It was reported yesterday that the Twins made a concrete offer of 22-year-old catcher Wilson Ramos and 20-year-old outfielder Aaron Hicks for the Mariners’ Cliff Lee. If true, it’s a good starting place for negotiations. The Twins will likely have to offer at least one more prospect to get Lee.
Wilson Ramos came into the 2010 season as the Twins top prospect after a strong half-season at AA New Britain in 2009 and also the Twins’ top trade chip. His future as the Twins’ backstop is blocked by current catcher Joe Mauer, who signed a major contract before the start of the season.
Ramos did well when the Twins called him up from May 2nd through 12th this year while Mauer was injured. He hit .296 in seven games (8 for 27) and hit three doubles. However, seven of those eight hits came in his first two games, after which he hit poorly.
Even worse, Ramos hasn’t hit this year at AAA Rochester. He’s currently hitting .208 with an awful .244 on-base percentage and .563 OPS. Right handed pitchers have given him a whole lot of trouble at the AAA level.
Ramos turns 23 on August 10, so he’s still young enough to be a future star if he can prove his terrible first half of 2010 was an aberration. However, he’s hurt his top prospect status considerably from where he stood in Spring Training.
Aaron Hicks was the Twins first-round pick in the 2008 Draft (14th overall). He’s never played higher than the Class A Midwest League so far in his professional career, and after 842 professional plate appearances he has a career .271 batting average and a .793 OPS, which isn’t particularly impressive. However, his career .374 on-base percentage is much more so.
You have to figure that someone else is going to offer the Mariners two prospects on a par with where Ramos and Hicks are right now. Thus, it’s probably going to come down to who can offer the best third prospect for the Mariners to pull the trigger. That, or the Mariners get the one top prospect (and couple of grade B prospects) they want above all others.
One example of such a player might be 20-year-old Yankees catcher Jesus Montero. Aside from being two years younger than Ramos, he presently has a .732 OPS at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre and had an OPS more than 100 points higher than Ramos in similar playing time in the AA Eastern League last season.
If the Yankees are willing to make Montero the centerpiece of a three-prospect package, you’d have to think they’d win the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes. I think it would be a mistake for the Yankees to give up Montero, however.
With Jorge Posada now 38 (he turns 39 on August 17th), it wouldn’t be a wise move to trade away a great candidate to be the next in the long line of long-term Yankees’ catchers.
There’s also reports of the Reds trying to tempt the Mariners with first baseman Yonder Alonso, who is blocked by Joey Votto in Cincinnati. I can’t see the Mariners accepting a package centered around Alonso, though.
Alonso is already 23 years old and has a feeble .678 OPS after half a season at AAA Louisville. His career minor league OPS after 716 plate appearances is only .778, which doesn’t suggest that he’s going to be a great slugging 1Bman at the major league level any time soon.
The Mariners are reported to have a lot of interest in the Brewers’ 20-year-old prospect Brett Lawrie. Lawrie is playing second and has a robust .837 OPS at AA Huntsville as I write this. However, with the Brewers currently 10.5 games behind the first-place Reds and 8.5 games back of the second-place Cardinals, I can’t see the Brewers trading prospects for veterans this year.
B.J. Upton from Tampa Bay is another name that’s been thrown around. I can’t see the Mariners making a deal around him when they have Franklin Gutierrez in center field already.
The road looks open for the Twins. They’ll have to sweeten the pot with a third prospect to close the deal, though.
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