This is a purely speculative article, but it makes sense on a lot of levels. Free-agent-to-be Cliff Lee currently pitches for the last place Seattle Mariners. If the Mets want to have a shot at making the playoffs, making a splash by trading for Cliff Lee this summer would give them an excellent chance.
Five things would need to occur for this trade to happen:
1. The Mets Need To Be Within Five Games of the NL East Lead and/or Wild Card in July.
The Mets currently sit a game and a half out of first place in the NL East. They have an extremely tough stretch from May 13th until May 31st(eight road games against NL East opponents; six home games against the Yankees and Phillies; then three more on the road against the Brewers). If the Mets can keep their heads above water while the Phillies deal with injury problems, watch out.
2. The Mariners Need To Fall Out of Contention.
I don’t expect the Mariners(11-16) to be competitive in July. They have some nice hitters, but just don’t have the pop in the middle of the order (Milton Bradley is their main power source) needed to get it done.
With the experienced Angels, hot-hitting Rangers, and up-start Athletics in their division, expect the light-hitting Mariners to fall out of contention. Yes, the Mariners have a formidable 1-2 pitching punch with Lee and Felix Hernandez, but the hitting isn’t there. When asked if they would attempt to sign Lee to a long term contract before trading for him this off-season, Seattle general manager, Jack Zduriencik, said that they “didn’t want to upset the apple cart”. Lee’s agent has even said that he doesn’t expect Lee to be a Mariner next season. Expect many teams to put in calls for the Mariners’ left handed stud.
3. Mets’ GM Omar Minaya Needs To Become Aggressive.
Minaya balked during the Roy Halladay off-season sweepstakes. Toronto wanted shortstop, Jose Reyes in return for Halladay. Yes, Reyes is a dynamic player, but imagine pairing Halladay with Santana at the top of the Met rotation? However, the Mets will have to see that mistake wearing a Phillies uniform at least 18 times each season for the next four years. However, Minaya may receive a shot at redemption by trading for Lee, a celebrated hero in Philadelphia. Lee is only owed $9 million for the 2010 season so there is financial wiggle room. Also, Minaya would surrender considerably less for a half of season of Lee (or maybe more???)
4. The Mets Would Need To Commit Long Term To Lee.
The 2010 Met Payroll currently sits at $126 million. After this season, they will have $116 committed to the core of their team. However, the team will need to re-sign pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, Pedro Feliciano, and a few other lower level guys. The Mets will sign them collectively for between $4M-7M. The Mets need to sort out their catching situation and 2011 will be the final year of the Olivier Perez’s awful three year, $36 million contract. If they decide to trade for Lee and ink him long-term, their 2011 payroll may resemble their 2009 total($149 million), but they would field a more competitive team. Boston gave 31-year-old John Lackey a five-year, $85 million dollar deal. The Yankee gave 31-year-old AJ Burnett the same deal. Lee will be 32 at the end of this season. These contracts seems like fair bench marks for Lee, but he may receive a little more, given his playoff dominance.
5. Lee Needs To Stay Healthy
Lee has had some back trouble early this season. He made his 2010 debut on Saturday night, striking out eight in seven innings while not factoring into the decision. Teams will keep a close eye on Lee’s medical records.
Why A Mariners-Mets Trade Makes Sense:
1. Prospect Watch:
The Mariners dealt top pitching prospect, RHPs Philippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez and Outfielder Tyson Gillies to Philadelphia as part of the Hallday-Lee, three-team blockbuster. This depleted their farm system. Aumont is considered by many to be an ‘A’ prospect with Gillies and Ramirez as ‘B’ prospects. The Mets definitely have some pieces that the Mariners would be interested in.
ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Mets as an average minor league system. A package of pitcher Jonathan Niese, shortstop Ruben Tejada, and another ‘B’ prospect would probably be enough to pry Lee from Seattle and be the most competitive offer. The Mets will be reluctant to give up pitcher, Jenrry Mejia, but I’d assume the Mariners would want him in return.
2. Lee Facing His Old Club:
Cliff Lee has to be the most disrespected man in baseball. After 4-0, 1.56 ERA dominance during the 2009 playoffs, the Phillies shipped him to the Northwest in favor of Roy Halladay. He would love a shot at redemption. Everyone knows that the ace of the Mets staff is Johan Santana, but Lee would become arguably the best #2 in the National League. Lee dominated the National League last year, going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA during the regular season and 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the playoffs.
Players always love facing their old teams, especially when they are unexpectedly let go. With the Phillies shelling out $25 million/season for first baseman Ryan Howard, Lee has to be shaking his head. Pitching wins championships. Going to New York would give him the best opportunity to achieve that goal.
3. Matching Up Against the Philly Hitters
The Phillies best hitters are left-handed and have struggled against lefty pitching in the past. Ryan Howard is only a career .226 hitter. Utley hits .284 (career .296). Finally Ibanez hits .268 against the lefties. Adding Lee would not only neutralize these bats, but give the Mets a psychological advantage for years to come.
4. Playing In A Pitcher’s Park
The pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field would become extremely appealing for Lee. Think about the sponsorship opportunities for Lee in New York….
1. Another Big Boat Drop Their Line:
The Tampa Bay Rays have moved ‘all-in’ for the 2010 season. They know that they will not be able to retain free-agents-to-be, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, so the Rays are playing for it all this season. The Rays have two solid top-of-the-rotation pitchers in James Shields and Matt Garza, but neither is ‘ace-worthy’. Enter Lee. Lee would instantly become the team’s ace. Tampa Bay would match up better against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels with this trade. I don’t expect Tampa Bay pitchers, Wade Davis or David Price to last the entire season, either.
The Rays also have enough chips in their farm system to easily make this trade. Tampa’s farm system is one of the best in the game, so these teams would not have issue making a half-season rental deal for Lee.
2. Free Agent Waters
Andy Pettitte will be 38 years-old. Javier Vazquez has been blowing up and is in the final year of his contract. The Yankees will likely have an opening in their starting rotation next season. Lee will at least be tempted to hear a Yankee offer this off-season.
Overall, I think making a deal and wrapping Lee up long-term makes a lot of sense for the Mets. He would give the Mets a great shot at making the playoffs this season. Pairing him with Johan Santana at the top of the Met rotation for the next few years would give the team stability and dominance while some their younger pitching develops. He also presents the Mets last opportunity to sign a big-time pitcher for awhile. The 2011 free agent pitching class is relatively weak(Beckett already re-signed) and somewhat injury prone(Brandon Webb). Trading for and then inking Lee makes a ton of sense of the Mets.
Met Fans: What Do You Think About This Potential Deal?