Cliff Lee might mean the division, if not the pennant, to the Twins or the Cardinals, the Reds, the Mets or Tigers or Dodgers.
But before you start to thinking about the Mariners getting the equivalent of what the Indians stole from the Expos (Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips) for Bartolo Colon, consider what Lee brought the Indians and Phillies. After he won the Cy Young Award. And had a favorable contract.
The Indians traded Lee to the then-reigning World Series champion Phillies for Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp. Donald has done a creditable job as a utility infielder, hitting .254, with promise. Catcher Lou Marson has been a disappointment, hitting .191; he is better than that, but now Carlos Santana is in town, and Santana is a franchise player. Carrasco is 6-3 in Columbus but has yet to prove he can pitch in the Major Leagues, while Jason Knapp is working to get healthy and is 2-7 in low A ball.
That, from a big market team with a fabulous fan base that thought it could win it all again.
Then when the Phillies traded away top prospects for Roy Halladay and were told that it would take CC Sabathia money to extend Lee, they moved him to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Tyson Gillies. Aumont was demoted to A ball and has a 7.01 ERA, Ramirez is at Double-A and has a 4.31 ERA on the year, while Gillies is hitting .238 in Double-A.
Jack Zduriencik is very smart, putting Lee's name out there early to see if he can get a bidding war going. Neither the Indians nor Phillies got what today you'd say is a pair of first-round picks, so if he doesn't get what he wants, he can hold Lee and get two picks of his choice in next year's Draft. In the meanwhile, he can see what he can get.
"I'm listening," says Zduriencik. "But it has to be the right kind of deal." Which means two or three cornerstone players, which is what Mark Shapiro got from Montreal by moving Bartolo Colon early in return for Lee, Sizemore and Phillips, and what then-Mariners GM Woody Woodward got at the deadline in 1998 when he moved Randy Johnson to Houston for Carlos Guillen, Freddie Garcia and John Halama.
But those deals are hard to come by in today's economy, with what some traditionalists feel is an overinflated worth of young, low-salaried players. Two baseball executives said Tuesday that there's no way the Twins will give up last year's first-round, pitcher Kyle Gibson. Now, a lot has been written about the Twins making catcher Wilson Ramos available, but Ramos is hitting .219 with a .587 OPS at Triple-A Rochester and is out of the lineup with an injury.
The Mets are in, but not if Jenrry Mejia is involved; they could go Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole and a pitcher. The Cardinals could be in if they are willing to deal pitcher Shelby Miller. Do not underestimate Walt Jocketty and the Reds, especially since former first-round pick Yonder Alonso is not going to play ahead of NL Runs Created leader Joey Votto. And never turn your back on the Yankees, if they're willing to trade catcher Austin Romine.
Zduriencik says there is always the possibility he could try to sign Lee. Safeco is a great pitchers' park. With Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and 21-year old Michael Pineda , who is 9-1 with a 2.22 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, Lee would fit in a very good rotation. Zduriencik thinks catcher Adam Moore is a keeper, and that infielders Dustin Ackley, Carlos Triunfel, Nick Franklin and Alex Liddi can get to Seattle quickly. And with their radio-TV deal, they're in a top 10 market.
But Lee is a huge chip who, when he beat the Yankees Tuesday night, proved that he can walk into his fourth team and win. "The Phillies put huge expectations on his shoulders last year," says one GM, "and not only did he pitch them into the World Series, but when they got there, he beat the Yankees twice. He will not be affected by pressure." Indeed, he will forever be remembered as the man who won the first World Series game played in the new Yankee Stadium.
The cost of Roy Oswalt is going to be steep. The Cubs may deal Ted Lilly, but they still know they're better than their record and that he is their best pitcher. Arizona has to get three good young players for Dan Haren, and they really don't have to trade him, since they can pare their payroll below $70 million with minimal changes.
Zduriencik is smart by putting Lee out there early, knowing that every week of the season means extra starts. He's made it seem as if he could move any time, soon, if he gets the kind of deal that creatively helps the league's worst offensive team edge back toward respectability.
But, thus far, teams have looked at what Lee brought the Indians and what he brought the Phillies. The Mets, Twins and others look at the Mariners' predicament and figure it's a buyer's market when you sell your soul.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.