Cliff Lee is joining his fourth team in 12 months and the Rangers are hoping he can lead them to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. The Rangers pried Lee away from the Mariners and multiple suitors today in a blockbuster deal that makes the 50-35 Rangers clear favorites to win the AL West.
Though the Rangers' ownership is uncertain, GM Jon Daniels was able to add Lee and his $9MM salary with some creative deal-making. The Mariners will cover about $2.5MM of the $4.2MM remaining on Lee's salary, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (via Twitter), presumably because the Rangers included an appealing group of prospects. But giving up Lee wasn't easy, even for top young talent.
“This is a bittersweet day for us,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said. “While we are excited about the group of young players we have acquired from the Rangers, it’s never easy to trade a player like Cliff Lee, who has been outstanding here.”
Justin Smoak has yet to stand out at the big league level, but has star potential. Baseball America ranked Smoak second among all Rangers prospects before the season, behind 2010 All-Star Neftali Feliz. The publication suggested Smoak, 23, has "a chance to be a switch-hitting slugger in the Mark Teixeira mold." So far, Smoak's big league performance has been less than Teixeira-esque. He has a .209/.316/.353 line with eight homers in half a season.
Beavan, 21, was the Rangers' first round pick in 2007 and is now pitching at AA. He has a 2.78 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and a Cliff Lee-like 1.0 BB/9. Baseball America ranked Beavan 17th among Rangers prospects before the season, explaining that he could become a back-of-the-rotation innings eater, even if his stuff doesn't improve.
Lawson, a 24-year-old second baseman is hitting .277/.371/.438 at AA, along with Lueke and Beavan. Lueke, 25, has a 3.86 ERA with 12.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 as a reliever this year.
A lot of talent is heading to Seattle, but the Rangers will have the chance to reclaim some young players, even if Lee departs as a free agent after the season. Lee currently ranks as a Type A free agent, so the Rangers can obtain two top picks in the 2011 draft if they offer Lee arbitration and he turns it down to sign elsewhere.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported that a deal was close and first reported that the Rangers had agreed to acquire Lee. Buster Olney, Jon Heyman, Ken Davidoff, Mark Feinsand, Bob Nightengale, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Paul Morosi, Ed Price, Evan Grant, T.R. Sullivan, Frankie Piliere and others added updates and details.
The Rangers outbid the many other clubs connected to Lee, including the Rays, Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers and Reds. Oh yeah, and the Yankees.
So much for the Yankees’ unwillingness to hand over prospects for three month rentals. Brian Cashman & Co. offered Jesus Montero, David Adams and another prospect, possibly Zach McAllister, for Lee and were 'on the brink' of acquiring him earlier today. The Yankees thought they had a deal for the left-hander, according to Rosenthal (Twitter link), but it wasn't the case. The Mariners re-opened discussions with the Rangers, learned that Smoak was available, and the sides reached a deal.