Mariners Fare Best In Four-Team Trade

Acquiring Lee is the difference for Seattle




CHICAGO—Just when the Hot Stove League was moving slower than checkout lines on Black Friday, four teams combined for three interconnected trades. Two Cy Young Award winners, three first-round picks, a borderline five-tool outfielder, one of the game's better catching prospects, a Futures Game star and a guy whose fastball hits 97 mph all changed teams, two of them twice on the same day.

The Mariners easily were the biggest winners. When general manager Jack Zduriencik added Cliff Lee as a tag-team partner for Felix Hernandez, he pushed his club ahead of the Angels as the favorites to win the American League West. On the same day news of the trades broke, Los Angeles lost John Lackey to the Red Sox, and there are no apparent frontline pitchers on the free agent or trade markets left to replace him.

Somehow, Zduriencik acquired Lee for less than the one-sided deals that sent Johan Santana to the Mets two years ago and Lee to the Phillies last summer, and for far less than what Philadelphia gave up for Roy Halladay.

Phillippe Aumont, the 11th overall pick in 2007, has a live arm, but he's a reliever with questions about his command, health and makeup. J.C. Ramirez also has an electric fastball but is still learning how to pitch and may be headed for the bullpen as well. Tyson Gillies has speed to burn and is coming off a big year in the hitter-friendly California League, but at best he's a solid regular in center field.

Even if Lee leaves the Seattle as a free agent after 2010, a year of Lee and two compensation draft picks is worth more than what he cost. If the Mariners somehow don't contend, they can get more for Lee at the July trading deadline than they just gave up. And those are the worst-case scenarios.

Jays Get Full Value

New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos accomplished what his predecessor could not. J.P. Ricciardi talked about using Halladay to infuse the Jays with some much-needed young talent, but Anthopoulos made it happen. Even better, he didn't have to take a discount because his ace is on the cusp of free agency.

At the same time the Mariners paid bargain prices for Lee, Anthopoulos extracted full value from the Phillies. Prospects are never sure things, but Kyle Drabek has the stuff and mindset to one day replace Halladay as the Jays' ace. Outfielder Michael Taylor is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound athlete who hits for average and power. Travis d'Arnaud is a few years away but has the look of an offensive-minded catcher who can do solid work behind the plate.

Toronto then spun Taylor to Oakland for corner infielder Brett Wallace, one of the best pure hitters in the minors. Drabek and Wallace are now the Blue Jays' best prospects, and d'Arnaud isn't far behind.

Kudos, too, to Athletics GM Billy Beane, a master at making his club better by insinuating himself into other teams' deals. As gifted as Wallace is at the plate, he's just as challenged at third base. He'll have to become a first baseman or DH, positions at which Oakland already has Chris Carter, Jake Fox, Daric Barton and Sean Doolittle. The A's are short on outfielders, making Taylor a better fit.

Phillies Should Have Kept Lee

Dream all you want about the potential of Drabek, Taylor and d'Arnaud, but Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. can wake up every fifth day for the next four seasons knowing that Halladay will take the mound for his club. Halladay immediately signed a contract extension with the Phillies, who were skittish that Lee might leave as a free agent after 2010.

Amaro should have stopped right there, however. With Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels fronting their rotation, the Phillies could have started making reservations for their third straight World Series.

If they had budget considerations, why not give away Joe Blanton (who's arbitration award will come close enough to Lee's $9 million salary) and do a little belt-tightening elsewhere? If they decided they just had to deal Lee, why not shop him for a better offer? Three mid-level prospects won't mean as much to Philadelphia as a full season of Lee would have.

Giving Lee away ratchets up the pressure even further on the Phillies, for whom anything less than a championship during Halladay's tenure will be considered a failure. Of course, great expectations are far better than none at all.