Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Cliff Lee

So the rumor mongers are going at it over the Twins making a deal for Cliff Lee. Those rumors include having the Twins givie up both of their top two prospects, Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks. There are a couple of things to think about with this kind of deal.

First, Lee is a free agent after this year and it is unlikely the Twins are going to be able to resign him. That means they are getting about two to three months out of him, plus whatever draft picks are provided in compensation for losing him. Normally adding a guy to the top of your rotation is a major upgrade since they replace the worst guy in the rotation. But Lee is likely to replace Slowey or Blackburn.  If you look at the ups and downs of those three pitchers, Lee is better than the other two, but there are periods where his performance was worse than either Slowey or Blackburn at their best. Lee  is a likely upgrade in the long run, but the Twins won't have him for the long run. Instead, they will get two or three months out of him. Those could be his great months, his mediocre months or his terrible months. Or he could get hurt and produce nothing. In any case, the Twins will never get another bite of the apple.

The second issue is the price. Ramos and Hicks are both guys who project as major league stars or maybe even superstars. The Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter type of players that you build championships around. When you give up one of those guys, you don't  find a replacement. Of course, Hicks is a long way from the big leagues and not dominating the Midwest league, Ramos has struggled some at Rochester. For people who re-evaluate prospects once a month those things are meaningful. But no one really should have changed their opinion about either one based on this season. There just hasn't been enough of it.  Rolling the dice on Lee is one thing, betting the house on him is another.

Which brings us to those draft choices. Its important to remember that which draft choices the Twins get depends on where Lee signs. If he signs with someone in the top half of the draft, the Twins get a second round choice - or lower. The only way they get a first round choice is if Lee sgns with a team in the second half of the draft that didn't sign a higher ranked free agent. They will also get a supplemental pick. The drop off after the first few picks of the draft is almost a cliff and it really only levels out some when you get to the 100th player chosen.  Its important to remember that the new compensation system for unsigned players is pushing even first round draft choices down the ladder some.  

The last time the Twins traded top prospects in this way was sending Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings to the Pirates for John Smiley to replace Jack Morris. Smiley didn't get them to the playoffs, the rotation had holes in it for years while Neagle became a 20 game winner. And the draft choices received when Smiley left? They mostly turned to dust as most draft choices do. Ramos and/or Hicks for Lee is a bad gamble, sending both of them is the kind of deal that keeps teams perpetually in the second division.

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