Mariners Want Outfield, Pitching Prospects in Return for Cliff Lee
Lee starts Tuesday as the Mariners kick off a three-game series against the New York Yankees. There's no betting in baseball, of course, but it's a good bet that scouts from more than half a dozen contenders will be on hand to watch Lee.
Not that he's changed much from the guy who won the American League Cy Young Award two years ago with Cleveland. Still throws a mean fastball to go with plus pitches in his slider, curve and changeup. He is 6-3, a record that, thanks to a weak Seattle offense, isn't nearly as good as his American League-leading ERA of 2.39.
Oh, and did we mention he throws strikes? Lots of them. He has a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 76 vs. four.
The Mariners are fielding calls from contenders in both leagues about Lee's availability. According to several of those doing the calling, the Mariners are open to making a trade -- if they get a deal they like.
The question then is what exactly is it that the Mariners need?
Well, for one, don't look for Seattle to pick up players ready to make an impact right now. Why? Because short of adding Barry Bonds circa 1993 and Johnny Bench circa 1969, no additions are going to make this Seattle team competitive in 2010. The Mariners are 15 games out of first place as of Monday, and while it's possible Seattle will dig its way out of the cellar, it's unlikely in the extreme that they will contend this year in any meaningful way.
The kind of players the Mariners are likely to be most interested in from the Rangers, Dodgers, Mets and Twins and whoever else dials Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik's number will be young and extremely talented. They'll have to be players whose impact will most likely be felt not this year and maybe not even in 2011, but in 2012.
Why 2012? It's a matter of the Mariners' minor league system. Most of the talent with big upside currently resides at Double-A West Tennessee, although the organization's best young pitcher, Michael Pineda, just got promoted to Triple-A Tacoma and threw six shutout innings allowing one hit in his Triple-A debut.
Mariners insiders are still mulling this one over, but the consensus seems to be that it makes the most sense from the organizational point of view to add to that broad talent base at West Tennessee -- third baseman Alex Liddi, second baseman Dustin Ackley, shortstop Carlos Triunfel and first baseman Johan Limonta -- with players who fit in. Those would be outfielders and pitchers, particularly left-handed starting pitchers.
So when reports come out that the Mets or the Twins are hoping to pick up Lee without giving up their best minor-league talent, they're probably either dreaming or not serious contenders.
For while the Mariners are willing to trade Lee in the right deal, there is no pressure on them to do so. The Mariners are, in fact, very fond of having Lee and Felix Hernandez at the top of the Seattle rotation and having them pitch back-to-back as they will against the Yankees this week. Seattle isn't strapped for cash, either, so Lee's $8 million contract isn't at all onerous.
One possible under-the-radar suitor that could be emerging is St. Louis, according to an executive from another team. Even though the Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the top of the rotation, they could use a boost. They could easily offer last year's first-round pick, Single-A right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller, as part of a package.
Would the Mariners trade Lee now if someone met their asking price?
"I don't know why he wouldn't," a person who has spoken with Zduriencik told FanHouse.
Given Zduriencik's history of trying to build through the draft -- he helped guide the Brewers back to competitiveness through the draft during his nine years in the Milwaukee front office -- he's not at all adverse to keeping Lee until the end of the season and taking the boost in the draft Seattle will get when Lee signs as a free agent this fall.
Still, getting quality Double-A or Triple-A players with solid big-league potential is the best way for Zduriencik to help the Mariners get quickly back to contention.
Those serious about trading for Lee are keeping all of that in mind.