Thursday, May 27, 2010

MARINERS COLUMN: Let's Talk Trades, Part 2: Who to give up

This is the toughest part of making trades. I hate to be cliché, but breaking up is always hard to do, and there’s no exception to that in sports. Do you remember when Griffey was traded in 1999? What about A-Rod in 2000 when he ditched us for the money? And remember the Sonics? I’m sure some of us are still in mourning, and even more of us still want Howard Schultz’s head. In any event, every professional sport is a business and the truth is that every player is a commodity. So while we can hang on to the biggest and best memories our athletic families, we must always remember that some relationships and careers can’t last forever (right, Junior? … hint).

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I’m done beating around the bush. Cliff Lee is a big-time pitcher, who wants to pitch for a big-time team. You can tell if you recall him pitching in the postseason last fall with the Phillies for the first time in his career.

Furthermore, the only two games the Phillies won in the World Series last year were when Lee started, which led him to believe he would’ve been offered a long-term deal from the Phillies and he would remain with a contending team for the remainder of his career.

That didn’t happen. The Phillies got greedy and wanted more (insert Roy Halladay), and took their chances with their younger, homegrown lefty Cole Hamels instead of Lee. Their risk became our reward when we sent off three of our under-achieving prospects to Toronto in a three-team deal.

Do you remember that day? Because I sure as hell do. I was giddier than the Nintendo 64 kid on YouTube. Two days later, had a poll questions asking who is the preseason favorite was to win the AL Cy Young (Sabathia, NYY; Greinke KC; Lee, SEA; or Hernandez SEA). In case your calculator’s broken, that’s two starting pitchers in the Mariners’ rotation. TWO.

Can you remember the last time Seattle had two Cy Young candidates in their starting rotation? Can you remember any team that had two Cy Young candidates in the same rotation since the Braves in the 1990s? Maybe Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer in their primes, but that might be a stretch.

Despite the excitement and the endless possibilities Cliff Lee brought us at the beginning of the year, it will most likely be short-lived. I know, I know, before the season started one of my first articles for this site was finding a way to keep Cliff in Seattle long-term, and provide us with the best 1-2 punch in baseball for years to come. I did not, however, picture the Mariners being in last place and fighting for their lives in a series against Anaheim at the end of May.

But I was fooled. And I’ll be the first to admit it. Which is what brings us to this point.

As big as Cliff Lee was an acquisition, he’s an even bigger commodity. The Los Angeles Times reported today that the Dodgers have been in contact with the Mariners to form a deal sending Lee to Hollywood (or Mannywood, as I like to call it). No details were reported on what the Dodgers would be willing to give up, but it would have to be a lot in order for the M’s to settle.

The market for Cliff Lee would be immense as he has the potential to be an ace on a number of teams (i.e. Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers … those are all off the top of my head), or a very solid no. 2 pitcher for others (Mets, Giants, or Marlins). But the Mariner’s aren’t willing to get rid of him just yet. You’re sure to be tired of hearing that the AL West isn’t exactly a powerhouse, and all it takes is a big streak to get back in the thick of it. But we’re two whole months away from the Trade Deadline, and this article is based upon getting ahead of ourselves.

Outside of Cliff Lee, the M’s don’t have a lot of options to give up, especially at the Major League level. Since the arrival of Michael Saunders, and the resurgence of Mike Sweeney, it would make sense (barring any unforeseen injuries, and full-participation from the players) to start Saunders in left, Sweeney at first, and then insert Bradley in the DH role, which would relieve him of fielding duties and give him one less thing to worry about.

If your calculator is still broken, this leaves Casey Kotchman as the odd-man out. After a hot start right out the gates, Kotchman has leveled off at the plate but still remains a very solid defender, which makes him an easy sell to any National League team. Considering Cliff Lee has had NL experience (albeit only half a season), this could make for a blockbuster deal, which I’m not sure Jack Zduriencik has the balls for. Plus, counting on Sweeney to remain this hot and stay healthy for the remainder of the season is a bit risky.

Josh Wilson has been a stud ever since his evil twin Jack Wilson landed on the DL, and I can’t imagine dealing him to another team unless we receive another Major League-ready shortstop to replace him. Jose Lopez at third is struggling to reach his potential on the year, and it’s always difficult to trade someone whose stock is that low (just ask the Mets with Jose Reyes).

From here, it really depends on which team is willing to make a deal and what their needs are. After we announce our trade bait to the league, that’s where the finances and overall needs come into play. And we can’t delve into that until we break down each potential suitor; which smells like part 3 coming soon to me.

Reach Jacob Kehle at