While Omar Minaya stayed out of the limelight today and prepared his flaming bag of poop for Adam Rubin, his Phillies counterpart Ruben Amaro, JR pulled a meisterstroke and got Cliff Lee from the selling Cleveland Indians. Let’s look into the deal that more or less sealed the deal in the National League East for 2009.
The Phillies get Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco. Francisco is a righty outfielder that has been hot (.329/.435/.643 in July) and has played 35 games in center field, but is only passable anywhere in the outfield (-5.9 runs in center field career, -11.8 runs overall this year). He’s better against lefties (.810 OPS versus southpaws, .755 against righties), so he’ll probably be the guy that spells Raul Ibanez (.758 OPS versus lefties career) against the occasional strong lefty.
Cliff Lee is the big haul. He may not be as good as last year (22-3; 2.54/1.11), but add this year’s numbers look more sustainable (3.14/1.30), although the ERA looks a little low for that WHIP. He does it by not walking anyone (BB/9 under 2 two straight years), and striking out enough to keep the opponents honest. One big step forward for him last year, which he sustained last year, was getting his fly ball rate down under 40% for the first time. That’s huge for him going into that bandbox in Philadelphia. Expect his HR/9 rate to go up (1.02 career, .59 this year), but the ERA may not change much as he’ll have some free outs while pitching to opposing pitchers.
Lee immediately vaults a previously suspect pitching staff into the elite in the division and decent in the league. Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and J.A. Happ is solid all the way through and strong at the top. Now the team has no need to depend on Pedro Martinez, another plus.
The best part of the whole deal for Philadelphia is that it didn’t give up any of the elite prospects that the Toronto Blue Jays were rumored to covet. The team’s top-4 prospects, outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, and pitchers Happ and Kyle Drabek are still in the organization, which is a huge coup. That is not to say that the Phillies did not give anything up. Cleveland got an okay haul, but the group lacks a high upside, impact player.
Carlos Carrasco doesn’t have great overall statistics in the minor leagues (4.14/1.32), but recently the righty has been striking out about a quarter of the batters he’s faced, and his 8 K/9 career is promising. His fastball can reach the mid nineties but is usually in the low 90s, but it’s his changeup that is his outpitch. He’s also improved his walk rate steadily over the last three years and can probably be a middle-of-the-rotation starter if he continues to refine his slider and smooth out his motion. Right there, an alarm bell should have gone off in Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro‘s head. Shouldn’t the best prospect in the deal have the upside of the player you are giving up?
Some reports have the jewel of the trade as single-A righty Jason Knapp, however. He certainly has nice numbers, but he was born in 1990. He won’t be in the majors for a little while. 11+ K/9 with a sub-1.2 WHIP means that there is a lot to like. The thinking is that if he can’t harness his secondary pitches better, he’ll end up in the bullpen.
Catcher Lou Marson has some defensive questions, but his .276/.372/.388 line provides some optimism for his bat, even if its a little underpowered. In the higher minors, he’s shown he can hit for average and if he stays behind the plate, he can give his new team some insurance if top prospect Carlos Santana doesn’t work out. (This also means that Victor Martinez is probably out the door, and I’d guess he’ll go to Boston.)
Shortstop Jason Donald rounds out the four-man group. He is really struggling this year (.235/.296/.33) across two levels), but his overall line (.286/.369/.436) is impressive for a shortstop. He’s shown good range (3.93) and has cut his errors this year all the way down to four in 51 games. He can be a shorstop, the question is, will he hit?
So the haul wasn’t impressive and it’s possible that Mark Shapiro got took. On the other hand, this should be doubly upsetting to the average Met fan: Not only did the Phillies get better, but there’s no way that Omar Minaya could have made this deal. He doesn’t have the prospects, no matter what he claims. Prospects #5-9 on the Mets wouldn’t have gotten the team 2 months of Jarrod Washburn, much less 8 months of Cliff Lee.