Recently dubbed the “rock-solid, no-questions-asked, No.1 trade target in baseball” by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, Cliff Lee has done nothing but improve his trade value every time he takes the mound.

Last week, I discussed where the Mariners could send Cliff Lee as a second half rental. The consensus leading contenders in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes are the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins.

The Mets recently stated that they are interested in acquiring starting pitching more than any other position, and Cliff Lee is reportedly fine with playing in New York. The Mets, however, may not be able to match the Seattle Mariners’ asking price. Any of Ike Davis, Jenrry Meija, or Jonathon Niese could catch the Mariners’ attention, but the Mets are unlikely to include any of them. 

The Minnesota Twins, however, may be willing to part with enough talent to strike a deal.

The Twins’ starting rotation has had issues over the past month. Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker have posted only two quality starts over their past nine combined trips to the mound; and Francisco Liriano has lacked the consistency of a true ace. 

Additionally, the Twins own coveted-but-blocked catching prospect Wilson Ramos, who became instantly available when Joe Mauer signed an eight-year contract extension.

Ramos, a unanimous top 100 prospect for 2010, has been pegged by Peter Gammons as the best minor league catcher who could be traded.

Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire recently said that the Twins are not the type of organization that pursues half-season rentals at the expense of their farm system. Gardenhire stated that the Twins are more interested in developing their own prospects than selling them off for established players such as Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. 

This philosophy is driven by the desire to turn Minnesota prospects into Minnesota major leaguers. The Twins may make an exception to this; however, when a prospect’s path to the Major Leagues is blocked by, say, an MVP-caliber catcher, that mantra becomes hard to preach.

At this point, the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners are near-perfect trading partners. The Twins need starting pitching, and the Mariners have the best pitcher on the market this year in Cliff Lee.

The Mariners are seeking a long-term solution at catcher, and the Twins are holding onto a top-100 caliber prospect in Wilson Ramos. 

The Mariners have not explicitly placed Cliff Lee on the trade market. General Manager Jack Zduriencik has been non-committal, but only the naive would believe the Mariners have not been feeling out potential trade partners.

If and when the Mariners trade Cliff Lee, the Minnesota Twins, and Wilson Ramos, might be the best match.

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