Cliff Lee's an easy guy to fall in love with. He's a throwback lefty with at least four pitches, amazing control, and a tendency to actually complete games. He's good-looking, charmingly candid, and comes to the M's at the insanely cheap (for a player of his caliber, anyway) rate of $8 million per year.
Vladi-dadi, he likes to party -- and the M's had best sign him.
But now that the deal is finally official, a little devil's advocacy is in order. Specifically, if the M's don't augment the Lee and Chone Figgins acquisitions with at least two more power bats, the so-called "steal of the century" will threaten to be decidedly less so.
For the past two years, Lee has been among the best pitchers in baseball. But his career has been a roller-coaster. He was 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 2005, went 14-11 in 2006, and slipped to 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA in 2007. The following year, he rebounded to win the Cy Young with one of the best seasons turned in by a starting pitcher in major league history--22-3 and 2.54 for an otherwise terrible team. Last year, he was 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA. So has Lee turned the corner or is he bound for a repeat of 2007's crapola campaign? I'd argue strongly for the former, but there's certainly a chance of the latter happening.Also, let's not forget: Lee's middle name is Phifer, he was once suspended for throwing behind Junior (chemistry alert!), and he hails from the state that had the bad sense to free cop-killer Maurice Clemmons while he still had decades left to serve.
But really, my currently flaccid take on the Lee deal has nothing to do with Arkansas and everything to do with my opinion that a deal like this--in which three top prospects are dealt for a potential short-timer--only makes sense for a team that's poised to contend for the World Series. And seriously, does anyone think the Mariners are equipped to do that in 2010, even after acquiring Lee and Figgins? Didn't think so.
What would cause my cerebral wang to firm up would be the acquisition of two or more of the following free agents: Angel DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas OF Marlon Byrd, Texas 1B Hank Blalock or (but not and) incumbent M's 1B Russell Branyan, and St. Louis OF Matt Holliday.
Holliday would seem to be the score of this bunch, but he's likely to command too much money for the M's to consider another of these options, and he was pretty underwhelming during his time in the American League last year before exploding against weaker NL pitching. Bum knees and all, future Hall-of-Famer Guerrero can still hit a ton, is younger than Ichiro, and would be motivated by the fact that his former team, the reigning AL West champs, shunned him for an equally weak-kneed Hideki Matsui.
While Guerrero made $15 million last year, Matsui likely reset his current market value at around $6 million, which the M's can totally afford. So I'd say he's the likeliest target of this bunch, with either of the three B's rounding out the haul, and the Texans accomplishing the dual objective of stealing from a division rival.
Do all that, and I might just name my first-born Phifer.