I suppose the timing of this latest spate of rumors/speculation/hearsay strikes a slightly discordant note, particularly since it's hitting us mere hours after six fairly strong innings from 105-strikeout man Colby Lewis and three virtually perfect frames from the all-Dominican flamethrowing Ogando/Francisco/Feliz trifecta, but one home victory against an inferior ballclub doesn't really mitigate the shaky back half of the Rangers' rotation, nor the ominous second-half schedule, so ... well, here we are.
According to multiple local beats (including MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan), major league sources have confirmed that trade discussions between the Mariners and Rangers with regard to a Cliff Lee-to-Texas deal are "heating up," with Chris Davis, Justin Smoak, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Derek Holland and Blake Beavan all being mentioned as potential components of a prospect-loaded package coming back the Mariners' way. Of particular interest is that neither Martin Perez nor Tanner Scheppers are deemed as available at present, although given the degree to which Lee-involved teams are engaged in posturing right now, I hesitate to buy too much into any early proclamations of players being untouchable. This thing is still awfully damn fluid.
[Per ESPN.com's and ProspectInsider.com's Jason Churchill, one internet rumor of the Rangers offering Smoak for Lee has been debunked, but discussions stalled out to some extent when Seattle informed Texas that a match "isn't likely" without Smoak's inclusion. Incidentally, earlier reports that the Twins had offered two top-40 prospects -- catcher Wilson Ramos and outfielder Aaron Hicks -- also appear to have been misinformed, which effectively puts us back near (or at) step one.]
Here's the thing about Holland: yeah, he's had his major league struggles, hit his developmental speed bumps and so forth, but we're still taking about a high-pedigree 24-year-old southpaw with strong talent/upside who (a) still has five seasons remaining on his club-control clock after 2010 and (b) has already largely powered through the arduous process of acclimating to the majors, an attribute which certain teams value highly. Is it fair to state, then, that his trade value is still largely commensurate with that of, say, another top-50 pitching prospect (e.g. Tanner Scheppers)? Or has his rising star already lost that much luster? I fall into the former camp, but it's worth considering both angles.
The other aspect of this Lee-to-Texas thing that doesn't receive nearly enough attention -- and I may write up a separate post on this subject in the next week -- is the tangible value added by way of Lee upping your chances of reaching the post-season. Despite sitting atop the division by a cozy 5.5-game margin as of this writing (which is tied for the Rangers' largest in-season division lead since 1999), this division is clearly not won yet, and throwing Lee into the mix arguably improves your chances of reaching the post-season by another 5-10 percent (this is a total shot in the dark, mind you, but it sounds about right from an intuitive standpoint).
That ballpark figure speaks to the fact that adding Lee specifically is not required to win the division, but by amplifying your chances of reaching the post-season, you're doing some really good things for the franchise's revenue streams: each additional regular-season win added around $1 million to a team's bottom line as of 2005 (per Nate Silver in "Baseball Between the Numbers"), whereas one post-season appearance alone can add around $25-30 million in present-day value by means of greater future regular-season ticket sales/merchandise sales/concession sales, post-season gate receipts and the corresponding increase in the value of local broadcast rights.
Adding Cliff Lee would not assure the Rangers of winning a post-season series or, for that matter, reaching the post-season at all (although they would become very heavy favorites to win the division with Lee, notwithstanding any deleterious effects from losing Smoak and/or Holland), but in this game, it's all about rational, objective analysis, and the reality of the matter is that there's serious value to be derived from post-season baseball of any magnitude in Arlington this year -- value that I'm hoping would be enough to justify relinquishing at least one of Perez/Scheppers/Holland/Smoak, which is, to me at least, looking very likely if a deal is going to get done at all.