Here's a Thought: Looking At The Cliff Lee Trade

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Here's a Thought: Looking At The Cliff Lee Trade
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As you probably know, the Cleveland Indians sent lefty starter Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday for prospects Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, and Jason Knapp.

The consensus that I've seen everywhere has the Phillies winning this trade easily, as Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young winner, provides a big upgrade to a rotation that's been giving starts to guys like Rodrigo Lopez, Antonio Bastardo, and Chan Ho Park this season.

It's true that the acquisition of Lee does increase the Phillies' possibility of repeating as World Series champions, and if he pushes them to that goal, Philadephia certainly won't complainno matter what the four prospects do.

So I agree that Philadelphia did a good job of getting a guy that legitimately improves the team's chance of winning a championship. They're built to win now, as the Rollins/Howard/Utley/Hamels core won't be together forever, and Raul Ibanez will likely never hit this well again.

But did Philadelphia really "win" the deal?

That implies that the Phillies got what they wanted, and Cleveland didn't.

It's obvious that the Phillies got what they wanted, but it seems to be less clear what the Indians received.

Let's take a look at the four players Cleveland got.

Carrasco has often been called the best prospect in the deal. I disagree, but we'll get to that in a bit.

He's a 22-year-old right-hander in Triple-A who throws a decent fastball and an excellent changeup. His curve is a usable third pitch.

Carrasco is prone to mental errors and leaves too many pitches out over the plate. That leads to some home run issues that he needs to work through.

With good control of a nice three-pitch mix, Carrasco profiles as a No. 4 starter, maybe a No. 3, and is close to MLB-ready. His homer issues will be easier to handle in Cleveland than in the Phillies' bandbox of a stadium.

Jason Donald is a 24-year-old shortstop who hit well in Double-A last year (.307/.391/.497) but has struggled badly in Triple-A this year (.236/.297/.332). He is versatile defensively and a positive addition on the bases.

Donald's 2009 slump probably ends his chances of being a major league starter, but he could be a decent utility-man with power off the bench and a decent, versatile glove. Then again, it's not hard to find players like that.

Lou Marson offers more hope than Carrasco or Donald. Also in Triple-A, the catcher is hitting .294/.382/.370. He's also hit .286/.375/.476 in 24 MLB PA's.

Marson, unlike Donald, projects to start at his position. He's an average defensive catcher with excellent OBP skills and doubles power. He could be a .285/.375/.400 player in the majors, which is very valuable at catcher.

Of course, the Indians also have top catching prospect, Carlos Santana, in Double-A. However, Santana is a converted third baseman who can play first, third, catcher, and both left and right field. So there should be roster space for both players to get significant time in Cleveland. It's like the Indians' situation; they have Victor Martinez play first base sometimes when Kelly Shoppach catches.

Just 23, Marson could be a Ramon Hernandez-level contributor in a year or two, and could even make an All-Star team or two, depending on the catching depth in the American League.

Then there's Jason Knapp.

I'll just copy-paste my report on Knapp from my Top 100 Prospects slideshow:

"Ranked just 10th on the Phillies' prospect list by Baseball America entering the year, Knapp has really increased his stock this season.

Knapp has struck out 11.71 batters per nine innings while maintaining a decent walk rate and keeping the ball in the park.

On top of the statistical excellence, Knapp has age and stuff on his side. He's only 18 and already pitching well in a full season league against hitters often 21 or older.

Then there's his stuff. Knapp's fastball sits around 95 mph and touches 100, and his slider and changeup both rate as plus pitches.

Knapp may not get much hype, but I can't understand why. Who doesn't like an 18-year-old with triple-digit velocity, two good off-speed pitches, and excellent results in a full season league?"

I ranked Knapp sixth on the Top 100 Prospects list.

I know that I'm close to alone in my extremely high regard for him, but there's no question that if he harnesses his stuff, he's going to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. He should at least become a dominant reliever.

Everyone seems to be fooled because they think Carrasco is the top prospect in the deal. Yes, if the best prospect in the deal is a No. 3- No. 4 starter, which is terrible. But I think Knapp and Marson rate higher than Carrasco.

The Indians are getting a potential ace in Knapp (although one with a long way to go to the majors), a starting-quality catcher in Marson, another good arm in Carrasco, and a utility guy in Donald.

Knapp and Carrasco are also a refreshing change from the Scott Lewis/ Jeremy Sowers/ Zach Jackson/ David Huff/ Chuck Lofgren/ Aaron Laffey chain of finesse lefties that the Indians keep hyping up and then getting disappointed by.

The Indians aren't in contention this year, and it's not likely they will be next year. It's better to acquire three good future starters and one future backup, especially for a guy that's only going to be around for two years when the team won't be contending.

However, it all hinges on Knapp. If he busts, this trade won't look good. While I'm a huge believer in him, there's no question that 18-year-old pitchers can have tons of things go wrong between Low-A and the majors.

However, if he meets his potential, the Indians will certainly get what they wanted: a front-of-the-rotation starter to eventually replace Lee.

So yes, the Phillies got what they wanted, but it's very possible that Cleveland did as well.

Don't rush judgment based on 2009/2010 resultsJason Knapp could ultimately make this trade a tie, or even swing it in Cleveland's favor before all is said and done.

I know it's an unpopular position, but I do think there's hope for the Indians here.

 

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