In certainly unexpected news, the Texas Rangers acquired Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners for Justin Smoak and three other minor league players, one of which is Blake Beavan, the Rangers 2007 first round draft pick. Most expected the Yankees to acquire Lee as the Yankees have the catching prospect the Mariners craved. But apparently that deal fell through and the Mariners traded with Texas.
For the Rangers, the move shows their commitment in winning this year. They were already well ahead and were the favorites to win the division anyway, but the move gives them an even greater chance for the division and a horse for the playoffs. But the price was stiff.
Smoak was the 2008 number one pick and hadn't produced since his early call up this season. But that doesn't mean he's not still a terrific prospect. The Mariners had to like his patience at the plate and his potential power. Beavan is not a power pitcher, but he's shown terrific control and has only walked 1.4 batters per nine for his entire minor league career. He is 10-5 in Double A Fresno with a 2.78 ERA. He could be a decent number 3 or 4 starter. Baseball Prospectus doesn't rate Beavan among the Rangers top 15 prospects. Neither are the other two prospects in the deal (infielder Matt Lawson and pitcher Josh Lueke) rated highly.
But Smoak is definitely a high cost for a pitcher that is simply rented for half a season no matter how good he is. Lee is a free agent next year and who knows where he will land. But the Rangers wanted to win now and this is the price they paid.
Already, writers like Jeff Passan over at Yahoo Sports are aghast that the Yankees blew this opportunity. But the fact still remains that they held on to their top prospects and didn't feel like a rented Lee was worth such a high cost. The same thing happened with Santana and Phil Hughes is pitching wonderfully for the Yankees because they didn't trade him. The Yankees didn't get Santana for high prospects and instead got Sabathia as a free agent and kept their talent. They can do the same thing this off season with Lee if they choose.
The Yankees are probably a better team this year than last. Their rotation is deeper and guys like Cano, Gardner and Swisher are better. Granderson is an upgrade from Melky Cabrera and they probably made the right call when it came to Matsui. What the Yankees have now (especially if they pick up a reliever or two) is good enough to win it all if the luck goes their way. The Rangers really couldn't say that and thus the cost seemed worth it to them.
We'll have to see what kind of player Smoak turns out to be and how far the Rangers get this year before we can really rate this deal for the Rangers. As for the Yankees, this writer thinks they were smart to pass.