The Texas Rangers are suddenly serious contenders. The AL West division leader made the first splash in the trade market by acquiring Cliff Lee and reliever Mark Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers.

The rumor for Texas all summer was the possibility of Roy Oswalt, but forget that. They picked up a pitcher a year younger and more consistent at this point in his career than Oswalt. Lee joins a staff that was already fourth in the AL in ERA and instantly becomes the ace this team lacked as I wrote about last month. Lee is 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts and five complete games. Even more impressive is his strikeout/walk ratio of a mindboggling 14.83 (best in the majors). Yes, he’s only walked six batters in 103.2 innings. Whoa.  This will also help shore up a rotation that currently has two starters (Rich Harden and Derek Holland) on the disabled list.

On the other hand, the Mariners pick up some prospects for a half season of Lee (actually less than half considering he started the season on the DL and the suspended list). The M’s picked up Lee in the offseason by dealing three prospects, most notably pitcher Phillippe Aumont, so does this year’s trade bring in better prospects? Well, Smoak is definitely a talent and is already major league ready. In his first season, Smoak has the pop with 10 doubles, eight homers, but a slash line of .209/.316/.353 through 70 games. Only time will tell if these prospects that Lee brought in will be a better return than what they gave up to the Phillies last year. Seattle took a shot this year by trading for Lee and they missed with a 34-51 record.

It’s refreshing to see this trade happen without the Yankees being involved. It’s uncommon to see teams like the Rangers trading for elite starting pitching. Good for them. I’m glad to see it happen to the Rangers and not the usual New York/Boston story.

Texas is already 5.5 games ahead of Anaheim in the division, and this deal should pretty much wrap up that division. It’s now the Rangers division to lose, and I don’t think they will lose it.