Analyzing the Cliff Lee trade

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Phillies acquire LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco from the Indians for RHP Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson, RHP Jason Knapp, INF Jason Donald
Not much figuring out to do here. The only question is whether the Indians got enough in return for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
Lee isn’t looked at as being on quite the same level as Roy Halladay, but he has posted a 3.14 ERA this year without a defense as good as Toronto’s helping him along. Also, he’s far cheaper than Halladay at just over $2 million for the rest of 2009 and $9 million next year. A rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ would seem to match up pretty well with those of the rest of the NL contenders come playoff time.
Francisco is the right-handed-hitting reserve outfielder the Phillies have been looking for. He’ll replace John Mayberry Jr. and serve primarily as a pinch-hitter. While he was miscast as a regular, he should be a very good reserve going forward, and since he’ll earn the minimum again next year, he’s a fairly valuable property. He was hitting .250/.336/.422 with 13 steals in 308 at-bats for the Indians.
In return, the Indians get four prospects, all of whom I’d rank somewhere between 40th and 80th in an updated top 100 prospects. I’m very surprised that the team didn’t hold out for one from the group of Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, all of whom would have ranked higher, but they did get four intriguing pieces, three of which should contribute next year.
Carrasco, 22, was 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his K/BB ratio was still quite strong at 112/38 in 114 2/3 IP. He spent years ranked as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect before being passed by a much improved Drabek early on this year. He has a strong fastball-changeup combo with a curve that still needs improvement — he doesn’t throw it for strikes very often, yet he also doesn’t get hitters to chase it. He hasn’t come as quickly as hoped, but he still projects as a No. 3 starter.
Marson and Donald were both 2008 U.S. Olympians. Marson is a very unusual prospect in that he’s a catcher known for his on-base ability. There was hope that he’d eventually deliver 10-12 homers per season, but he had just one in 211 at-bats while hitting .294/.382/.370 in Triple-A this season. His defense is sound. He doesn’t have the arm to contend for Gold Gloves, but he should have a long career behind the plate. I’m not sure what the Indians will do with him. He could share time with Kelly Shoppach if Victor Martinez follows Lee out the door, but the position should belong to top prospect Carlos Santana as soon as mid-2010. I could see Marson being moved again this winter
Knapp is just 18 and he’s fanned 111 in 85 1/3 innings in the Sally League. However, he’s experienced shoulder problem of late and hasn’t pitched since July 11. The Indians must be convinced that it’s just tendinitis. Many projected Knapp as a future reliever when the Phillies made him a second-round pick out of high school last year, but his performance this year has changed that. He really might have ace potential with his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. However, even the best pitching prospects are no better than 50-50 bets and Knapp faces longer odds given that he’s already experiencing arm issues and he has subpar command.
Donald has struggled this year. He only returned Tuesday after missing nearly seven weeks following knee surgery, and he’s hit just .236/.297/.332 in 208 at-bats in Triple-A. Last year, he batted .307/.391/.497 in Double-A. I see him as a .360-OBP guy with 15-homer ability. However, he lacks the range to last at shortstop and will end up at either second or third. Assuming that they keep Jhonny Peralta at the hot corner, the Indians could have Donald battle Luis Valbuena for the starting job at second next year. Some view him as a future utilityman, but I see him spending several years as a regular.
I think Indians fans are right to be rather disappointed right now. The team had a chance to get right back into contention with Lee and Martinez around in 2010, but this makes another fourth-place finish more likely and there are no probable stars coming back in return. That said, I do like all four pieces here and I’d rather have that group than one from the Drabek-Brown-Taylor tier and only lesser pieces completing the deal.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

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The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.


Video: Josh Donaldson and Keone Kela exchange words, benches clear

Josh Donaldson
The Associated Press

The Blue Jays’ and Rangers’ benches emptied in the bottom of the 13th inning after Josh Donaldson barked at reliever Keone Kela. Donaldson had smoked a Kela offering home run distance but foul, then sent a salvo of not-fit-for-TV words in the right-hander’s direction. Kela barked back and both benches emptied. There was no violence and no ejections.

Donaldson apparently believed Kela was trying to quick-pitch him, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That the pitch was quickly thrown didn’t seem to bother him any, considering the type of swing he put on the ball.

Here’s video of the incident at

Quick pitching has been one of a handful of unwritten rules getting more attention, it seems, this year. In August, Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa took issue with Mets reliever Hansel Robles quick pitching.