Justin Smoak Rumors
The Mariners cashed in their biggest chip yesterday, dealing Cliff Lee to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three prospects. With the team currently 34-52 and 16 games back in the division, it's reasonable to expect GM Jack Zduriencik to continue making moves geared more towards contending in 2011 than righting the ship in 2010.
Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times points out that with Smoak set to man first on an every day basis, the Mariners now have three players (Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, and Michael Saunders) for two roster spots (left field, designated hitter). Bradley's sore knee buys them some time, and Saunders could also be optioned to Triple-A, but flipping Branyan to a contender looking for some pop is very possible.
Saunders was almost sent to Philadelphia in last winter's Lee deal before the Phillies' requested Tyson Gillies instead, and Baker says the Zduriencik regime "hasn't exactly been in love" with holdover prospects from the Bill Bavasi era. Saunders could again find himself on the chopping block.
Backup first baseman Casey Kotchman could go at any time, though it's tough to believe there will be much trade interest in his .208/.292/.344 batting line, regardless of how good his defense is. The same could be said of the currently injured Mike Sweeney, though he was hitting a tolerable .263/.327/.475 before his back flared up.
Jose Lopez is very much available, but Baker doesn't think either Brandon League or David Aardsma will be dealt. Both are under team control for the next two seasons, so the Mariners aren't feeling pressure to move them immediately.
The Lee trade basically represented the white flag, but the Mariners don't have much left to trade away beyond Lopez, some relievers, and possibly Branyan. More than anything, they need to start getting better production out of Chone Figgins (.235/.334/.277) and Bradley (.211/.295/.368) while Jason Vargas (3.09 ERA) and Doug Fister (also a 3.09 ERA) continue to establish themselves as viable starters behind Felix Hernandez.
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.
Now that we know for sure that Cliff Lee is headed to the Rangers, the pundits are already chiming in about the big swap --- both about what it means for Texas and Seattle, and about what it means for the teams that fell short in the Lee sweepstakes.
- Since the Rangers didn't have to give up any of their blue-chip pitching prospects, the trade is "a huge, huge 'win' for" Texas, tweets Evan P. Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
- Grant also tweets that he was told that one of those young pitchers, Martin Perez, "was deemed untouchable" by the team.
- Jim Bowden of Sirius XM Radio thinks "both teams win on this deal," though the Rangers are the "biggest winner" since it helps their chances in October. Bowden also compliments the Mariners for getting more talent back for Lee than they dealt to acquire him in the winter. (Twitter link).
- USA Today's Bob Nightengale writes that last night, the Rangers thought that Lee was going to the Yankees. (Twitter link) Nightengale also thinks this trade makes Texas GM Jon Daniels the executive of the year.
- The Phillies are taking some heat for not getting as much minor league talent for Lee when they dealt him over the winter. ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets that one scouting director rated Philadelphia's haul for Lee as "last by a long shot" compared to what Seattle and Cleveland both got for the pitcher within the last year.
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Reds "made what they thought was a serious offer" for Lee today, though Fay thinks both "the Rangers and Yankees offered a better package than the Reds could have put together."
- Ed Price of Fanhouse.com comments that the Rays didn't want to give up any significant prospects for Lee (via Twitter), while the Mets simply didn't have the caliber of prospects that Seattle was looking for. Price notes, however, that Jeremy Guthrie could be on the Mets' radar screen.
- The Mets could use this Lee deal as a guideline, however, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney. The Mets could follow the Rangers' example and try to get a trading partner to add money into a deal, since Olney reports that New York won't be able to add to their payroll before the deadline.
- Rays manager Joe Maddon is unsurprisingly happy that Lee isn't in Yankee pinstripes, reports Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times.
- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski says his team "had interest [in Lee], but we didn’t come close to a deal," reports John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press.
- Alyson Footer of MLB.com tweets that the Lee trade may help Houston move Roy Oswalt, since the "more attractive pitcher is off the table & Roy is the next best option."
The Twins aren’t close to a deal for Cliff Lee, but the Rangers are working hard to acquire him and a number of other clubs are involved. The Mariners are seeking a monster return for Lee, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com and Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Click here to check out yesterday’s Lee rumblings and check back throughout the day for the latest on the lefty:
- MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that talks between Seattle and the Reds have yet to "hit the serious stages." No formal proposals have been exchanged between the two teams.
- Lee appeared on ESPN 710's Brock and Salk earlier today, and said that he and his agent approached the Mariners about an extension before the season only to be told that the team wasn't "going to go down that road."
- The Mariners are interested in some of the game’s top prospects and young players, sources tell Jon Heyman of SI.com. Their wish list includes catching prospects Jesus Montero (Yankees) and Wilson Ramos (Twins) plus Justin Smoak and Wade Davis. A competing team says the Twins are a “real” threat to acquire Lee, though we’re not accustomed to seeing them give up lots of talent at the deadline.
- A rival executive told Heyman that the Rangers discussed Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a possible Lee trade. As we heard earlier today, the Mariners prefer Smoak and would want more than Davis and Saltalamacchia.
- The Mariners asked the Yankees for at least three prospects, including Montero, according to Heyman.
- B.J. Upton’s name has come up, but Heyman suggests the Rays haven't offered him to the Mariners.
- Larry Stone of the Seattle Times hears rumblings that the White Sox, who just lost Jake Peavy to the DL, are at least 'kicking tires' on Lee. That would not be a surprise given Kenny Williams' track record.
- One MLB GM told Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that the Rangers are the favorites to acquire Lee. The Rangers don’t want to include Justin Smoak in a trade and at least one rival executive believes they would be ‘crazy’ to do so. The Rangers’ desire to hold onto Smoak is one of the biggest barriers remaining between the two teams. If the Rangers trade Smoak, they could call on Chris Davis, who has a .961 OPS in Triple A.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports hears the Mets mentioned with Lee less and less frequently (Twitter link). The Mariners are looking to obtain a major league-ready power bat, but the Mets don't want to part with Ike Davis.
- Jack Curry of the YES Network says the Yankees are being thorough and will inquire on Lee, just as they would on any available player of his caliber (Twitter link). That doesn't mean the Yanks are willing to out-bid everyone else, however.
- The Rangers and Mariners continue to discuss a possible Lee trade, according to Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. The Rangers have spoken to numerous teams to figure out what it will take to improve the club for the stretch run.
- In case there was any doubt remaining about the Mariners' asking price, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer clears it up. An insider tells Fay that "it's going to take a ton," but Fay does not get the sense that a trade is about to happen.
- The Rangers have financial restrictions, but MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reports that they have some money ‘tucked away’ for making moves. GM Jon Daniels is ‘fully engaged’ in the Lee trade talk.
- We know a lot of teams are interested in Lee, but how many? “Pretty much every team within five games of the playoffs," a source tells Ken Davidoff of Newsday (That's 17 teams). We’ve heard that the Mets may have trouble adding payroll, but GM Omar Minaya and his front office are operating as though they can add salary. That means Lee and Ted Lilly could be targets for the Mets.
The Cliff Lee trade talk started intensifying yesterday, as the Twins, Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Phillies and Tigers now have a new suitor to out-bid: the Rays. Not only are the Rays on the periphery of the Lee sweepstakes, they are ready to add payroll and appear willing to part with B.J. Upton. The Yankees are confident that they can jump in and pry Lee away from their divisional foes, but let's not rule out the Yanks' crosstown rivals. Here is the latest on Cliff Lee, with more rumors to come throughout the day:
- MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan says that the Rangers are working hard to acquire Lee, but nothing is imminent. Texas has plenty of minor league talent to offer, but they don't appear to be willing to move Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez according to Sullivan. Derek Holland, Blake Beavan, Chris Davis, Justin Smoak, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia could all be fair game. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says the Mariners "inquired about the availability" of Davis and Saltalamacchia. Righty Alexi Ogando is said to be on the Mariners radar, though "there is some resistance to include him in a deal" on the Rangers' side.
- Morosi expands on his earlier tweet, saying that the Reds and Mariners have exchanged names "in preliminary fashion," though the two sides have yet to exchange firm proposals. One GM called Cincinnati a "sleeper" in the Lee sweepstakes.
- CSNNE.com's Sean McAdam checked on the status of Boston's interest in Lee earlier today, and heard that the asking price was too high (Twitter links). Seattle wants a "stud catcher" close to the bigs, which the Red Sox simply don't have.
- Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune gets the impression that the Mariners aren't close to moving Lee, at least not to the Twins. He was also told that the two sides haven't exchanged official proposals, and that the Ramos-Hicks talk is "pure speculation."
- The Mariners are seeking a “mammoth return” for Lee, according to Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. One executive interested in the left-hander said the Mariners made a “crazy ask,” demanding an even better package than Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks.
- FOX reports that the Twins offered Ramos and Kevin Slowey for Lee. At the moment, the Twins, Mets, Yankees and Rangers are most actively engaged with the Mariners in trade talks.
- The Mariners are calling teams back and telling them that it will take two blue-chip prospects plus a third young player to acquire Lee, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
- Two scouts tell Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that third base prospect Juan Francisco would be the Reds' best trade chip, not Yonder Alonso (Twitter link).
- ESPN.com’s Buster Olney hears that the Yankees are not engaged in trade talks for Lee now. They are confident they could acquire the left-hander, but do not intend to deal for him. Olney says the Twins are the favorites to acquire Lee, followed by the Reds, the Rays, the Mets, the Rangers and the field.
- The Mets officials who have spoken to Joel Sherman of the New York Post don’t seem concerned that the Twins are the perceived frontrunners for Lee. The perception within the game is that the Mariners are leaning more toward scouting than number crunching, and the Mets believe that will work in their favor.
With as many as 12-15 teams teams potentially showing interesting in Cliff Lee, ESPN's Buster Olney says that the Mariners still want "big bat potential" in any deal for the lefty ace (Twitter link). He lists two candidates: Justin Smoak of the Rangers, and Yonder Alonso of the Reds. Alonso is blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto.
As the Rangers showed with the Bengie Molina deal, they are unable (or unwilling) to take on payroll, instead choosing to give up a higher caliber prospect. Other big bat prospects that could be moved in a trade: Jesus Montero of the Yankees, Fernando Martinez of the Mets, and Domonic Brown of the Phillies. Whether or not those teams are willing to surrender those players in a trade for a 2008 AL Cy Young award winner is another story altogether.
Let's dive into the latest edition of Full Count from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports..
- While Dan Haren's trade value isn't exactly peaking, the D'Backs have internally discussed moving the 29-year-old hurler. Another option would be to move No. 2 starter Edwin Jackson. The combined salary of the two pitchers is set to jump from roughly $12.8MM this season to $20.5MM in 2011. That increase could be too much for Arizona to handle, even with Brandon Webb's salary coming off of the books.
- The Brewers are once again drawing interest in outfielder Corey Hart. The Giants, Padres, and A's are among the teams that could use a boost in the outfield and Milwaukee will seek starting pitching in return. Rosenthal doesn't see the Giants as a fit because they won't part with any of their starters and their outfield situation has recently improved. Meanwhile, the A's and Padres want to be comfortable with their overall health and chances before they make any moves. If Jim Edmonds and Jody Gerut get healthy, Hart could be dealt. Hart is under team control through 2011, should his team choose to tender him a contract.
- The Rangers still believe that either Justin Smoak or Chris Davis will be their long-term answer at first base, but they could seek a veteran stopgap for the second half of the season. Paul Konerko is likely too rich for their blood. Cleveland's Russell Branyan would be a more economical solution.
Some links as we wonder what to make of the red-hot Padres...
- Ace Walker was the pitcher of the year in the independent Northern League last year, but he didn't get any calls from MLB teams over the winter, reports Adam Wazny of the Winnipeg Free Press.
- High schooler Tony Wolters, who was one of the top shortstops available in this year's draft, has been ruled ineligible, according to John Manuel of Baseball America.
- Rays manager Joe Maddon told Scott Miller of CBS Sports that the Rays have to operate with "one eye on the present and one on the future" to win with their budget.
- MLB.com's Chris Haft suggests the Giants could put Aubrey Huff in left field to make room for Buster Posey's bat at first base.
- RotoAuthority explains why it's a little early to talk about a Barry Zito renaissance.
- The Rangers would only consider trading Justin Smoak for a player who would put them "over the top," in the opinion of Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
- Joe Posnanski notes that Dayton Moore fired Trey Hillman days after praising him and suggests that the decision wasn't Moore's.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told Marc Carig of the Star Ledger that the Tigers were always confident in Austin Jackson's defense.
- The Nationals have the resources to make midseason moves if necessary, writes ESPN.com's Buster Olney.
- James Paxton, a sandwich pick the Blue Jays failed to sign last year, makes his independent league debut tonight. One scout told John Manuel of Baseball America that Paxton threw 88-90 mph and looked rusty in exhibition games.
Links for Thursday, as the Pirates try to recover from their worst loss in franchise history...
- Highly regarded Rangers first base prospect Justin Smoak has gotten the call to replace Chris Davis at first base, reports MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. The timing of his promotion ensures the Rangers will control Smoak through 2016. Super two status is likely if Smoak is up for good, meaning he'll go to arbitration four times beginning after the 2012 season. As for Davis, you have to wonder if a trade is in his future.
- In a mailbag, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian speculates on when Blue Jays fans can expect to see Adeiny Hechavarria and Brett Wallace arrive in Toronto.
- In an excellent piece for Yahoo! Sports, Jeff Passan looks at the state of baseball in the Dominican Republic, a topic MLBTR's Nick Collias addressed earlier in the week.
- Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that Royals minor-league lefty Adam Bostick has been suspended 50 games for a second positive drug test.
- ESPN's draft coverage team tweets that the Royals are looking at University of Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal for the fourth overall pick in June. Five days ago ESPN's Keith Law had this to say about Grandal: "He's the top college catcher in the country, can absolutely stay behind the plate, and hits well enough to be an above-average player in the majors." Click here for a reminder of the full 2010 draft order.
- Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein looks at four question marks about potential #1 pick Bryce Harper. Harper is not getting good reviews for his makeup.
- Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune points out that Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella don't seem in complete agreement on whether the righty's bullpen move is temporary.
The Texas Rangers are facing an impending decision on whether to call super-prospect Justin Smoak up to replace struggling first baseman Chris Davis. Smoak, who is ranked as baseball's ninth-best prospect by Keith Law and 13th overall by Baseball America, currently remains in Triple A. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of bringing Smoak to the majors in the near future.
- As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith pointed out in his piece on calling up top prospects, if a player makes his major league debut after April 19th, he won't earn a full year's service time this season. So the Rangers could call up Smoak as early as this week and still have delayed his free agency by a year.
- Davis is off to a homerless, .229/.289/.343 start to the 2010 campaign, while Smoak has been tearing the Pacific Coast League up (.353/.500/.647 with two homers).
- When the Rangers drafted Smoak in 2008, Baseball America praised his fielding, citing "Gold Glove-caliber actions and soft hands." Davis's defense at first base is slightly below average (career -2.7 UZR/150).
- The AL West race looks wide open, and the Rangers presumably want to field their best possible lineup immediately. Delaying Smoak's debut for another month and a half could compromise their chances of contending.
- If Texas calls Smoak up before late May or early June, he will earn enough service time to eventually qualify as a Super Two, hitting arbitration a year early.
- It's probably too soon in the season to give up on Davis, considering his career numbers include a .481 slugging percentage and a 162-game average of 30 homers.
- There's no guarantee that Smoak will thrive at the major league level right away. Even a can't-miss prospect like Matt Wieters posted a mere .263/.308/.369 line in the first 70 games of his career.
- Smoak's underwhelming Triple A numbers last season also suggest he could use more seasoning, though they can be partially attributed to a strained oblique.