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One degree of Cliff Lee

I don't think Cliff Lee enjoys days like yesterday, when he spends 30 minutes answering media questions and zero minutes throwing off a mound. But I think he understands the process.

In his own way _ by raising his eyebrows and making clear his disdain for particularly inspid queries, but also by occasionally offering wit and insight _ he feeds the beast sufficiently.

Toward the end of yesterday's news conference, Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, looking out for his Pacific Northwest peeps, asked Lee to reflect on his odd 2010, how it began with a Mariners team that looked to contend, switched over to a fairy-talish Rangers club and concluded wtih the dynamic Phillies franchise.

Lee gave Stone what he needed, and then he expanded the thought naturally. After all, the last two years, not just 2010, have been pretty crazy for the lefty.

"Yeah, looking back I enjoyed it," he said. "I enjoyed every benefit of it from Cleveland to here to Seattle to Texas. I'm glad I got to go through that. To get to experience different organizations and how each organization does things a little bit different.

"I got to play with some of the best players in the gamem from Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore in Cleveland; to here with Ryan Howard, (Chase) Utley, Cole (hamels). Obviously, to Seattle with Ichiro (Suzuki), and Felix Hernandez, and then to Texas with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Young. I mean, some of the best players in the game. It was a great experience.

"Without being traded, I never could have gotten to do any of that. I would have still been with the Indians and then free agency. I was glad to get those opportunities to bounce around and play with different organizations, get to play in back to back World Series with two different teams.

"It was a fun ride, and hopefully I'll get a chance to be a little more stable about that process and get to experience some more World Series with this team hopefully multiple times. I definitely want that ring. That's what it's all about. "

It got me to thinking (yeah, yeah, the first time's always the worst, as Norm once told Woody on "Cheers") how many ballplayers' lives have been impacted by Lee. I'm not even getting into theoreticals like the players Brian Cashman would and wouldn't give up for Lee last July. I mean the players who were traded for Lee - or with Lee - the last two years.

We need more time to fully evaluate the three trades in which Lee was involved, and don't forget, the Rangers still have two draft picks coming in June that are compensation for losing Lee to the Phillies. But why not check in now and see how the early returns look?

1) Lee from Cleveland to Philadelphiia, July 29, 2009. Lee was very good for the Phillies in the'09 regular season and Ben Francisco has been an asset, particularly against lefty pitching, and figures to get increased playing time this year thanks to the departure of Jayson Werth to Washington.

In return, the Phillies gave up Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson and Jason Donald.

The Indians were financially pressed when they made this deal, and their return reflects that. So far, it's a Phillies blowout victory. The Indians' hope for redemption is Knapp, who is only 20 years old and who pitched well at the Rookie and Low A levels last year after returning from right shoulder surgery in 2009.

2) Lee from Philadelphia to Seattle, December 16, 2009. Lee pitched spectacularly well for the Mariners for two-plus months last year, after missing the start of the season with an abdominal strain.

In easily the most misguided deal of the three involving Lee, the Phillies decided that 1) They couldn't afford both Lee and Roy Halladay on their payroll at the same time, and 2) No, wait, yes, they were paying Joe Blanton as much as they would've paid Lee, but the thing was, they needed to replenish their farm system after trading big pieces for Lee and then Halladay.

Ah. In any case, the Phillies replenished their farm system with J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies and Philippe Aumont. All three were pretty dreadful in the Phillies' system in 2010, although the pitchers Ramirez and Aumont displayed an ability to miss bats. Only Ramirez received an invitation to the Phillies' big-league camp.

This deal, therefore, is so far a resounding victory for Seattle, even though Lee's greatness couldn't lift the Mariners into contention.

3) Lee from Seattle to Texas, July 9, 2010. This was the most "standard" Lee trade: A disappointing team recoups what it can for its impending free agent.

As you know, Lee helped the Rangers make the World Series for the first time in franchise history, a huge leap forward. The Rangers also received Mark Lowe, whom they control for two more years, and they got $2.5 million from the Mariners to help pay for Lee, making the lefty even more of a bargain.

In return, Texas gave up Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Matthew Lawson and Josh Lueke. So far, again, major victory for the Rangers, all the more so because Lueke's strong performance after the trade was mitigated by dark revelations about his past

The key is Smoak, who is regarded as a potentially elite first baseman both offensively and defensively. At age 24, it's time for him to make the jump.

Looking at these deals, all significant victories so far for the teams giving up youngsters to get Lee, is the conclusion, "Always trade prospects for veterans, because prospects are unproven?" Nah. First of all, again, we need more time for full evaluations. Second of all, at the time these deals were made, most industry folks weren't particularly high on these specific packages of prospects.

Perhaps we'll do this same exercise a year from now, including the Rangers' two upcoming draft picks (33rd and not too long again after that, although I can't find the precise number). Then again, as a guy named Harley David Rubin mentioned to me on Twitter, maybe CC Sabathia will be the Phillies' fifth starter a year from now.

--Oliver Perez met with the Mets powers yesterday and was told he'll get a chance to make the team's starting rotation. Uh huh. I guess there's no harm in letting make an early Grapefruit League start, but unless Perez looks like a completely different pitcher, it would be foolish to subsequently let him take up too many innings that could be utilized on pitchers who have a better chance of helping the Mets in either 2011 or down the line.

--Here is Newsday's second annual All-Walk-Year team. Looks like we need to change the "CC Sabatahia says he won't opt out" line. 

--Occasional blog commenter Doug wrote this interesting piece on David Wright.

--OK, off to Yankees camp today. See you later.

 

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