Cliff Lee, and his borderline mythical tenure with the Mariners, is over almost as abruptly as it began. Today was clearly a frenzy, and he is now property of the Texas Rangers, along with Mark Lowe, for four players that I will touch on in the following paragraphs.
I've never hidden my attraction to Cliff Lee, the marvelous pitching ace. I didn't want him to go. I wanted him to be pried out of the M's hands with a deal that couldn't be turned down. As luck has it, he might have.
Justin Smoak is a legitimate first baseman for the future. He was the starting first baseman for the Rangers, but he is only 23 years old, and in the midst of his rookie campaign. The best is yet to come with Smoak, but he instantly becomes the starting first baseman here, and the best power threat aside from Russell Branyan.
As a brief side note, I am a little surprised that Branyan did not go to Texas. They need a starting first baseman. I thought that would have made sense for both sides with Smoak included. Why they wanted Lowe, whose season is already over, puzzles me some. From the M's perspective, it does not bother me that he was included.
Blake Beavan is the other significant piece that the Mariners got in return. He is a huge right-hander (listed at 6'7" and 250 pounds), but he hasn't struck many hitters out. However, the production overall is rather good, and he is only 21 years old with AA experience. I think Beaven is still a year away, but that's not that far away. He is a safe bet to make the majors, and be a solid starting pitcher. I don't think Beaven will ever be a star, but he will be quietly good, especially if he plays in a big ballpark with a good defense behind him.
In some ways, the most interesting piece is Josh Lueke. He is a 25-year-old righty blowing hitters away out of minor league bullpens. He is a little old for the levels he has played at, so take the eye-popping numbers with a grain of salt. However, one way or another, Lueke and Lowe are probably tied together in the deal. Did the Rangers want Mark Lowe bad enough that they were willing to add Lueke, or did the Mariners want Lueke bad enough that they were willing to give up Lowe? I am not sure, but my educated guess is that the final haggling was done over these two players.
Last, and probably least, is Matt Lawson. According to scouts, the guy plays a mean second base, and according to his hitting numbers, he knows a thing or two about what to do at the plate. Looking at his stature and production though, he set off Tug Hulett alarms all over my head. I am glad he did, because I have been looking for an excuse to link to Tug's stats all year long. He has fallen off a cliff this year in AAA Pawtucket, and for whatever reason, it's 15 seconds that make me feel good inside every time I look at them. I digress. Getting back to a meaningful point, Lawson profiles in a similar role as Hulett - the type of guy organizations love to have hanging around AAA, or their bench, or around their starting lineup for a couple weeks in a pinch, but that's about it. Considering the M's best options in this role are aging veterans Josh Wilson and Chris Woodward, Lawson was a worthwhile throw-in.
The price tag I put on Lee a couple weeks ago was the equivalent of a few first-round draft picks, plus something else. That is what would make a deal worth considering. Smoak and Beavan alone are worth more than a couple first-round draft picks (not surprisingly, both were first-rounders themselves). Neither are far from being contributing MLB players, and I personally think Smoak has a chance to be just a tick below Mark Teixeira. Their skillsets and paths to the majors are rather similar.
Smoak and Beaven for Lee, straight up, is a deal I strongly consider. Toss in Matt Lawson, and that's probably enough for me to bite. Add Lowe and Lueke to the deal, and my feelings don't change much. Lowe is probably better, but I'm not sure. His mounting injury history worries me. Even if Lueke is never as good, if he is solid for three or four years, it was probably worth trading him for Lowe straight up at this point of their respective careers.
All in all, without knowing about other offers, I have a hard time believing there was a better one than this on the table. The best player the Mariners got in return immediately fills the biggest black hole in the organization (with apologies to catcher, but I still have hope for Adam Moore). Not only is the price fair, but the talent acquired plugs holes. That is the definition of a good fit.
Jack Zdurienciek and friends got this deal right. They maximized their leverage, and got a package that made moving Cliff Lee worthwhile. It is going to be painful watching Lee anchor a Texas-sized playoff run in Arlington this year, but imagine all the Rangers fans that will cringe when Smoak starts assaulting the Hit It Here Cafe.