From a brazenly self-centered perspective, I feel vindicated ... and relieved. Because less than 12 hours after positing that any perceived job insecurity could prompt general manager Jon Daniels to take a gamble that they otherwise might not have taken, and then watching that theory seemingly get shot down by the Yankees' almost-acquisition of Cliff Lee, all the pieces ended up falling into place, and the Rangers locked in one of the majors' five best starting pitchers -- the dominant top-of-the-rotation piece which has eluded Texas for so long. So long ... but no longer.
The trade, which has been confirmed as final and has already received the approval of the commissioner's office despite the Rangers' ongoing financial malaise, sends left-handed ace Cliff Lee, right-hander Mark Lowe and $2.25 million in cash to Texas in exchange for first baseman Justin Smoak, right-hander Blake Beavan, right-hander Josh Lueke and second baseman Matt Lawson. Of these six players, only three are particularly germane to the balance of the deal, those being Lee, Smoak and Beavan; the other pieces were obviously included for varying reasons, but they're clearly not the impact parts that compelled one side or the other to consummate this deal.
[On those other pieces: Lowe, 27, is a high-octane fastball-slider reliever with a propensity for yielding walks; view him as a Chris Ray-esque gamble that may or may not eventually pay off, and definitely won't pay off in the near term, as he's out for the season after undergoing lower-back microdiscectomy surgery on June 15th. Lueke, 25, brandishes a mid-90s heater and legitimate swing-and-miss secondary pitches, but likely also had the most questionable make-up in the Texas organization, and I suspect his sordid incident in Bakersfield last year was a significant factor in his inclusion. Lawson, 24, is an excellent defensive second baseman (per Scout.com's Jason Cole), but is, at this point, an organizational guy with the top-level upside of a utility infielder.]
Lee doesn't require much introduction, I don't think; he's amassed a whopping 17.8 pitching wins above replacement from 2008-2010, employing what is primarily a two-seam/four-seam/cutter/change-up arsenal with elite-level command; ESPN.com's Keith Law more succinctly characterized him last July as "a four-pitch guy with command and control who works deep into games," adding at the time that he was showing a large righty-favored platoon split. Curiously, the opposite has proven true thus far this season, as lefty-hitting batters have enjoyed a nearly 200-point OPS edge relative to their righty-hitting counterparts ... but Lee has also not walked a single left-handed batter this season, and is posting the best single-season strikeouts-to-walks ratio in baseball history, so there's that.
Smoak, as mentioned earlier, is thought of in some circles as an eventual platoon player whose inferior swing from the right side of the plate might force him to drop his switch-hitting ways; I don't know that you can saddle him with the 'platoon player' label after logging fewer than 300 major league plate appearances, but he has yet to prove that he can hit southpaws at any level -- Frisco, Oklahoma City, or Texas. Despite the horrendous luck he has experienced this season, his upside is still that of a perennial All-Star, and his extremely advanced plate patience should buy him as many second chances as necessary, but the total package may not be equivalent to that of a truly elite first baseman.
And what of Beavan? He's a solid pitching prospect, somebody who could conceivably find success as a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater in Safeco Field's pitcher-friendly environment, but resident scouting expert Jason Parks did not assess his ceiling to be among the 25 highest prospect ceilings in the organization, pegging his overall future potential at '54' on the 20-to-80 scouting scale while writing, "Great control, solid-average to plus [fastball], but his secondary pitches aren't major league plus pitches. I still think he becomes a long-man/[fifth-starter] type. Without a major league out pitch, Beavan’s ceiling is very limited."
The Justin Smoak vs. Chris Davis debate -- which isn't even all that relevant anymore -- is one that we can hash out another day, but it seems readily apparent that the Mariners, fixated on acquiring an impact bat, wanted Smoak from the outset, and that swapping Davis into the package for Smoak would have necessitated the inclusion of Derek Holland or Tanner Scheppers. Davis -- and, more specifically, his plate discipline -- frighten me, but I suppose there's a reasonable chance that he can hold down the fort at first base through the remainder of 2010 without devolving into a sub-replacement-level mess yet again, and I think I'd rather take that gamble than lose Holland and/or Scheppers.
This trade stings, but there was no rational reason to believe that it wouldn't. That none of the three players accompanying Smoak were integral in the Rangers' plans is very good; that Texas managed to acquire the best left-handed pitcher in baseball without relinquishing any of its top pitching prospects, however, is laudable to the highest degree. There are several more lenses through which we can evaluate this trade, and I may dig into those in the next few days, but right now, I think we can feel really good about not only the Rangers' chances of completing a deep post-season push, but also the front office's ability to take the proverbial final step. And what a hell of a final step it is.
[For more reactions to The Trade v. 2.0, check out The Clubhouse.]