- If and when this deal is finalized, the question that will have to be asked is whether the prospects the Mariners give up (and no one knows the exact names just yet, although it appears almost certain that Phillippe Aumont is going to Toronto) will be worth the worst-case scenario of one year of Lee, at a reasonable contract ($8.5 million), and then he walks. One reason the Phillies are trading Lee, in addition to the upgrade to Roy Halladay, is their conclusion that they have no guarantee of locking up Lee to a long-term contract. He is eligible for free agency after this season, and the initial rumbling from those familiar with his thinking is that he intends to hit the open market rather than negotiate an extension.But that's subject to change, of course. The Mariners no doubt hope that he finds the Seattle situation -- the team, the coaching staff, the ballpark -- so pleasurable that he winds up signing on with them long-term. But if not, a couple of positive things could still happen, first and foremost being, obviously, that a Felix Hernandez-Cliff Lee tandem at the top of the rotation leads the Mariners into the postseason. For a team that hasn't sniffed playoff baseball since 2001, that's no insignficant factor.
Even if Lee were to walk after that, he would presumably be a Type A free agent resulting in both a first-round and sandwich pick as compensation.
That's one scenario. Another scenario is the Mariners fall out of contention, in which case Lee would immediately be the hottest pitcher on the market at the trade deadline. The M's could re-coup some of their expenditure in prospects for acquiring Lee by trading him to a contender at the deadline.
I'm not usually a big fan of trading prospects for one rent-a-veteran, but leaving aside some catastrophic injury, what's the worst that can happen to the Mariners? Absent catastrophic injury, they're going to wind up with prospects in July, or a couple of draft picks in 2011, or -- and here's everyone's preference -- everyone in Seattle will enjoy a wonderfully exciting summer for the first time since 2003.
Which sort of suddenly seems highly possible. Between the Mariners adding Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee, and the Angels losing Chone Figgins and John Lackey, the balance of power in the American League West really does seem to have shifted. Or evened, which is almost as exciting for Seattle and even more exciting for the rest of us.