Trading season is heating up, and the Mariners' Cliff Lee is expected to be at the forefront of trade speculation.
Lee, on his third team in two seasons, is an impending free agent and would be more useful to the 25-41 Mariners at this point as a trade chip. That doesn't mean they will -- the M's could choose to hang onto Lee, offer him arbitration in the offseason and snag two draft picks as compensation.
That won't stop teams in contention from trying to snag Lee.
Lee is one of the best pitchers in the game, winning the 2008 AL Cy Young award and is his usual dominant self on the year. His 0.93 WHIP leads the majors with a sensational 60/4 K/BB ratio that is near unheard of in 68 2/3 innings of a 2.88 ERA.
The Yankees are most closely tied to Lee, with multiple reports saying that New York is in love with the left-hander, and that it is a virtual certainty he dons pinstripes no later than 2011. While the Yankees could wait for the offseason to bring the lefty in as a free agent, they may also be open to bringing him in midseason as the team seeks back-to-back World Series titles.
If not the Yankees, the 31-year-old's former team may have interest. Jack Curry of YES reported Tuesday that the Phillies "would love to get Cliff Lee back." The Phils dealt Lee to the Mariners in the offseason after acquiring Roy Halladay. At the time, GM Ruben Amaro defended trading Lee, saying the team needed to restock its farm system after gutting it in the trade for Halladay and 2009 midseason deal for Lee from the Indians.
Now, the Phillies are looking for starting pitching solutions. While they may settle on Pedro Martinez, Lee would be just as good a fit, if not better. In addition, Lee's price will be lower than when Philadelphia sent him to Seattle. Lee would certainly help the Phillies down the stretch, and the Phillies should be commended for being willing to buck perception that they may have made a mistake trading Lee in the first place in the name of a playoff run.
You can also add the Twins to the list of teams hot to trot for Lee. Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Radio reveals the Twins may make a run at the left-hander.
Yes, it's odd to think the Twins could be interested in Lee, but these aren't your older brother's Twins. Minnesota is in a brand new park and has a payroll in the $95 million vincinity. Adding Lee for the stretch run could do wonders for a squad leading the AL Central but with no true ace on the staff -- unless you include Francisco Lirano, who has ace stuff but not the track record.
The Twins have some ready-made solutions for the Mariners in terms of trade chips, such as Ben Revere. Revere was the organization's first-round pick in 2007 and is producing at Double-A. He's expendable because the Twins are deep in the outfield with Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Delmon Young.
Also working in the Twins' favor is the availability of top prospect Wilson Ramos, who catches. Of course, catcher's not a problem for Minnesota and won't be for years, as Joe Mauer is locked up to a long-term extension. That frees up Ramos for trade discussions, and the Mariners would certainly be intrigued by Ramos. Seattle has no clear catcher of the present or the future, a problem Ramos would solve.
This much is certain: Lee will be a hot commodity the closer the trade deadline approaches, and Seattle won't lack for suitors.
-- Evan Brunell
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