Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Sleeper in the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes

The national media and Mariner blogs have turned their attention to where Cliff Lee will be dealt. It's doubtful Seattle will keep its ace starter around past the July trade deadline as Lee will surely test free agency and leave the Pacific Northwest as a 2010 Type A free agent. The M's could hang onto Lee through this dismal season and snag a pair of supplemental first-round picks for a loaded 2011 amateur draft... but I'm inclined to believe (along with most others) that Jack Zduriencik will pull the trigger on a great offer -- if it comes.

Most people agree the Mets and Twins make the most sense for a potential swap. Both teams have rotation needs, playoff aspirations and enough high-impact, near MLB-ready prospects to pry Lee. But I also believe one team who could make the big splash is the normally quiet Tampa Bay Rays.

GM Andrew Friedman has to work with a limited payroll in baseball's toughest division. With the Red Sox and Yankees annually adding to their arsenals even reaching the playoffs is a tall task for the Rays. And All-Stars Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are free agents after the year. It's doubtful Tampa Bay can afford to keep them both. That's why I think Friedman might pull the trigger this season. Adding Lee would give Tampa Bay a huge boost to the rotation and solidify their playoff chances as well as a possible World Series. During a short playoff series a pitching staff of Lee, David Price, James Shields and Matt Garza/Jeff Niemann/Wade Davis would be deadly. A deep playoff run would also add millions to the Rays coffers and further boost their national presence.

Assuming Tampa Bay is willing to buy Cliff Lee what would they have to give up? Seattle has holes everywhere, but what they need most are quality starters and impact bats.

Wade Davis is someone I'm sure the M's would love to acquire. It would be a high price for the Rays, as the 24-year-old RHP is among the most promising young starters in baseball not named Stephen Strasburg. But then again, this is Cliff Freakin' Lee we're talking about. Dude is sporting a 15:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's one of the five best pitchers alive. He comes with two draft picks in addition to several months of awesomeness. Cliff Lee will cost a lot.

Okay. So let's say Wade Davis is the main piece in a trade proposal. What else could Tampa Bay throw the Mariners. It's unlikely anyone in the lineup would be dealt. SS Reid Brignac would fit nicely in Seattle but with Jason Bartlett's struggles I'm sure the Rays want to keep him around.

A Cliff Lee for Wade Davis and Reid Brignac would make sense for both clubs. It's a better deal for the M's... but then again, flags fly forever.

But presuming Brignac isn't available let's delve into the loaded Rays system. They're not trading Desmond Jennings or Jeremy Hellickson. It's also doubtful they would give up so soon on Matt Moore or Tim Beckham. The M's would have to dip deep into High A for someone like 1B Matt Sweeney -- and he's several years from the big leagues. OF Kyeong Kang is also an interesting outfield prospect but he's also just starting out. Adding those two would be a nice boost to the long-term health of the Mariners organization but perhaps Jack Z feels the need to add more immediate help.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts on how the Rays might acquire Lee. Though it probably won't happen I consider Tampa Bay the best run organization in baseball. It wouldn't shock me if they added one of the premier arms in the game to its team.

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