Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…

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Mariners Monthly Roundup: August “Mediocrity Reigns” Edition.

 

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of yea-hoos, Ichiro has continued his indomitable march towards history.

Record: 12-14 (Overall 51-80)       

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle       

Top Hitter: After slumping below .250 in July, Ichiro rebounded to post a .307 average in August including a two home run game at Yankee Stadium (they were against Javier Vasquez however, so they don’t really count). Though Ichiro’s had a down season by his standards (on pace for career lows in HR’s, runs, triples and his second lowest OPS) the Mariners top-of-the-order mainstay is still on pace for a record 10th straight 200 hit season. In a season so wrought with disappointment, it’s nice to have someone to look forward to. Bless you Ichiro. Bless you.  

Top Pitcher: Who’d you think it was gonna be, Sean White? Felix Hernandez continued a dominant season with his best month of the year, posting a 3-2 record with 0.82 ERA, .137 batting average against and 51 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Despite suffering through some of the worst run support in baseball, King Felix has planted himself firmly in the Cy Young discussion by ranking 1st in innings, 2nd in ERA, 1st in K’s, 4th in WHIP and 3rd in complete games. Felix’s value to this team can’t be overstated–without him they would be utterly unwatchable. As is they’re just mostly unwatchable…  

Biggest Surprise:  Brandon League arrived in Seattle during the offseason in a controversial trade that sent talented but erratic starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to Toronto. The hard-throwing Hawaiian was supposed to be one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, but in the first half of the season he posted a 3.86 ERA and was responsible for many of the Mariners’ most painful defeats (“Oh, we’ve got a three run lead? I guess I’ll walk the bases loaded and then cough up a gopher ball). Since the All-Star break though, League has been in the zone, including August where he posted a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. I’m not saying it was a good idea to trade Brandon Morrow, but it is nice to know that we weren’t entirely fleeced. Right? Right?  

Biggest Disappointment: Jose Lopez brings less to the table than Bob Cratchit. Why the Mariners are still giving at-bats to someone with a .605 OPS is beyond me, because Lopez has been a black hole all season long. There’s little doubt that he’ll be gone at the end of the season; why wait till then to give Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo a chance?  

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis–underwent surgery August 17th); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation–appears headed for Tommy John surgery); Jack Wilson (out for season–hand surgery).  

Lingering Questions: If the Mariners win a game, and no one is watching, does it still count? Can Felix win a Cy Young with a losing record? Adam Moore can’t possibly be as bad as Rob Johnson, can he? What medication should I take for Mariners’ Season(al) Depression? 

September Schedule: 1 vs. Los Angeles, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. Texas, 3 @ Toronto, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 3 @ Texas, 1 vs. Oakland.  

Overall Grade: (C+) With new manager Darren Brown at the helm the Mariners weren’t completely awful in August, winning four series in a row before sputtering at the end of the month. Still, while the offense was marginally better than it had been, it was still the worst in baseball and made me question why I even bother to watch the M’s play.

Dave Niehaus, that’s why.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle     

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.

Sobering Stats from the First Half of Seattle’s Subpar Season.

Brandon League has been so bad in Seattle, that no photos exist of him as a Mariner.

The Mariners are so bad they don’t even deserve an introductory paragraph. Here’s a look at some of their craptastic numbers from the first half: 

–>At 35-53, the Mariners are 15 games behind Texas in the AL West. 

–> The Mariners’ opponents have outscored them by 79 runs–putting them in the same company as Baltimore, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Arizona. Misery loves company… 

–> Seattle is hitting .238 as a team (only .225 if you don’t include Ichiro). Let that sink in; or try not to think about it at all. 

–> By himself, Ichiro is responsible for 16.9% of the Mariners’ hits. Sure he’s the leadoff hitter, but still… 

–> Jose Lopez, the team leader in RBI’s, is on pace for 68 total. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers already has 77. 

–> Seattle catchers have combined for more passed balls than hits. It’s not true, but the fact that is seems feasible tells you everything you need to know about the Mariners’ 2010. Where’s Tom Lampkin when you need him? 

–> The Mariners are 28th in batting average, 28th in home runs, 29th in runs and 29th in hits…out of 14 teams. 

–> Ryan-Rowland Smith, Ian Snell and David Aarsdma have a combined record of 1-20. 1 and 20. 

–> Despite the fact that the M’s sit at 35-53, which is a palindrome, Major League Baseball will not allow Seattle to flip their record. 

–> Cliff Lee is gone and he’s never coming back! 

Well, I guess the numbers don’t lie, the Mariners really do suck. Enjoy the All-Star break–which is really just a break from watching the Mariners play. 

And we all need that…

Already Gone: Long Awaited Cliff Lee Deal Finally Completed; Ace Lefty Traded from Seattle to Texas for Justin Smoak and Prospects.

It was all smiles when Cliff Lee arrived in Seattle, but it wasn't meant to be.

When grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson penned her hit “Already Gone” she wasn’t referring to the love between a man and a woman. Rather, Clarkson was alluding to the relationship between superstar pitcher Cliff Lee and the Seattle Mariners:

“Remember all the things we wanted (a World Series title); Now all our memories they’re haunted (a ruined chance at a long-term relationship); We were always meant to say goodbye (how ’bout just so long for now?)” 

“Even with our fists held high (seven wins in Lee’s last nine starts); It never would’ve worked out right (Seattle’s cursed after all); We were never meant for do or die (though we wish Beiber-mania would).” 

“I want you to know that it doesn’t matter; Where we take this road someone’s gotta go (either via free agency or trade); And I want you to know you couldn’t have loved me better (8-3, 2.34 ERA, 89 K’s/6 BB’s); But I want you to move on so I’m already gone (16 games out in division).” 

“Looking at you makes it harder (because he’s so very good); But I know that you’ll find another (please just don’t be the Yankees or Boston); That doesn’t always make you want to cry (or at least a team that can score runs).” 

Despite Kelly’s warning, losing Cliff Lee won’t be any less painful for Mariners’ fans. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season and his affable personality and dynamic stuff made Lee a lovable character among a team of bumbling oafs.

My head knew that Cliff Lee had to go, but my heart still refuses to believe it.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: June “If Only We Played in the NL Central” Edition.

Cliff Lee's tremendous month of June won't make it any easier to say goodbye.

Record: 14-13  (Overall 33-44)

AL West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle.

 

Top Hitter: It’s almost by default that Ichiro claims his place as the team’s top hitter because no one else on the Mariners seemed to know what they were doing at the plate in June. The ageless Suzuki just kept plugging along, hitting .321 in the month with 2 HR’s, 14 RBI’s and 8 stolen bases. Considering that Seattle has a team batting average of .239, Ichiro might be more valuable to the Mariners than he ever has been. Whatever he’s getting paid, he’s worth it. Can you imagine this offense with Ichiro?

Top Pitcher: If June truly was Cliff Lee’s last month as a Mariner he made the most of it. The most coveted trade chip in all of baseball posted a 4-1 record with a 1.76 ERA and an unbelievable four complete games (his 36/2 strikeout-to-walk ration wasn’t too shabby either). Though Lee won’t be able to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs (not single-handedly at least), he should bring in a hearty bounty of prospects from whichever contender acquires his services (Minnesota, St. Louis and the New York Mets are all in the mix). Thanks for the memories Cliff; maybe someday we’ll be reunited once again. Maybe…

Biggest Surprise: Finally given a chance to play everyday, Michael “the Condor” Saunders has shown why he was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the Mariners’ organization, connecting for a team-high five home runs in the month of June. The 23-year-old is still struggling to find consistency at the plate and needs to cut down on the K’s (37 in 112 AB’s) but he provides some hope that the M’s might not be terrible forever.

Biggest Disappointment: Rob Johnson (.200 BA) and Sean White (7.58 ERA) are not major league caliber players. Not today, not ever. Don’t tell me that there are no players in our farm system capable of what those two bumbling idiots are doing at the big league level. Please do something about them Seattle front office. Please?

Griffey Watch: N/A…insert sad face here.

Happy Trails: The Ian Snell Experiment (0-5, 6.41 ERA) wasn’t anymore successful in 2010 than it was last year. The Mariners showed amazing patience with the struggling pitcher, but finally had enough after Snell showed no signs of turning things around, and designated him for assignment. Shockingly, no other team was willing to take a chance on him. Color me surprised…

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–early July return); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Shawn Kelley (right elbow inflammation, 15-day DL); Mike Sweeney (old age, 15-day DL): Rob Johnson (inability to catch balls thrown his way, no known cure).

Lingering Questions: Will Russell Branyan lead the Mariners in home runs for the season despite not joining the team until late June? Will King Felix continue to pitch at a high level once Cliff Lee is traded? Should fans continue to show up to Safeco Field if Rob Johnson is still the starting catcher? What’s Ken Griffey Jr. up to?

July Schedule: 4 @ Detroit, 3 vs. Kansas City, 4 vs. New York, All Star Break, 4 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Chicago, 4 vs. Boston, 4 @ Chicago, 2 @ Minnesota.

Overall Grade: (B) It only took until June, but the Mariners finally posted their first winning month of the season–one game over .500!! Despite a strong finish to the month, Seattle actually lost ground in the division as Texas was hotter than, well, Texas on a summer’s day. The 1-2 punch of Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez finally lived up to the hype, but not even dominating performances from those two aces could obscure just how badly the offense has performed all season. With virtually no chance to catch the Rangers in the division, it will be interesting to see what big names the Mariners consider moving at the trade deadline, and what pieces they can acquire to build for 2011 and beyond. This is Jack Zdrunciek’s best shot to prove that he is not Bill Bavasi part deux. No pressure though…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “It’s Like Watching a Loved One Slowly Pass Away” Edition

Someone made Mike Sweeney mad and pitchers all over baseball are paying the price in a big way.

Record: 8-19  (Overall 19-31) 

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles………….Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro has done his part all year to get the Mariners’ offense started but the team has been unable to cash in on the opportunities when he reaches base. Suzuki was as consistent as ever in May, hitting .336 with one HR, 7 RBI’s and 7 SB’s (but only 10 runs scored). At 36-years-old, Ichiro has shown no signs of slowing down, and gives M’s fans something to look forward to (a 10th straight 200-hit season) in an otherwise dismal year. 

Top Pitcher:  Hopefully Mariners’ fans enjoyed watching Cliff Lee pitch in May because it’s doubtful that the crafty lefty will be in Seattle much longer. In his first full month with the team Lee went 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts against only 3 walks. Not only did the Mariners slow start eliminate them from playoff contention, but it also probably eliminated whatever small chance they had of resigning Lee after the season. Thanks Seattle. Thanks a lot.

Biggest Surprise: Mike “the Bat” Sweeney awoke from an early season slumber with a vengeance in May (.310-6 HR’s-14 RBI’s) providing fans with a bevy of souvenirs in the outfield stands and injecting some much-needed life into the Mariners’ lineup. Unfortunately, the Mariners’ best hitter is on the wrong side of 40, and had to miss numerous games due to a bad back (apparently it was “barking” at him. Is that an actual medical condition? Because I’ve never heard about it on Grey’s Anatomy. Is there a doctor in the building?) Can we catch a break? Just one, that’s all I ask for. Let Sweeney use steroids and not get caught, he’s just using them to help keep him on the field…I promise. 

Biggest Disappointment: Chone Figgins was supposed to be the spark plug that helped Seattle’s offense get to the next level and give the Mariners’ tremendous pitching staff some run support. Two months through the season Figgins is hitting just .211 and is on pace for over 150 strikeouts, which would be okay if he was going to hit 45 home runs but he is currently sitting on zero, so 45 seems a bit bullish…just a little.

Chone Figgins' poor play has been a major factor in the Mariners terrible start.

Griffey Watch: May 2010 is a month that Ken Griffey Jr. can’t forget soon enough. He made national headlines with “napgate”, was rumored to be on the verge of being released by Seattle and looked like a dinosaur at the plate (.122-0 HR’s-3 RBI’s). No matter how much he brings to the clubhouse, the Griffey experiment part 2 has been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s hope he hits one last home run and rides peacefully off into the sunset. 

Home Run Tracker: After hitting just nine home runs in the season’s first month the M’s exploded for 20 in May, which sadly, stills leave them last in all of baseball.

Happy Trails: Struggling relievers Kanekoa Teixeira and Jesus Colome were both designated for assignment after an implosion against the Angels that cost the Mariners a chance at a rare victory. I don’t think they’ll be sorely missed…or at all. 

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–return looking increasingly unlikely–shocker); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Josh Bard (strained calf, 15-day DL); Adam Moore (heel, 15-day DL); Jack Wilson (hamstring strain, 15-day DL–early June return). 

Lingering Questions: How many games does Seattle have to fall behind in the division before the team starts shopping Cliff Lee? Why didn’t someone get Griffey a coffee or 5-hour energy? Will King Felix regain the form that made him dominant in 2009? Did Carlos Silva really strike out 11 batters in a game? Will Chone Figgins really hit .200 all season? Is Don Wakamatsu on the hot seat? 

June Schedule: 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 vs. L.A., 4 @ Texas, 3 @ San Diego, 3 @ St. Louis, 3 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. Chicago (NL), 3 @Milwaukee, 2 @ New York 

Overall Grade: (F-)  The Mariners were simply awful in May. They can’t hit, they can’t field and they can’t run the bases. On the rare occasion when they do those things, and have a lead, the bullpen implodes and Seattle loses in the most painful ways possible. The Mariners are the most disappointing team in all of baseball and 2011 can’t get here soon enough. I’ve got to find something else to do this summer. Suggestions?