Do the Mets Need Cliff Lee?

With reportedly 12-15 teams vying for the second-half services of 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, the Mets will have plenty of stiff competition for the ace lefty. That being said, if they deal for Lee it would immediately vault them from contenders in the NL East, to the lead dog to represent the National League in the 2010 World Series. And perhaps even more importantly to Mets fans, stick it to the Phillies and take a step out of the massive shadow they’ve cast over the National League the past 2 seasons.

In 2011, the Mets will have their starting rotation, and the core of their team (with the exception of catcher Rod Barajas) under control. Coming into play July 6th the Mets have played to a 46-37 record, and are just 2 games behind first place Atlanta. If Omar Minaya is to strike a deal for Lee he inherently has to evaluate how it will affect his team going forward.

The player that the Mariners will most likely ask for first is Mets #1 pitching prospect, right-hander Jenrry Mejia. The 20-year-old fire-baller has shown the ability to get major league hitters out with his 98 mph heater this year in 27.2 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Some scouts believe Mejia could be ready to help a big league club as a starter as early as next year.

If Mejia is indeed the one that is dealt as the centerpiece of the deal, it isn’t devastating. There’s always another prospect. Son of former major leaguer, Ugeth Urbina, 17-year-old LHP Juan Urbina is already turning heads in the Gulf Coast League.  This year, bringing in Lee would allow Manager Jerry Manuel to move LHP Hisanori Takahashi back into the bullpen. And should the Mets make the playoffs, he could move his right-handed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey into the pen as well.

Another 20 year old, SS Ruben Tejada, has also been rumored in a deal for Lee. Tejada has filled in nicely at the major league level with starting second baseman Luis Castillo on the disabled list nursing a right heel injury. On a recent hot streak from June 12-30th, Tejada had hit in 12 of 13 games and has shown superior baseball instincts. Defensively, Tejada is already major league ready after moving seamlessly from his natural position at short over to the opposite side of the infield to fill in for the injured Castillo. The only question long term is: will he hit enough to justify everyday duties?

Wilmer Flores, an 18-year-old shortstop, is another name that has also been bandied around. Flores was the Mets second ranked prospect according to Baseball America coming into the year, and he’s only improving. Flores started the year in Low-A Savannah and despite being in the midst of a cold streak, earned a promotion to High-A St. Lucie. In only 54 plate appearances there, Flores is hitting a robust .396 with only 5 strikeouts. According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus Flores is “at least three years and a position switch away” from the Majors. That being said, the Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik will be forced to evaluate whether a blue chip prospect like Flores is enough to be the centerpiece in a package for Lee.

At one time, OF Fernando Martinez was thought of in the same way that Wimer Flores is thought of now; a can’t-miss prospect. While that’s not the language you’ll hear most scouts use to describe the 21-year-old outfielder today, the young Martinez remains a very intriguing prospect nonetheless. At one time, Martinez would’ve been enough to be the centerpiece in a deal for Lee, but leg injuries and a poor showing in the major leagues in 2009 have resulted in downward trend in Martinez’s stock. It’s worth noting that Fernando batted .383 in Spring Training with the Mets this year, and would still garner some interest in the trade market. His average currently sits at a disappointing .261 this year with AAA Buffalo.

Another name that has been rumored in deals for Lee is CF Angel Pagan. Pagan has been the Mets best everyday player this year, outside of David Wright. The 29-year-old Pagan had spent parts of 5 major league seasons as a part-time player before an injury to starting CF Carlos Beltran opened the door to everyday playing time this year. Pagan has proven to everyone who has watched him play this year that he deserves an everyday job with a big league club. What Omar Minaya must now decide is, with Carlos Beltran’s return looming, will it be with his ball club or someone else? The impending free agency of Carlos Beltran at the end of the 2011 season is also a major consideration here.

Other names you could possibly hear attached to a deal for Lee are: RHP Brad Holt, C Josh Thole, CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 2B Reese Havens, or RHP Juerys Familia. Regardless of what prospects need to be included in the package, the Mets need to make this deal happen.

Mike Pelfrey (10-3 3.38 ERA) has scuffled since a shutout he threw at Citi Field against the Padres on June 8th. In 28.1 IP since, Big Pelf has allowed 21 ER.

Johan Santana (5-5 3.41 ERA) threw his best game in a month last Thursday against the Nationals but got a no-decision after seven innings of one-run ball. The Mets are 7-9 in Santana starts this year. Met fans would’ve undoubtedly thought the Mets to be a last place team if you told them that would be Santana’s record at the midway point on Opening Day. Santana is going to have to find the second half magic he had in 2008 when he pitched to an 8-0 record and a 2.17 ERA if the Mets don’t land Lee.

The real ace of the team, 23 year-old southpaw Jonathon Niese has been brilliant since coming off of the disabled list June 5th. He pitched to a 2.67 ERA with a 4-0 record holding opponents to a lowly .215 average in 33.2 innings of work in the month of June. He was also brilliant in his first start of July (7 IP, 1 ER, 8 K, 0 BB) But can they really rely on a 23 year old who had only 75 major league innings under his belt coming into the year?

The Mariners are reportedly interested acquiring a big bat for Lee, but that doesn’t mean that the Mets can’t make a deal work. If the Mets do in fact lose Lee to free agency at the end of 2010, they will receive two compensatory first round picks from the team that signs him. Recent first round picks have included Mike Pelfrey and Ike Davis. The Mets also drafted David Wright with a compensatory pick for Mike Hampton in 2001. So all would not be lost if Lee walks after what will undoubtedly be a dominant 2010 campaign.

I’m fine giving up any one of these guys in a deal for Lee. Bottom line… the Mets need Cliff Lee.

Hawk Drobnis is the co-host of Gotham Baseball LIVE, and a contributor to

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