Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MARINERS COLUMN: The Cliff Lee Debacle

Much of the news hovering around baseball in Seattle lately has been about the potential trade of ace-pitcher Cliff Lee. With the Mariners being 14 games back of the Rangers (as of Wednesday night), it has been highly expected for Jack Zduriencik and the M’s management to ship him off to a contender in exchange for an array of highly-skilled prospects.

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However, is it truly the best-case-scenario for a struggling M’s team to send Lee packing, for the third time in a single calendar year?

It is common knowledge that the Mariners would benefit from restocking their farm system, with high prospects from such organizations as the Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, or Tigers, all of which have been reported as “showing interest.” For a depleted farm system in Seattle, that may be a hard gift to give up.

On the other hand, keeping Cliff Lee through the end of this season could provide the Mariners with a number of options and benefits. Cliff Lee is one of the most skilled pitchers in the game, and his leadership has shown through the effectiveness of Seattle’s starting rotation in 2010. A primes case is Jason Vargas, who was a large question mark entering the season. Vargas has been a very strong starting pitcher for this team, posting a 6-3 record with a 2.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.11. The same can be said for Doug Fister and his confidence on the mound, along with King Felix. Lee’s leadership has been evident in the outstanding numbers put up by the Seattle rotation so far this season.

Trader Jack Z finds value and importance in a reputation, and this is to be taken into strong consideration during these times of “to-trade-or-not-to-trade.” It must be said that Zduriencik is the same individual who brought the infamous CC Sabathia to Milwaukee in 2008 (eventually making the playoffs by a single game). Jack knows what he is doing, and he may just be waiting for the right fish to bite. However, if that fish does not bite, Dr. Z is perfectly content in holding onto Cliff Lee.

If this does happen to be the case, the Mariners would have the opportunity, however slim, to sign Lee to a deal in 2011 and beyond. Sadly, this was somewhat shot down by Lee’s agent earlier in the season. In the unfortunate event that Lee finds he would like to play for a different team in 2011, the Mariners would receive two compensatory draft picks in the future. These draft picks are just as valuable to a weak farm system as other prospects offered in a deadline-deal with a contending team, possibly even more precious as they can be made by Zduriencik himself.

These are the options that face Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners management team; not an easy task to say the least. The market for Lee will only get hotter as we get closer to the trade deadline of July 31st, but we must remember a deal could happen any day. Or it could not happen at all; either option is open. May the best of luck, and fortune, be with you Mr. Zduriencik.

Reach Kyle Fosnes at