BY John Hickey 02:54PM 02/23/2011

Will Mariners regret trading Lowe with Lee?

The “other guy” in the Cliff Lee trade is someone the M’s could use

With David Aardsma out, the Mariners could have used Mark Lowe, whom they traded to Texas last year / Photo courtesy of Brad Newton/Texas Rangers

PEORIA, AZ – When the Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers last July 9, Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik made sure that the trade was all about the future.

“The process of building a world championship team, which is what we’re doing here,’’ Zduriencik said upon announcing the deal, “is based on continually acquiring more top talent for the organization. We’re looking ahead.’’

It’s a good philosophy. It’s one that 30 different Major League teams try to employ.

The trouble is, last year’s future is this year’s now. And there’s an excellent chance that the Lee trade, problematic for Seattle even last year, may prove to be equally so this year, despite Lee having moved on from the Rangers to the Phillies as a free agent.

That’s because Lee wasn’t the only player the Mariners traded. They also let veteran right-handed reliever Mark Lowe go. Lowe was recovering from back surgery at the time, so his inclusion in the deal that brought first baseman Justin Smoak, infielder Matt Lawson and pitchers Josh Lueke and Blake Beavan was overlooked at the time.

Now, not so much. The Mariners are looking for someone to close for a month or two while David Aardsma is recovering from hip surgery. A healthy Lowe would have been perfect, were he not in Ranger Red.

There may be a time when the trade of Lee, a former Cy Young Award winner, to Texas may not seem like such a downer for the Mariners. That time is not likely to be this year. Right now the question the Mariners have to face is whether or not they should have traded Lowe, a player the Rangers insisted on, even in his injured state.

Without Lowe in the deal, Rangers sources say, the Mariners never would have gotten first baseman Smoak, who is the only one of the four players in the deal sure to make the 2011 roster.

“We made the best deal we could at the time,’’ Zduriencik said Wednesday. “We’re pleased with it. It’s good to hear that Mark’s doing well.’’

“Well’’ barely scratches the surface. Lowe told sportspressnw.com Wednesday he feels better than he’s felt in years. More than that, the Rangers seem to be on the verge of handing Lowe the closer’s job. Ranger manager Ron Washington is trying last year’s 40-save closer, Neftali Feliz, in the starting rotation, and if Feliz sticks, Lowe is likely to get the job.

The Mariners, meanwhile, are in tough spot with Aardsma. In the wake of his January hip surgery, he’s still on crutches. He’s been on the field every day with his crutches just to be close to the action and his teammates, and on Wednesday he was able to get around the periphery of the workout without using the crutches, but he needs to have them handy, just to be safe.

“That’s all David,’’ Seattle manager Eric Wedge said Wednesday. “He wants to be out there, supporting his teammates. I told him how much I personally appreciate it. And I told him it hasn’t gone unnoticed.’’

Still, Aardsma can’t walk properly, much less throw. The original plan was that he would be back in mid-April, but now even the most optimistic projection has been pushed back another month, likely more.

Lowe, whose back surgery cost him most of 2010, sympathizes with Aardsma, because he knows how much time and effort goes into coming back.

“I think his coming back is going to be tough, since he still needs the crutches,’’ Lowe said. “I know how it was for me. There’s a 30-day program just to get going and get ready to throw. Then there is bullpen work and facing hitters. And that’s just to get back able to throw in a game.

“You almost never see pitchers come back sharp right away. You need to find the right arm angle, the right stride in your delivery, the right release point. When you are throwing every day, those things come naturally. When you haven’t thrown in a long time, they can be hard to locate. They were for me.’’

The Mariners probably will go with former Orioles closer Chris Ray or setup man Brandon League in Aardsma’s stead. Ray, a non-roster pitcher, has seen five years and a long injury recovery cycle of his own go by since he saved 33 games for the 2006 Orioles. League was 6-for-12 in save opportunities last year, although only a few of them were classic ninth-inning-with-the-lead chances.

So the Mariners are in a situation where they need Aardsma to come back to form, and sooner rather than later if neither Ray nor League is ready for the ninth inning, which is possible.

“We have some confidence that he’ll be back (in early May),’’ Zduriencik said of Aardsma.

Aardsma’s presence on the field underscores his willingness to push his body. It’s just not clear that the Mariners will be able to count on his body responding as quickly as his mind would want.

And until everything does click for Aardsma again, Seattle may have to look back and wonder if some other permutation of the Lee deal could have been put together without Lowe accompanying Lee to Texas.

“We didn’t want to trade him,’’ Zduriencik said. “They wanted him.’’

They got him. And for now, analysis suggests the Rangers are still ahead in this deal.

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Garry

    Good GRIEF Hickey!!! What are you talking about?!!! I was never impressed with Lowe. Yes he could throw some heat, and then his injury, he really hasn’t proved himself enough to be anybodies closer at this point. Mr Z was brilliant in the Cliff Lee trade, and landed Smoak who in my mind will not only become a high 30-40 HR hitter with the Mariners ‘soon’, but we picked up a way better RP in Lueke (despite his 1 time past legal issue). We also pulled the #1 top hitting prospect out of the Rangers system, and now the Rangers have been scramblin to figure out what they are going to do this year at 1B which will be the strongest weakness! Plus they lost Cliff Lee and couldn’t resign him, so the Rangers lose all around in this deal. If it wasn’t for Aarsdma’s injury he would have been traded by now this offseason. We have League, Ray, Lueke, Fields that can all step in as Closer if need be, and prior to July Aardsma will be gone via trade! NO WAY are the Rangers ahead in this deal, and wait until Lowe pitches in the hitter’s sandbox in Arlington!

    Please start giving credit to our brilliant GM (not named Bavasi), and let him build this franchise into a winner…he’s on his way. Just 3 years ago Bavasi depleted our entire farm system, and we had one of the worse farm systems in MLB. In just 2.5 years Mr Z has improved our farm system to be in the top 10 in MLB! What he’s done was amazing. Yes 2010 was tough on everyone, but signing Felix longterm, adding Smoak, building around Felix/Smoak/Ackley/Figgins/Ichiro/Frankling(SS)/Moore I see the Mariners contenders moving forward. Probably not even close to being contenders in 2011, but we need to get rid of the rest of the Bavasi “bad contracts” still on the books which will all expire after the 2011 season. It’s just SAD how bad one GM (Bavasi) can ruin a franchise…including the farm system!!!!!!!!!

    Give Jack Z some well deserved credit instead of trying to cause fan/front office contention with your articles. Please!

    Garry

  • Tim

    I hope SPNW does more articles like this. I like hearing about things that might not be directly related to the Mariners, but still influence them or are related. Great article.

  • Shawn McLaughlin

    Lueke is far more polished than Cortes at this point. He has some command. Cortes has little to none. Fields is approaching *bust* status which rankles me even more when realizing that if we had just decided not to sign him when Jack took over, we would have been in position (22 or 23) to draft Mike Trout (24) who is only one of the two best prospects in the game right now. I don’t agree that League doesn’t belong in the discussion for closer. I think he is the best choice at this point. If he continues to ignore his fabulous sinker, we have another story altogether.

    Lowe is going to get killed in Texas as he throws a pretty flat fastball and his slider is inconsistent in terms of command. Safeco is a park that hides a multitude of sins in fly-ball guys. Lowe is more neutral than a strict flyball pitcher, though. We have many solid young guys who will be imposing bullpen arms in the NEAR future. Considering Seattle’s unlikely-hood to contend this year, and perhaps 2012, it seems prudent to see what we have with guys like Cortes, Lueke, Steven Pryor and Tyler Burgoon. Safety nets like Chris Ray and Manny Delcarmen are seemingly available every year at the price of a Minor league contract and spring training invite. Not to mention, we still have the promising Shawn Kelley, who is only a healthy season away from being a solid bullpen option. I would do the Texas trade again………a million times over. I’m glad Zduriencik thinks the way he does and not the way beat writers do.

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  • SeattleNative

    Really, our closer situation is not as dire as the media make out. C’mon, these guys are professionals. Ray is more than a fallback; League really doesn’t belong in the discussion, he’s barely an eighth inning setup guy. Cortes could make a case, probably not Lueke. And what about college stud Josh Fields, where’s he at healthwise? And really, are the Ms gonna need many closeouts with what the media is calling “a rebuilding year”? We all know, for most MLB teams the closer is not the priority unless your team is competitive and playoff-worthy. For now I’m sure Ray will prove more than adequate given the rare opportunities the team will present him.

  • Shawn McLaughlin

    Oh, and in every report I’ve read about the Texas organization, Alexi Ogando is the favorite for the closer role.