x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The impact of the Lee trade to Texas

Pitcher's move to Rangers means other divisions could remain competitive, writes Sean McAdam.

Cliff Lee, the new Texas Rangers pitcher, will likely continue to raise his stock.
Cliff Lee, the new Texas Rangers pitcher, will likely continue to raise his stock.

Every few years, usually just before the All-Star break, a trade is made that has a bigger impact than most. Two years ago, it was the acquisition of CC Sabathia by the Milwaukee Brewers from the Cleveland Indians. Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA over the second half of the season and helped pitch the Brewers to their first spot in the post-season in more than a decade.

Last week's deal, in which the Seattle Mariners sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers, may have even larger significance. Beyond the obvious boost the Rangers get in obtaining the most-coveted pitcher on the market, the fact that Lee did not go to two other rumoured destinations means two other divisions will likely remain competitive, crowded races. Had Lee gone to the Minnesota Twins - for a package that would have included Wilson Ramos, the prized catching prospect- his addition would have changed the landscape in the American League Central.

The Twins have fallen to third place behind Chicago and Detroit. The White Sox recently lost starter Jake Peavy (shoulder) for the rest of the season and the Tigers' pitching depth has been an issue all season. Other than Detroit's Justin Verlander, there is no obvious ace on any of the three teams. Lee's presence might have been enough to separate the Twins from the Tigers and White Sox. Had Lee gone to the New York Yankees, the AL East race would have been effectively over. As it is, the Yankees have demonstrated they are again the best team in the game. They sport the best record at the All-Star break, and adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte would have almost been unfair.

It is better that Lee landed in Texas than in New York, Joe Maddon, the Tampa manager, told the St Petersburg Times. "If it can't be the Rays, it's OK that he goes to Texas," Maddon said. "I would prefer that he be in the National League if he's not here. That definitely puts Texas in a good spot." Still mired in bankruptcy court, the Rangers out-manouevered other interested teams by offering Justin Smoak, the first base prospect, and two other minor leaguers.

The Rangers rotation had been solid enough to put the team in first in the West, but in the evaluation of most, lacked a front-line starter who could carry a staff an open a post-season play-off series. In Lee, now, they have just such an ace. "We have a guy that gives us another pitcher from the left side," Nolan Ryan, the team president, told reporters. "A proven starter, an innings eater. Because of those things, those attributes that he has, he brings a presence to us that is going to have an impact."

This marks the second consecutive year in which Lee has been traded at mid-season. In 2009 he went from Cleveland to Philadelphia and helped the Phillies repeat as National League champions, showing his mettle by shining in the post-season. If he can do the same again for the Rangers, surely his value as a free agent-to-be this fall, already substantial, will skyrocket further. sports@thenational.ae