Why I Could Trade Wilmer Flores for Cliff Lee

Numerous people have asked me recently about the Cliff Lee trade rumors.  It’s tasty stuff isn’t it?  The question I’ve been getting most frequently is, would you trade Wilmer Flores and/or Jenrry Mejia for Lee?

At 44-34, the Mets sit 1.5 games behind the Braves in the standings and on top of the wild card heap with the Dodgers, Cardinals, Phillies, Rockies and Giants all within 3.5 games.  The Mets are in a better position than many predicted.  Adding Lee would make them post-season, if not World Series favorites.

No, I would not trade Mejia.  Yes, I would trade Flores.

Here’s why:

No on Mejia
Mejia just hit the disabled list on June 30.  Lets imagine he stays on the DL for close to the minimum (unlikely) and returns on July 6 or 7 and makes one start before the Eastern League All-Star game on July 14.  Post All-Star Game, he’d have a maximum of three starts before the non-waiver trade deadline before July 31.   Remember, he wasn’t stretched out when he hit the DL and will need time once he returns to regain both his stamina and feel.  Shoulders only heal when they are given rest, so it’s not like he’ll be throwing much, if at all, during his DL time limiting his effectiveness when he does return.  Because he won’t be at full strength for much time in the next month, and because he was in the big league bullpen for the first third of the season, the Mets will not be dealing him while his value is high.  He should not be moved at this time.

Yes on Flores
I don’t want to see Flores go, but if the Mets can’t put together a package of minor leaguers without including him, I’d do it.

Wilmer can hit.  Adding his .469 (15 H/32 AB) week at St. Lucie to his Savannah performance gives him a .298/.356/.437 line at the two a-ball levels as an 18-year old.  Considering he was mostly playing against guys 3-5 years his senior, in a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Savannah, that’s very impressive.  His hand-eye coordination is fantastic.  He can flip singles to right or into left-center all day – just like he’s done in his first week in St. Lucie.  He has the bat speed to abuse A-ball fastballs.

This is also the same hitter who hit .175./.254/.246 in his final 126 AB in Savannah.  Did the league figure him out?  Did he get tired?  Did his fatigue affect his mechanics?  Did he get bored?  Was it all four?  None of the above?  I really can’t say for sure, although I like the all of the above answer more than the null set.

I haven’t yet talked to a scout who thinks that Flores is a major league short stop yet.  His hands are excellent.  His arm is plus. At short, his range is an issue.  One scout pointed out his slow movements.  Another called his actions lazy.  Another pointed to his body (already 6’3″) and his room for growth.  I’m told that Flores is running better than he did a year ago after a winter spent dedicated to his speed and footwork, but he’s still below average.  All the same, assuming he is not traded, I would expect him to finish this season and possibly next at short.  He won’t move to another position full-time until he hits AA and his path to the big leagues is clearer.

Third base would be the next option for Flores, but if that doesn’t work, then he’s looking at an OF corner or first where the requirements to be a valuable big leaguer, let alone an All-Star or superstar grow dramatically.

Importantly, unlike Mejia, Flores’ value is high right now.

Why Lee?

Because he’s fantastic.
I would love to see the Mets add Cliff Lee.  Every fan in America and every front office in America would be thrilled to have the Cliff Lee who could toss a complete game against the Yankees in a 7-3 win on a night when he didn’t his best stuff or the same guy with the crazy 78/5 strikeout to walk ratio and the 2.45 ERA.  Lee is the best available player by far.

The other thing about trading for Lee is that he’s not just a three-month rental.  He’s a three month rental and two picks between 16-60ish of the June 2011 MLB draft.  One pick will be in the compensation round between the first and second round while the other pick would either be in the final 15 of the first round and the first fifteen of the second round.   Initially, I had thought that the Mets should want to negotiate an extension with Lee pre-trade.  However, he’s indicated he wants to test free agency and get paid.  If the Mets can’t do a below-market extension (and I don’t know why Lee would do  that in July and leave many millions on the table), the picks are a very important piece of the value of a trade.

To be clear, at this moment Flores has more value than the picks the Mets would get back, but it’s not Flores for picks.  It would be Flores plus some other guys for Lee and the picks.

Flags fly forever.  Ask Boston fans if they’d trade their 2007 World Series win and Josh Beckett for the rights to Hanley Ramirez.

The Past Lee Deals
The really weird thing about Cliff Lee right now is that he’s been traded twice in the last 12 months for a package of guys who aren’t any good and don’t look like they’ll be any good.

July 29: Traded by the Cleveland  Indians with Ben  Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies for RHP  Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson, SS Jason Donald and RHP Jason Knapp.

Heading into the ’09 season those guys were ranked by Baseball America as Philly’s #2, #3, #4 and #10 prospects respectively.  Except for Knapp, who was hurt at the time of the trade, they were all underperforming to various degrees in ’09 and have continued to stink in 2010.

In 2009
Carrasco in AAA Lehigh Valley: 6-9, 5.18, 20 GS, 114.2 IP, 118 H, 73 R, 66 ER, 14 HR, 38 BB, 112 K
Marson in AAA Lehigh Valley: .294/.382/.370, 13 2B, 30 BB, 40 K in 63 G
Donald in AAA Lehigh Valley: .236/.297/.332, 15 2B, 1 HR, 13 BB, 53 K in 125 G
Knapp in A Lakewood: 2-7, 4.01, 85.1 IP, 63 H, 45 R, 12 HB, 39 BB, 111 K

In 2010
Carrasco in AAA Columbus: 7-3, 4.22, 15 GS, 91.2 IP, 92 H, 49 R, 15 HR, 34 BB, 79 K
Marson in MLB: .191/.268/.262, 7 2B, 14 BB, 36 K – 141 AB, 45 G – 0.0 WAR
….. in AAA Columbus: .178/.315/.400, 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 BB, 17 K – 45 AB, 14 G
Donald in MLB: .256/.293/.419 9 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 5 BB, 23 K – 173 AB, 43 G …  -0.2 WAR
…… in AAA Columbus: .277/.396/.423 – 137 AB, 37 G
Knapp – DNP.  biceps/shoulder

The Indians picked up a AAA RHP so far in Carrasco, who’s been hittable and homer prone in AAA and might be a bullpen piece, a replacement level infielder in Donald, a back up for Carlos Santana in Marson and a hard-throwing RHP with shoulder problems (Knapp).

I get that the Indians wanted to move Lee, but this was a miserable haul given that he still had a year and a half left on his contract.

Don’t worry, the Phillies didn’t do much better when they traded Lee.

December 16, 2009: Traded by the Philadelphia
Phillies
to the Seattle Mariners for J.C. Ramirez (minors), Phillippe Aumont (minors) and Tyson Gillies (minors).

I broke down this trade at the time here and called it a big win for the Mariners.  It looks bigger now.

2010
JC Ramirez – age 21
A+ Clearwater (4/8-6/14): 4-3, 4.06 ERA, 64.1 IP, 63 H, 34 R, 29 ER, 8 HB, 17 BB, 55 K.
AA Reading (6/19-present) : 1-1, 5.40 ERA, 3 GS, 18.1 IP, 22 H, 6 BB, 10 K

Phillippe Aumont – age 21
A+ Clearwater (6/2 – present): 0-0, 5.06 ERA, 10.2 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 HR, 2 HB, 9 BB, 8 K
AA Reading (4/9-6/2): 1-6, 7.43 ERA, 11 GS, 49.2 IP, 55 H, 45 R, 41 ER, 4 HR, 6 HB, 38 BB, 38 K

Tyson Gillies – Age 21
AA Reading: .238/.286/.333, 5 BB, 24 SO – 26 games

Because World Series are overrated, the Phillies didn’t want to pay Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and instead shipped Lee off for very little.  Very confusing.

As for the Mets this time around, I don’t know what it’ll take exactly, but I’d do just about any combination of three guys not currently on the MLB roster.


The Mets Roster

Adding an ace is the best way to make the current Mets roster better. Frankly, adding Lee is probably the best way to make any roster in MLB better.

The Mets will not make a move to upgrade the OF with Beltran on his way back to join Pagan, Bay and Francouer.  How the Mets allocate playing time among the four is a different issue for a different day, but they’re not going to add another OF.   Third, short, and first are filled, and filled very well.
—Since the Mets were 20-23 after losing to the Yankees on May 21st, Wright has hit .372/.421/.613 while Reyes is bopping .354/.394/.583.  In case you’re wondering, Wright’s 1.034 OPS is fourth in MLB in that time span, while Reyes’ .977 is 13th and the best among all SS.

The team has repeatedly passed on opportunities to upgrade at second while still paying Luis Castillo, so, while the team is 25th in wOBA, among MLB 2B, it’ll be Castillo or Ruben Tejada.  And yes, Tejada is an upgrade over Castillo at this point.

That leaves C and P as the places where the Mets can improve.

The catcher swap is easy: start playing Josh Thole over Rod Barajas, who has been below replacement level both with the bat and mitt.

The pitching staff remains filled with question marks, some of which are laced with dollar signs.

- Johan Santana’s 1-3, 4.68 ERA in June with 14 walks and 12 strikeouts?  Scary.  The lowest K/rate of his career at 5.71?  Scarier.  His K/9 was more or less stable from 04-07, concluding with a 9.66 that season with the Twins.
- Mike Pelfrey has been the Mets best pitcher.  He’s due for some regression.  His ERA of 2.93 is .70 better than his 3.63 FIP, and more than a run better than his 4.12 XFIP.
- RA Dickey has been a wonderful, and unexpected surprise, but his performance too is likely to regress.  His ERA of 2.98 is almost a full run better than his expected FIP of 3.84, but even that XFIP is the best mark of his career.
- Jon Niese has also outpitched his XFIP, but not as much as Pelfrey.  There’s always room to add another pitcher.
- There’s no help in the upper minors.  Dillon Gee and Tobi Stoner have been very ordinary in AAA.  Brad Holt was sent down from AA.

Further Reading
I think Michael Salfino at SNY.tv nails it when he says the Mets should be interested in Lee as a rental and not for a long-term deal.  I’ve changed my mind on this, but now agree with Salfino.

According to Andy Martino in the Daily News, the Mets and Mariners have not talked, and the Mets don’t yet know who, specifically Seattle is interested in.

According to Buster Olney at ESPN, Ruben Tejada does not have a high enough ceiling to be the center piece of a Lee trade.  That’s the least surprising thing I’ve read on this entire subject.

Joel Sherman does a confusing bit at the Post where he argues that the Mets should trade Wilmer Flores for Lee (agreed), but also that the Mets should toss in

“Pagan or Double-A lefty swingers Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Sean Ratliff, whose five homers in his first 58 at-bats since being promoted From A-ball has caught scouts’ eyes, and a third piece from among infield prospects Reese Havens or Jordany Valdespin or pitchers Bobby
Parnell
, Brad Holt or Jeurys Familia.”

Trading Pagan for Lee in a win-now move doesn’t make sense.  Pagan’s been the Mets second-best position player by WAR (2.5, trailing only Wright) and even when (if) Beltran returns, should be a crucial part of the Mets OF mix.  Moreover, his value should be significantly higher than either Nieuwenhuis or Ratliff’s.  The third quartet of guys (Valdespin, Parnell, Holt or Familia) should also have pretty low values given Holt and Familia’s struggles this year.

Final Thoughts/Other Suitors

Trade markets evolve and flexibility and timing are crucially important.  The Mets picked up Johan Santana because they hung around the negotiations and were there to make a deal when the Yankees refused to part with Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera and the Red Sox wouldn’t part with Jacoby Ellsbury,  with either Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz.   Instead, the Twins, who were determined to get a toolsy OF and some pitching, settled for the Mets’ Carlos Gomez and Deolis Guerra and low/no ceiling righties Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

I can’t see the Philies trading for Lee again.  The Rangers should not be allowed to add payroll given that the other 29 teams are funding  them.  I don’t buy scenarios of an even-money swap.  The Dodgers can’t take on payroll given their ownership mess.  I’d be surprised if the Cardinals have the minor leaguers to make a deal. Would the Red Sox poke around, just because?

Even so, shouldn’t the Mets, Yankees, Twins, Reds and Rockies all be suitors?

I think if the Mets want Lee that badly, and are willing to pay, he will be a Met.

There are 12 comments

  1. NateW

    Toby, I like hear your take on the rental of Lee over the extension. I find it hard to think the Mets can draft a prospect better than Flores with what will be a supplimental pick and a second round pick as the Mariners first rounder will be protected.

    I do like the idea of the Mets aquiring draft picks rather than giving them away, but I dont know how much influence that should have over the trade.

  2. Duke

    That’s the best analysis I have seen yet Toby-which is why I love this site. After reading it I guess I could see trading Flores, but I would not be happy about it.

    I think Sherman was just speculating, because what he said made no sense at all to me.

    So I guess we will see what happens.

  3. MrMustSeeTv

    I like Wilmer, but let’s be honest. He’s all project riight now. If he could stick at SS, then I’d be more inclined not to trade him. But he’s not going to be a SS. He could move to 3B, but he’s blocked by Wright, so that means 1B or RF due to his strong arm.

    He shows the ability to hit for average and make adjustment and is showing in game power, but there is no certainty that he’ll develop 30 homer power needed to be an elite 1B or RF. If not, then he a good but not great prospect, which is why I’d be more inclined to trade him.

  4. theperfectgame

    It doesn’t matter that the Mariners’ first round pick will be protected. Whoever has Lee at the end of the season gets the first rounder of the team that signs Lee for 2011 (or second rounder if THAT team is in the bottom 15).

    So if the M’s trade Lee to the Mets for Flores, Tejada, Ratliff, and Cohoon, for example, and then after the Mets win the 2010 Series, Lee signs with the Yankees for 9 years / $750M, then the Mets would get the Yankees’ first round pick, as well as a comp pick in between rounds 1 and 2.

    Now, you could still argue that Flores is still worth more than, say the 2011 25th and 40th picks, and that may be true, but the major part of this trade from the Mets standpoint is still the 3-4 months of Lee they’d get. The draft picks they’d get are really just a bonus if they don’t extend or re-sign him, which allows them to trade for him without necessarily requiring he sign an extension.

  5. CaseStreet

    Thanks Toby. I hope the Mets front office reads your blog and the M’s can come to an agreemetn with the Mets.

    A playoff rotation of Lee-Santana-Big Pelf-Niese would definitely make this team a playoff contender.

    BTW, I think you mean “The Mets will not be dealing him while his value is LOW.”

  6. T Pac

    Toby,

    I don’t want to give up Wilmer, but THANK YOU for finally mentioning the most important words when discussing a possible Lee extension — “below-market” Signing a guy to a market-value extension does absolutely nothing for us. We’d have him, but we’d be paying for him.

    I also believe that compensation draft picks are heavily overrated — they are undoubtedly useful, but when comparing them vs. prospects, people often look over the huge signing bonuses associated with draft picks — and we aren’t talking about blue chippers taken at the top of the draft, but guys from 16-60 frequently don’t pan out.

  7. garik16

    People need to remember this: If we acquire Lee, there’s no reason why we couldn’t try to sign him over the summer. And if we do that, guess what? We don’t give up draft picks as if he was a Type A Free Agent.

    If we can’t sign him we get picks.

    So in reality, we’d be trading for half a season of Cliff Lee and then either a discount on signing him as a FA (Not costing us prospects) or a few draft picks.

  8. T Pac

    The “discount” from the compensation picks has been estimated to be valued around $6 million. So not a ton, but still a significant amount.

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