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Steep Cliff

  • Blog Post by: Nick Nelson
  • July 6, 2010 - 11:24 PM
It's no secret that the Twins are interested in Cliff Lee. They have been connected to the left-handed starting pitcher -- widely considered to be the biggest prize of this year's deadline derby -- by various media outlets for over a month now. One report that emerged a couple weeks ago stated that a deal was done in principle that would have included Wilson Ramos and Brian Duensing as the key pieces from the Twins' side, but fell through due to an injury suffered by Ramos. Another report emerged on Monday from a Detroit radio station that a deal between Seattle and Minnesota was done. Around that same time, Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse posted a tweet indicating that he'd heard from an MLB source that the Twins had offered Ramos and outfield prospect Aaron Hicks for Lee.
 
The reports created some brief excitement around Twins Territory, but up to this point none have panned out into anything substantive.
 
Lots of premature reports. Lots of static. It's all par for the course as the trade deadline approaches. But it's not hard to believe that the Twins have a very legitimate interest in acquiring Lee before the non-waiver deadline on July 31. Their inconsistent starting pitching has left a clear need for another frontline starter and they've got a pool of expendable prospects to deal from, with Ramos leading that group (and unsurprisingly attached to almost every rumored trade).
 
From a historical standpoint, it would be very uncharacteristic for the Twins to trade away valuable future assets for a half-season rental, which Lee would almost surely be. But in the past it would have also been uncharacteristic for the Twins to run up a $100 million payroll and dole out one of the largest contracts in major-league history, as they did this spring. This isn't business as usual. With a new stadium, a team that is on the brink of greatness and fan interest at a feverish high, the Twins are in a unique position this year. Make no mistake, they will not hesitate to make a significant splash at the deadline if the right deal materializes.
 
Is that a good thing? I think so, certainly. This organization has never been anxious to sacrifice long-term success for short-term gain, which is why they've generally passed on trading prospects for stars and why they've almost always skipped top free agents whose signing would cost them a draft pick. That approach has been understandable, given that the team's finances have been extremely limited in past years and they've often been forced to build from within.
 
There comes a time, though, when a team has to put the chips on the table and go for it. This seems like an appropriate time to do so. Lee would improve their odds of making the postseason considerably -- by as much as 20 percent, according to some estimations -- and he'd certainly make them a far more dangerous contender once they get there. I'd be extremely hesitant to move Hicks, who I think has more upside than any player in the organization (outside of perhaps teenager Miguel Sano) and is one of the team's only prospects I would label "untouchable." My guess is that Bill Smith shares this sentiment, which is why I'm highly skeptical of the report that both Hicks and Ramos were formally offered for Lee.
 
That doesn't mean I wouldn't be willing to move multiple top prospects to acquire Lee, even if it's just for a couple months. Ramos is essentially a given in any deal, which is fine because his main value to the organization at this point is as a trade chit and you can hardly trade for a better player than Lee. Another guy I'd strongly consider including is Ben Revere, who is putting together yet another strong season in New Britain this year.
 
Revere is a good player, with a .331 career average in the minors to go along with a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio and a whopping 164 stolen bases in 318 games. While not without his flaws (he has almost no power and his production is highly dependent on his batting average), Revere has the look of a top-of-the-lineup threat in the mold of a young Juan Pierre. He also could make an impact in the relatively near future, as he's already handling himself well in Double-A despite being only 22 years old.
 
That's just the type of player the Mariners could use. While Ichiro continues to be effective as their leadoff hitter, the M's have gotten a .600 OPS from the second spot in the order this year after getting a .673 OPS there last year. They thought they'd be getting their answer when they signed Chone Figgins during the offseason, but Figgins is hitting just .238/.336/.279 and isn't getting any younger at 32.
 
Revere would be tough to lose, especially when considering that the Twins have had their own share of troubles getting production from that No. 2 spot over the years, but with Denard Span, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel all under control through at least next year, there's no room for Revere in the immediate future. Further down the line, he's behind Hicks and perhaps even Joe Benson in the outfield prospect pecking order. Simply put, Revere's expendable in the right deal, and adding a legitimate ace who can anchor the rotation over the next two-plus months strikes me as the right deal.
 
If the Mariners are truly pushing for Hicks, or for someone like Kevin Slowey who would produce a sizable gap in the 2011 rotation, the decision becomes a little more tough. It is important to keep in mind, though, that while there's almost no chance that Lee re-signs with the Twins, his departure would be compensated by two high draft picks that can help replenish whatever the Twins lose from their farm system. Their increased payroll also enables them to better find reinforcements on the free agent market and restock their minor-league ranks with high-profile international players.
 
A package that includes Ramos, Revere and perhaps one more mid-level pitcher seems like fair compensation for two months of Lee. It's certainly a price that the Twins could afford to absorb. We'll have to wait and see whether something like that gets it done, because the Mariners are sure to bide their time and weigh their options before they move this most valuable asset. That fact alone should stop you from believing the next premature early-July report you read about Lee switching teams. Unless an offer truly blows them away, the Mariners are likely to remain patient.
 
So should we.

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