People have told me that true love is never smooth. That there will always be speedbumps, and that, when a couple truly loves one another, one of them will always rise to the challenge and fight to preserve the relationship. Other people have told me that love - real love - is easy. That it never feels like a chore or a burden, and that every day is bliss.
Cliff Lee's brief time in Seattle definitely fell in with the latter. Even given his injury, it was never a challenge. There were never any hurdles. Watching Cliff Lee was paradise. In that regard, as baseball players go, Lee kind of felt like my soul mate. Everything about him was perfect. Everything about his skillset, his performance, and his personality was exactly how I would design my perfect pitcher.
And now he's gone. Off to strengthen a division rival as the Rangers look to win their first-ever playoff series and compete for the title. Even if it's right to set free what you love in circumstances such as this, that doesn't make the right thing easy. Who cares if our relationship with Lee was headed for an inevitable end? A big part of me wanted to drag this son of a bitch out as long as possible. Every day that Cliff Lee wasn't traded was another day that Cliff Lee was a Seattle Mariner. He was one of the few things to make me genuinely happy about this team.
Alas, we knew a trade was coming eventually, and I suppose I should be thankful that this whole circus was limited to one single day. Granted, we've been dealing with rumors for weeks, but never rumors like today's. Never rumors like the ones to which I woke up. We didn't have to deal with days of hot rumors of Lee going to New York, days of hot rumors of talks falling apart, and days of hot rumors of Lee going to Texas. We knocked it all out in a handful of hours. The efficiency lessens the pain.
Now then. With everything we've heard throughout the day, there's a natural inclination to compare what the Mariners got from the Rangers to what the Mariners might have gotten from the Yankees. It's perfectly sensible. We had two and maybe three names from New York. We have four names from Texas. Why not see how the two packages stack up? Doing so allows the fan to do a fan's favorite thing - evaluate a decision made by his favorite team's front office. The first thing anyone wants to know about any team decision is whether it was good or bad, and today's events readily present an opportunity for such an assessment.
I'd encourage you to avoid that urge, though. Ignore it. I'm not saying it isn't interesting to compare the return the M's got to the return the M's might've gotten. But we just don't know the details. We don't know if there was more than we've been told. More importantly, we don't know the reasons behind the front office changing course. I mean, we know the reason was Justin Smoak, but we don't know what the FO thinks about Jesus Montero or any of the other guys. This is one scenario where you really, really ought to defer to the organization. It's one thing to talk about big league players with long big league track records. We know what those players are all about. But prospects? Jack Zduriencik and many of his assistants are renowned for their scouting prowess, and if they believe a certain thing about Montero, or Smoak, or Adams, or Beavan, or whoever, then who am I to disagree? I can have my opinions, but my opinions are worth less than theirs, because they are better informed. That's the end of it. If they prefer Smoak and the rest to Montero and the rest, I can question their call, but I'm in no position to say it was good or bad. This, of all things, is their strength.
So with that in mind, let's set aside any comparisons and just look at what the Mariners are bringing back. In return for Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe, and some money, the newest members of the organization are:
Smoak is a 23 year old switch-hitting first baseman with 275 plate appearances of Major League experience. The numbers aren't great, but they're fueled by a low BABIP, and more importantly, Smoak isn't a franchise cornerstone because of what he can do now. He's a franchise cornerstone because of what he could do in 2011 or 2014. That he's a switch-hitter is awesome. He's drawn walks everywhere, with a good eye and still a fairly advanced ability to make contact. He's an average to above-average defender in the field, meaning we don't have to talk about him as a DH. And the power is coming. You can look at the 17 minor league home runs and come away unimpressed, but he's young, he has the right body, he has the right swing, and he's already on a 17-home pace over 600 big league PAs. Potential is by definition never a guarantee, but he's a very good bet to end up an annual candidate to go deep 20-25 times while getting on base a ton and flashing a solid glove. Smoak's a special talent. What he lacks in unfathomable upside, he gains in certainty. There is very, very little chance that Justin Smoak doesn't succeed.
The secondary, lesser prize, Beavan's a 21 year old righty who just got promoted to AAA. Statistically, what you need to know is that, over 17 starts in AA, he walked just 2.8% of the batters he faced while striking out 15.7%. He hasn't generated many whiffs, but he's been very good about avoiding the free pass. Beyond the performance, the first thing you notice is that he's 6'7, meaning he's releasing the ball closer to the plate than the average pitcher. The former first round pick has undergone some organizationally-directed changes to his mechanics, and now works with a fastball in the 89-93 range, a changeup he likes, and a slider. He does have some groundball tendencies. It is worth noting that, since making 15 starts in AA a year ago, Beavan's strikeout rate at the same level in 2010 nearly doubled. Though young, Beavan is a "safe" bet to make the bigs as a back-of-the-rotation starter, and with continued development, he also has moderate upside. Not altogether very far away.
Let's just come right out and say it - Lueke has both a phenomenal minor league strikeout rate and one big off-the-field red flag. I don't know Josh Lueke. You don't know Josh Lueke. Please do not rush to judge Josh Lueke. Don't pretend like any of us has any understanding of the details of what happened that night. What we do know is that the righty reliever has just dominated this year with A-ball Hickory and AA-ball Frisco. He works primary off of a fastball in the mid-90s and a mid-80s slider, and he throws a splitter to keep lefties off balance. It's not a stretch to think that he could help the Mariners out of the bullpen next season, if not immediately.
The fourth piece is the least exciting, but though Lawson is a 24 year old with only decent numbers in AA, he isn't without his upside. He's capable of drawing a walk, he has a fair amount of power, and Baseball America last year called him the best defensive second baseman in the California League, an award that is supported by Lawson's numbers. His ceiling isn't very high, but he could rise quickly and has a shot at being a regular (albeit probably not here). More likely, he could turn into a utility guy. It's the defense that makes Lawson interesting.
That's the package. In return, the Mariners gave up Lee - which we knew was coming - money - which I don't really care about - and Mark Lowe, who's out with a significant back injury and has two remaining years of team control. Lowe's inclusion is a surprise, but I've been waiting for him to get dealt for two years, and though his stuff is obviously dynamite, remember everything about reliever unpredictability. Who's going to be the better big league reliever next year: Lowe, or Lueke? Or Brian Sweeney? Who knows? Unless we're talking about someone truly elite, I don't think I'll ever shed much of a tear over losing an arm from the bullpen.
I'm not going to concern myself with whether or not the Mariners won or lost this trade. That doesn't interest me. It doesn't interest me whether the Rangers won or lost, either. They obviously surrendered one hell of a prospect, but then, Lee stands to help them more than he probably could've helped any other team in the bigs, and they've got a real shot at this. The Texas Rangers were already World Series contenders. Now they're World Series contenders with Cliff Lee. It's okay to sacrifice some future for the present when the present is as promising as it is for those guys.
Good for the Rangers. Bad for the Angels, who just got buried even more, and bad for the Yankees, who missed out on a chance to widen the gap to a level that's completely unfair. Allow me a minute to weep. Hmm. Something appears to be wrong with the waterworks.
As for the Mariners, this rare intra-divisional megatrade brought in good, long-term talent, and good, long-term talent is what a team in our position needs. It hurts. It does. You're never prepared to lose a guy like Cliff Lee, even when you know for absolute sure that the moment is coming. It's going to hurt to watch him in another uniform. A rival's uniform. But Smoak's a huge piece - far better than anything the team gave up to get Lee in the first place - and all in all, I'm probably about as happy as I could've been about a deal that sends Lee away. I'm not quite sure how the team's going to weave Smoak into the lineup around Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, and Michael Saunders, but it's an exciting thing to wonder.