Rangers get a weapon for October

BY foxsports • July 9, 2010

I disagree. The pennant was won on July 29, when Philadelphia acquired Cliff Lee from Cleveland. The Dodgers wanted him. They didn’t get him. And it probably cost them a trip to the World Series.

Now, it doesn’t always happen that way. I figured that the Tigers effectively clinched the division last July with the acquisition of Jarrod Washburn. But he had one victory in two months, and the Twins prevailed in Game 163.

Lee is different. At least he was last year. And in the tradition of David Cone, he will be an impact ace-for-hire a second time.

With Friday’s blockbuster, Lee is property of the Texas Rangers, and it would be a colossal understatement to say that he has changed the tenor of the American League West race.

Fact is, this July’s trade could end up being as important, and determinant, as last July’s.

The Yankees didn’t want to face Lee in the postseason. So they tried to get him. And they almost did, until an injury to Double-A second baseman David Adams gave the Mariners a reason/excuse to squelch the deal.

“The Rangers,” one rival executive offered, “amplified their offer once they realized the modern-day Whitey Ford was going elsewhere imminently.”

I’m not about to tab the Rangers as favorites to win the World Series. The Yankees are the reigning champs, and they have the most wins in the majors. The road to the AL pennant remains the Major Deegan Expressway, The Bronx, N.Y.

But now the Rangers have no need to fear Yankee Stadium on a cold night in October. Lee beat the Yankees twice in the postseason last year. Why not again?

If Texas wins the division – likely, but hardly a given – any psychological edge will come in handy, because the roster has little postseason experience. Michael Young, still the face of the franchise, ranks third among active major leaguers in games played without reaching the playoffs.

In fact, the Yankees’ footprints are all over the Rangers’ brief, unspectacular postseason past. The franchise has reached the playoffs three times and encountered New York in the first round on each occasion.

Combined record: 1-9.

The Game 1 starters were Aaron Sele (1999), Todd Stottlemyre (1998) and John Burkett (1996). In a rematch this autumn – delayed 11 years – the Rangers would have a worthy adversary for CC Sabathia.

“Cliff adds an element to our club that we haven’t had for some time,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Friday, “arguably since the man to my left was pitching for us.”

Prior to Lee’s arrival, Ryan had endured a difficult week. A ruling in the Rangers’ bankruptcy proceedings sidetracked – at least temporarily, possibly for good – Ryan’s plans to purchase the club in a group with Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg.

Now his team has a true ace – the kind Ryan has surely wanted since rejoining the organization in 2008. Lee, precise and energetic, is the antidote for a staff that has too often worn down in the August heat.

Daniels, one of the most creative GMs in the game, made it happen. Working under tight payroll restrictions, he acquired the most sought-after pitching commodity in the game and persuaded the Mariners to kick in $2.25 million.

Think about that: When Lee takes the mound against Seattle in the second half, the Mariners will be paying a greater portion of his salary than the Rangers.

And it’s not as if the deal ripped away an irreplaceable part of the Rangers’ current club. Yes, Justin Smoak was their everyday first baseman. But he was hitting .209. Chris Davis, a career .253 hitter in the big leagues, has a good chance to return from Triple-A and outperform him.

Still, the Mariners can feel like they won this deal, too. Smoak, the No. 1 prospect involved, is better now than anyone the Indians or Phillies acquired in their trades for Lee over the past 12 months.

Jack Zduriencik’s team may be in last place, but he maximized the biggest trade chip he had. And I’ve spoken with scouts who like the two pitching prospects heading to Seattle.

But this is not “The Blake Beavan Trade” or “The Josh Lueke Trade.” Friday was all about Cliff Lee. The Texas Rangers, pitching-poor for years and cash-strapped today, snatched the grand prize away from the richest team.

See you in October.

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