There is already talk of Mariners ace Cliff Lee impending free agency, leading some to suggest he could be a top trade candidate this summer. He has only made two starts this season, posting a 2.40 ERA and 13 strike outs. Two years removed from a Cy Young award and a season removed from carrying the Phillies for the second half of the season into the postseason, Lee's trade value is incredibly high.
The Mariners are not off to the kind of start everyone expected from them, but it is still early. However, if the Mariners fall out of contention, you can expect the team to see what they can get for him. GM Jack Zduriencik's specialty is scouting, and next years draft class is supposed to be stronger and deeper than the upcoming one. If he doesn't find a deal that he feels is better than what they gave up for him, the team may just wait for the 2011 draft and collect two first round picks.
One team that may convince the Mariners to trade him is the Dodgers, who have really struggled on the mound early on this season. If the Dodgers were willing to surrender two pitching prospects and two position players, they could entice the Mariners to pull the trigger. I went to John Sickels of Minor League Ball to examine the top Dodgers 20 prospects and see where the Mariners could target. Here is a look at their top pitchers:
2) Chris Withrow, RHP, Grade B+: Needs to improve his command, but stuff is excellent and he was rather inexperienced for the California League. If he lowers the walks and stays healthy, has number one/two potential, but they really need to give him time to sharpen his control and gain experience.
3) Ethan Martin, RHP, Grade B: Similar to Withrow: great fastball/curveball combo, has dominance potential but needs to sharpen control.
4) Aaron Miller, LHP, Grade B: Ceiling isn't quite as high as Martin and Withrow, but I like his combination of athleticism, stuff, and better-than-anticipated pitchability.
5) Josh Lindblom, RHP, Grade B: Hard sinking fastball/curveball combo should work very well in relief, could be a closer eventually.
6) Scott Elbert, LHP, Grade B-: Power lefty stuff is very attractive, but command and durability issues keep him from a higher grade in my opinion. Dodgers fans are really in love with him.
The Mariners have a pretty good track record for developing young pitching talent, especially Zduriencik, who has been scouting for most of his career. I am least familiar with Aaron Miller, but all five of these guys have tremendous upside, they just need to improve their command and mound presence.
A hitter the Mariners could take a chance on is prospect Kyle Russell. Russell, 24, has tremendous power and talent that he could really grow into in Seattle. He is a right fielder, but if he cracks the Dodgers roster any time soon he would most likely be a left fielder. Overall though, he has solid tools that he is still trying to put together.
The Dodgers already have three pitchers on the disabled list, two of them expected to be starters in the rotation. The Dodgers are currently tied for third and 4.5 games back. If Cliff Lee talks get serious, we should expect to see the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs, among others enter the mix for his services.