Cliff Lee Is Really Good

Right now, signs seem to be that the Mariners will be receiving Cliff Lee in this three-way trade. It is not yet official, as Roy Halladay still has to okay a contract extension with the Phillies, but many consider that nothing but a formality, so I'm pretty comfortable with the feeling that this is a done deal. As such (and with the understanding that, yeah, this could all still blow up):

  • Over the last two years, Lee has thrown 495.1 innings over 70 starts, postseason included. His ERA over that span is under three, his FIP is under three, his xFIP is well under four, and his tRA is well under four. While he's not likely to sustain his low rate of home runs, this isn't one of those situations where regression turns a seemingly good pitcher into a disappointing one - even allowing for some statistical normalcy, Lee still comes out looking aces. He is the definition of a workhorse, and though he's not young, the worst injury he's ever had is a hernia, so there are few better bets for 2010. No single pitcher is a guarantee, but Lee's about as close as you're going to get. And we don't even need to worry about a league adjustment.

  • Lee succeeds in the same way that Ben Sheets used to succeed - by just throwing strikes over and over with sufficiently good stuff to maintain a solid strikeout rate. He doesn't miss a ton of bats - his contact rate is actually below-average - but he's consistently ahead in the count, which puts him at a significant advantage. In a way, he and Felix take remarkably different paths towards a similar end result, and it'll be all kinds of fun to watch them BACK TO BACK OH MY GOD

  • OH MY GOD

  • It's important not to pay too much attention to early reports of what the Mariners are giving up, here. There are a ton of names floating around and, without confirmation, we're essentially left guessing. But while everyone's nervous about how much we're losing, remember that Lee didn't bring back an amazing haul from Philly last July, and now he only has a year left on his contract. Pitchers with a year left generally don't get jaw-dropping returns, no matter how good they are. Johan Santana only got Carlos Gomez and some pieces, and Santana even negotiated a long-term contract. We will lose some real talented young players, but barring complete surprise, this is not a trade that's going to gut the system, because good executives don't gut the system for a guy on a one-year deal.

  • It's also important to remember, as Graham has pointed out, that Cliff Lee's a virtual lock to be a Type A free agent next winter. Which means we can either sign him to an extension, trade him midseason, or let him walk and collect a pair of draft picks. Even though he's set to be a free agent, it is highly unlikely that he only makes a one-year impact.

  • That Lee is a free agent next winter is, of course, a big concern, since the Mariners are good but by no means league favorites. The odds right now are against his remaining here for a while. He's only set to make $9m in 2010, and he's going to want his payday. That said, letting him pitch in this ballpark with this defense...I don't think Lee's going to be granting anyone any kind of discount, but if the Mariners can convince him that this is as perfect a situation as any, they could lock him up before next fall. If they want to. He's a lefty in a big stadium with an amazing group of gloves and a front office that's moving the organization in the right direction. Seattle's a great place for a guy like Lee.

  • Remember when Daisuke Matsuzaka was making his home debut and Felix stole the spotlight by throwing a one-hitter? The Red Sox signed John Lackey this morning. Anyone notice? Suck it Boston.

  • It took something like two months for those damn Erik Bedard rumors to come to fruition. I woke up this morning thinking about Ian Snell and hours later we're a Roy Halladay signature away from grabbing Cliff Lee out of the blue. Jack Zduriencik is a magician. Rumors fly around all the time, but who had him getting Lee? Or Figgins? Or Gutierrez? It can be aggravating to follow a team with a front office this quiet, but it can also be the most exhilarating thing in the world.

  • The Angels lost Chone Figgins, they lost John Lackey, they missed out on Roy Halladay, they missed out on Cliff Lee, and if the Red Sox finish this Mike Lowell deal, they'll probably miss out on Adrian Beltre. They did manage to land Hideki Matsui, but that's by no means a high-impact addition. If you thought it was frustrating to miss Rich Harden, imagine how Tony Reagins must feel.

  • Cliff Lee does not, on his own, make us a great team. He just adds a handful of wins. I know it's no fun to look at things this way, since everyone wants to daydream about the Felix/Lee 1-2 punch leading us to the Series, but it is something we all have to keep in mind. That said, this division - once again - lacks a strong frontrunner, so these added wins are huge. And Z isn't done. Because Lee only costs $9m this year, we still have at least $10m or so to address other needs, and there exists the possibility that ownership could be convinced to spend even more.

  • This can't be for real.

  • You know who's going to be really excited about this? Felix. That couldn't hurt.

  • Ian Snell walked more batters in 145 innings last year than Cliff Lee has walked in his last 489.
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