(Photo Credit: Yardbarker.com)
If Angels fans had nightmares that didn’t involve Kendry Morales celebrating a walk-off grand slam, then they involved Cliff Lee wearing a Rangers uniform. And now, those nightmares are a reality. In a deal that saw the Mariners acquiring first baseman Justin Smoak along with three other minor leaguers (two pitchers and a 2B/OF), the Rangers received Cliff Lee and, by extension, the AL West division.
I know plenty of my fellow Angels fans who are going to remain defiantly optimistic in the face of this, still believing that the Rangers will choke because “they’re the Rangers,” or that the Angels can pull it off because of their “intangibles,” but I’m not one of them. And there really isn’t a reason for me to be. Remaining hopeful is not going to help this team win more games, and looking to next season isn’t going to make them lose more. Before this trade, the Rangers had the single best division lead in all of baseball at 5.5 games. I know a lot of people liked to point to a deficit of only 5.5 games as evidence that the Angels were still in it, but when you realize that it’s the biggest difference between a first and second place team in all of baseball, it puts things in a different light.
Beyond that, the Rangers are not just adding a good player, they’re adding one of the top three, if not the single best, pitcher in the American League. Not only that, they’re addressing what may’ve been their one true weakness. Going into today, the Rangers were third in the AL in wOBA, behind only Boston and New York. They were fourth in the AL in team ERA, but that was due in large part to their bullpen, which was third in the AL in ERA. If you look only at their starter’s ERA, they drop all the way down to 8th, one spot behind the Angels. To take someone like Harden or Feldman, both sporting an ERA over 5.50, and replace them with a Cliff Lee is an enormous boost to their rotation. It’s hard to imagine a move like this not pushing them into at least second in overall team ERA in the AL.
Contrast that with the Angels now. 11th in team ERA, 7th in starter’s ERA, and 11th in reliever’s ERA. Offensively, the Angels are 10th in the AL in wOBA, ahead only of other also-rans the Indians, A’s, O’s, and M’s. The fact that the Angels are only 5.5 games out, before this trade, is kind of amazing. But there’s no reason I see to think that number is going to shrink in any meaningful way any time soon.
With that said, I would still like to see the Angels work on acquiring Adam Dunn. He’s not going to put them over the hump this season, but if they can work out a deal to keep him around he can help the team in the future, while they work on what has to be a bit of a rebuild. Hopefully, though, the Angels management will take a hard, honest look at the state of the team currently and realize that they don’t have enough to win with the pieces they have now, and they’ll actually do something to fix it for next season and beyond.
Looking into the future for the two teams involved in this trade, it’s quite possible this could end up hurting the Rangers more than it helps them, given the control the Mariners will now have with Smoak, while Lee is all but guaranteed to hit the market at the end of this season and doesn’t seem likely to resign with the Rangers. Anything’s possible, of course, but I’d put money on Lee wearing yet another new uniform heading into the 2011 season. As far as 2010 goes, though, the M’s are clearly throwing in the towel with this trade, and I think the Angels would be wise to do the same and look towards next year.
One last thing: way back in March I posted about voting done by the fans over at FanGraphs on who had the best chance of making it to the playoffs among each of the teams in each of the divisions in baseball. I was, as anyone who read my early posts here, high on the M’s and the moves they’d made in the off-season. The fans, however, expected the Rangers to end up at the top in the AL West, by a pretty healthy margin. With the Mariners obviously out of it for sure now, and the Rangers shoring up their one clear weakness, it seems to me that the fans have shown yet again that the group is smarter than the individual. The season isn’t over, of course, but barring some injuries or the movie Angels in the Outfield actually coming true, I think it’s safe to say that the outcome of the AL West has been decided.