What they lost:
Cliff Lee might be the best pitcher in baseball right now, and he is definitely in the top five. This season he has racked up 91 Ks versus just 6 walks for a 15.2 K/BB ratio, and it’s no surprise that his ERA sits way down at 2.64. Since 1990, only 30 pitchers in the American League with at least 100 innings in a given season have recorded a K/BB ratio higher than five, and the average runs allowed from those 30 pitchers’ seasons was a mere 3.51 (that includes unearned runs). Over that same span, only one pitcher in the AL has managed at least 8 strikeouts per walk. He did twice, and his name was Pedro Martinez. Maybe you’ve heard of him. The point is that 15 K/BB is ridiculous, nearly twice as many as the great Pedro’s best season.
All that being said, Lee’s contract is up at the end of the year, and he will likely enter free agency. With the Ms out of playoff contention, it would be a waste of his value to let him pitch out the remainder of the season. Instead they got some good young players which I’ll take a look at down below.
Mark Lowe is an average relief pitcher with a lot of injury problems and a subpar strikeout rate for a reliever. There’s not a lot more to say about him except that he’s 27, and the two relievers the Ms got from Texas are younger with more upside.
What they got:
Switching-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak is the real prize in this deal. In 599 minor-league plate appearances, Smoak hit for an 0.872 OPS and showed incredible maturity at the plate for a 23-year-old, recording nearly one walk for every strikeout (the major league average is one walk for every TWO strikeouts). His patience stands out in his .411 OBP in the minors. This season at the major league level, Smoak is going through some growing pains, but he’s still exhibiting some power and patience. With 38 walks and 60 strikeouts, his ratio is still better than the league average, and his 8 dingers put him on pace for 18 in 162 games. Not too bad for his first season in the show. However, having been rushed through the minors (just 135 games over three seasons), we can expect some of these growing pains before we see his true potential. Maybe the best part is that he’s still on his initial contract for a number of years, meaning that the Ms will pay him cheaply for a while and save cap space. USSMariner blogman, Dave Cameron, wrote a good piece about him here.
Josh Lueke is a reliever with all kinds of upside that completely legitimizes giving up Lowe (not that you should have needed much legitimizing). Lueke stands at 6’5”, 220 lbs. and is 25, two years younger than Lowe. His most impressive stat? 194 Ks in just 153 innings of relief work, and a 4.97 K/BB ratio in the minors. Wow.
Blake Beavan is a starter who would be classified as more of a control pitcher. Think Doug Fister, but a head shorter. In almost 400 minor league innings pitched, Beavan has walked just 61 batters. Dontrelle Willis of the Tigers has already given away 56 free passes this season. We’ve seen how pitchers with average stuff and good control—like Fister and Jason Vargas—can benefit from Safeco Field and the M’s outfield defense. Beavan’s only 21 years old, so be patient and he could fit into the back end of this rotation someday.
Infielder Matt Lawson hasn’t shown a lot of potential over four seasons in the minors, and should probably be seen as minor league depth—unless he has a spectacular glove that I am unaware of. His 0.751 OPS is pretty average, especially since he hasn’t made it past AA, and he strikes out nearly three times as often as he walks. He steals some bases, but at a bad percentage, and he can’t hit for power. Without stellar defensive ability, I think he’s probably destined for life in the minors.
Overall this seems like a great trade for the Mariners. Had they kept Lee, their chances of winning the West were still slim-to-none, and they would have lost him anyway at season’s end. I think it’s pretty obvious that Lowe is replaceable, so he’s not a big loss. Smoak’s huge upside—he has been compared to both Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira—and relatively cheap contract really make this an intelligent deal for the Ms.