent for strikes.  More than half of the Texas lineup – Marlon Byrd,
Andruw Jones, Hank Blalock, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Chris Davis – isn’t even
around any more. 

 

Tonight, Hunter gave the Rangers seven-plus, throwing 72
percent of his 94 pitches for strikes, a tremendously efficient effort that includes,
for example, an 0-4 night by Jones that, despite accounting for two of Hunter’s
three strikeouts, still faced only 11 Hunter pitches. 

 

Hunter faced 29 White Sox tonight.  He started off 25
with a first-pitch strike.

 

When I was on ESPN Radio yesterday, Ben Rogers asked me rank
the top four young Rangers starting pitchers in terms of untouchability at
trade time.  I said Martin Perez would be
the one I’d be least likely to part with, followed by Derek Holland, and then
Tanner Scheppers, and finally Hunter – who is now 5-0, 1.98 for the season and has
yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of his six starts.

 

But I finished the point by saying how much I love having
Hunter on this staff.

 

You look at the current Rangers starting five, the rotation
that’s leading one of baseball’s only three teams playing .600 baseball, and I
would wager that Hunter is the most likely to be a Texas Ranger three years
from now.

 

I’m still not sure why Joaquin Arias is still around but he
did drive in a run and score another, both with John Danks on the mound, giving
me an opportunity to shoehorn in the note that Arias and Danks were Stockton
teammates in 2004, Frisco teammates in 2005, and Oklahoma teammates in 2006.

 

I’m more interested in sharing with you that Arias and Ultimate
Journeyman Bruce Chen were Oklahoma teammates in 2007.  Chen was perfect into the seventh tonight in Anaheim,
earning the Royals’ second straight win over the Angels, a game that just ended
with Kansas City coming out on top, 4-2.

 

With the white-hot White Sox in Arlington, and the Angels
hosting the hapless Royals, after these last two nights Los Angeles has given
back the game it gained in the Rangers series. 
The division lead is back to 4.5 games. 

 

Six in the loss column.

 

My work now turns to a report I’ve been meaning to write for
about two weeks, one that I can’t put off any longer (especially since I’m
getting a dozen emails every day asking for it). 

 

Back with that report in the morning.  Or maybe Monday.

 

 

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Trading Michael Main.

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If you’re not crazy
about Chris Ray and Michael Main for Bengie Molina, there’s one way that we
could have been sure it wouldn’t have happened: If the Rangers were having a
lousy season.

 

Or if Jarrod
Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden had taken a step forward, rather than both
going backwards.

 

Or if the sale of
the club had gone through by now.

 

Or if the Texas farm
system wasn’t as deep as it is.

 

Any one of those
things would have killed this deal.

 

But instead, the
Rangers started Thursday with the best record in baseball, a catching situation
that reminded us this week it needed an upgrade, a financial strait jacket, and
a heavy inventory of pitching prospects.

 

I never really
trusted Chris Ray, and particularly with Alexi Ogando’s emergence and Tanner Scheppers
getting close (and a chance for Pedro Strop to capitalize in between), I’m not
sure we’ll feel his loss at all.  I don’t
love losing Main, though.

 

Was I too high on
Main when I ranked him the Rangers’ number six prospect going into 2008, his
first full season?  When I ranked him
fourth going into 2009, and made him my number one pitching breakout candidate?  When I ranked him seventh going into 2010,
and number two on the breakout list?

 

Maybe. 

 

Am I too low on Main
when I suggest he’d be my number 18 Rangers prospect right now, 12th
among pitchers?

 

Maybe.

 

There are two things
I have no doubt about:

 

1.      Main has a tremendous shot to pitch in the
big leagues.  He may not be Tim Hudson,
as some initially thought he might be (or Bret Saberhagen, a comp I always liked
better), but he has a decent chance to be solid.

 

2.      There are at least half a dozen Rangers pitching
prospects, and maybe 10 or 11, whom I would have moved Main before.

 

Yes, it’s frustrating that the Rangers basically had to sell
Main for $2 million in order to get a veteran rent-a-catcher they liked.  But Jon Daniels is handcuffed with the club
in bankruptcy court, and these aren’t the days of Eric Hurley and Josh Rupe topping
your pitching prospect depth chart, with a big league staff half full of guys
who won’t be around in two years. 

 

The Rangers may have overpaid for Molina by including Main
in the deal – and I’m in the camp that says they did – but given the inventory
Texas has, I can understand (given the apparent inability to take on added salary)
why this trade was made.

 

I say “inability,” but maybe it was more like a “reluctance”
to increase the payroll.  We’ve heard in
the last week or two that Texas does have room in the budget to add a contract
of unknown size at the trade deadline, and if it took trading Main to preserve
that for a bigger deal later this month (or even a big splash in the
international free agent class, whose signing window opens today), then I’m OK
with that. 

 

Stated another way: If there’s a deal out there to be made
for a number one or two starter – who it is doesn’t matter – and we can get it
done for a package of players that’s acceptable to you and me, if to close the
deal we’d have to add Main, you’d do that without looking back, wouldn’t you?

 

But we now know this, even if we all suspected it
beforehand: If Michael Main is the cost of $2 million in salary relief to get a
player like Molina, the price tag in prospects to get someone like Cliff Lee along
with a cash subsidy is one I don’t even need to see.  (Prominent Seattle blogger Dave Cameron agrees,
tweeting yesterday: “Attn Mariners: Please trade Lee to Texas.  Based on reported return for Molina, they will
pay through the nose if M’s pick up his salary.”

 

Main was consistently a back fields star in Surprise, in
March and October, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and has only 239
innings of work in four pro seasons, all in Class A or below.  He’s been good for the most part in 2010,
posting a 3.45 ERA in 15 starts in the hitter-friendly California League.  San Francisco will reportedly have the
21-year-old make his AA debut in the next few days, just as the Rangers were
preparing to do.

 

But no matter how you tier things, Main is probably a
pitcher whose departure can be survived. 
(Of course, the same was once said about Armando Galarraga.)  In the wave that was working at Bakersfield, he
was behind Wilmer Font and maybe Joe Wieland and Carlos Pimentel and Wilfredo
Boscan and Jake Brigham (recently demoted to Hickory).  At Frisco, he certainly would have been behind
Martin Perez and Blake Beavan (and Daniel Gutierrez, once he works his way back
to that level).  A group at Hickory that
includes Robbie Erlin and Robbie Ross and Matt Thompson is on the wave behind
Main, but gaining on him and probably slotted ahead of him on the overall organizational
whiteboard.

 

Among the 2011 Rule 5 class, while it’s premature to
handicap things, Perez and Beavan and Tomas Telis likely head a group that would
have demanded roster protection ahead of Main. 
Plus, that doesn’t include players from the 2010 group (Font, Pimentel, Boscan,
Brigham, Gutierrez, Mitch Moreland, Engel Beltre, Kasey Kiker, Marcus Lemon, Miguel
De Los Santos, others) who might be left off this winter but not lost, and then
force their way into the roster picture in 2011.

 

And given Main’s troubles with left-handed hitters
(.285/.343/.506 this season with the Blaze), whether he’ll continue to profile
as a middle-of-the-rotation starter rather than a seventh- or eighth-inning
reliever as he moves up the ladder could become an issue.

 

If Texas weren’t squarely in contention, there would be no
need to address catcher.  But with about
one-sixth of the club’s remaining games coming against the Angels, you can’t
run Max Ramirez out there and allow Los Angeles to run at will, getting into
scoring position and taking away the double play possibility at every chance.  And you can’t ask Matt Treanor (who’s within
a dozen games of a career-high workload) to catch every day, particularly in
those seven games out of the season’s final 14, head to head with the Angels.

 

And if the Rangers had been sold, maybe the trade would have
been Ray for Molina, with no money changing hands and no prospect tacked onto
the deal.  Main is not Carlos Santana
(and Molina is not Casey Blake), but it would have been nice not to have club
finances impact the parameters of this trade.

 

Imagine what Daniels will be able to do with his roster once
the financial handcuffs come off.  The
point of building a strong farm system, as we talk about here all the time, isn’t
just to develop young talent to groom for your roster – it’s also to position
yourself to make trades, whether it’s to patch a roster hole, as with this
deal, or to load up for an impact player. 

 

It’s going to be a great day when the ownership transfer is
complete, and Daniels can use his tremendous farm system depth to acquire star
players, instead of basically selling prospects to avoid taking on salary.

 

But dialing back to the present realities, the bottom line
as I see it is this: Michael Main is a player, all things considered, that you
can probably afford to give up. 

 

It’s just a shame, given current circumstances, that you had
to.

 

Trading Molina

Main attraction for
Giants:

Need cash?
Prospect back

 

 

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Twitter 
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