Cliff Lee Trade Rumors: Will Rangers Pursue Him After Zack Greinke to Angels?
Perhaps the biggest trade we'll see at this year's deadline occurred today as the Milwaukee Brewers dealt impending free-agent ace Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for a package including shortstop Jean Segura and right-handed pitchers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena. Segura, Hellweg and Pena were ranked as the second, fourth, and ninth top prospects in the Angels' farm system prior to the season by Baseball America.
This trade sent shockwaves across the baseball world, but more importantly, it completely changed the race in the AL West. The Texas Rangers currently lead the Angels by five games and the Oakland Athletics lie only half a game behind the Halos. Both the Angels and A's hold the two AL Wild Card spots, but with the Angels' recent blockbuster trade, that could change in their favor.
If Greinke succeeds in Anaheim, he could push the Angels up against the Rangers to the point that they could take over the division lead. It would indeed take a lot to overcome their current deficit, but Greinke could be the difference between Wild Card and division winner.
Now, the Angels have three undisputed aces. The Rangers have none.
This could put the Rangers in an interesting position. They currently lack a bona fide ace leading their pitching rotation. They brought over Japanese superstar pitcher Yu Darvish to bolster their rotation for a total of over $110 million, and while he's been good for them, he's no ace yet. The Rangers also signed Roy Oswalt midseason to help lead the rotation, but he's only been average and has recently struggled with his recurring back issues.
Matt Harrison has had a breakout season but isn't fantastic nor proven and Derek Holland has underwhelmed after he had a breakout year in 2011. And Colby Lewis, their surefire postseason starter, is out for the remainder of the season. Texas has also used closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz, but he's struggled to stay healthy.
The Rangers have one of the best offenses in baseball. But their rotation is severely weakened by Lewis' injury, and the Greinke trade has dug a deeper hole for the Rangers' rotation woes. Even manager Ron Washington said it earlier today: "the Rangers need a good pitcher."
This could mean that Texas might consider pursuing another rotation arm. They've recently been linked to the Miami Marlins' Josh Johnson and the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields. But with each of those teams having high demands and holding more leverage in light of the Greinke deal, a trade between the two teams may not work out.
Another option the Rangers could pursue is a good old friend of theirs, Philadelphia Phillies ace Cliff Lee. Earlier in the week, I discussed the possibility of the Rangers reacquiring Lee after Hamels was extended by the Phillies. The Rangers reportedly preferred Hamels to Greinke anyway, but Greinke's no mediocre pitcher. He'll still make a difference, a difference the Rangers may need to counter. But is Lee ideal for the Rangers? Regarding all of Hamels, Greinke, and Lee, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweeted this yesterday afternoon:
#Rangers liked Zack Greinke, but preferred Cole Hamels. Also like Cliff Lee more, but too much left (three years, $87.5M) on contract.— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) July 27, 2012
Yeah, the Rangers don't like Lee's contract. I'd bet that many teams, the Phillies included, don't like it either given the amount that Lee's still owed. But Lee's an ace, an impact player who could lead a team one piece away from a World Series to a Fall Classic championship.
There's also the issue that the Phillies are reportedly withholding Lee. He's currently off the trade market, according to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, and it's another issue I wrote about last night. The Phillies want to keep their three aces, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, together into next season. But if the Rangers make a push for Lee, could that decision change?
As I covered in the article I wrote last evening, the Phillies could have interest in any of the Rangers' prospects, namely third baseman Mike Olt, center fielder Leonys Martin, catcher Jorge Alfaro, southpaw starter Martin Perez, right-handed starter Cody Buckel and shortstop Jurickson Profar. Many of these prospects could be out of the Phillies' reach, especially Profar, but if the Rangers desperately want Lee, they could relent on their beliefs in retaining Profar and their other top prospects.
It would take immense salary relief on the Phillies' part to get a deal done as well as acquire more than one or two of the Rangers' prospects. But the Rangers need pitching. They want not only pitching, but an ace who can take them to the top. Lee's done it once before. Give him another chance, and he can do even more with a third opportunity. After all, third time's the charm, right?
This is a deal that couldn't be a better fit for both teams. Olt and Martin in particular are good fits for the Phillies, as they have holes at center field and third base if they trade or allow Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco, respectively, to walk as free agents (Polanco has a mutual option that's likely to be declined, making him a free agent at season's end). Additionally, Olt and Martin, moreso than the other prospects mentioned, are major league-ready at this time.
And, of course, the Rangers not only get their difference maker, but they get back the ace they coveted, they loved, they desired yet couldn't pry away from Philadelphia after the 2010 season. With three years and cost certainty both provided if the Rangers acquired Lee from the Phillies, they know what they're getting, both in terms of ability and finances. They can part with prospects that they really don't need given that they have veterans signed to long-term contracts blocking most of their top prospects at the major league level from contributing.
If the Phillies and Rangers get this deal done, this truly is a deal that works for both sides. I know that not all the trades I've speculated upon this week have been spot-on, but nothing is more perfect for both teams in a trade this year than this, folks.
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