Why the Seattle Mariners Would be Worse for Holding on to Cliff Lee

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Why the Seattle Mariners Would be Worse for Holding on to Cliff Lee
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

While this is a little late, I’m going to say it anyway:

The Seattle Mariners must trade Cliff Lee or let him walk in free agency.

Preferably, I’d like to see him traded, for a variety of reasons. The boring, obvious ones are reasons like:

1. This is a chance to obtain a (or multiple) premier hitter or pitcher.

2. The Mariners are going nowhere this year.

3. It’s fun to think about the future.

But there are other, more compelling and possibly more meaningful reasons that I would like to deliver here today.

For all intents and purposes, let’s say we keep Cliff Lee for the remainder of the season, ride his golden arm to a 76-86 record, and collect the ninth pick in the draft. We also receive the 30th overall pick and a compensatory pick as the Yankees ink Lee to a five-year, $110M deal.

In the act of trading Lee, we immediately make ourselves worse. However, this season is going to be a disappointment whether it ends in a .500 record or a .300 record. Does it really matter if we were really bad instead of just bad?

Yes! Really bad teams like the Nationals, Indians, and Orioles are now loading up on top of the line talent, and, barring numerous busts, will be competitive if not great.

Bad teams like the Astros, Padres, and Blue Jays have been bad and have thus taken the “good” talent instead of the “great” talent.

I am not asking this team to tank the season. I am asking if it is necessary to be respectable, and is it necessary to do all we can to make it so that we are respectable?

I can hear the voices now. “But Carson! If we sign Lee then we have a sure thing instead of a possibility!”

I understand that Lee is a pitcher and not a thrower, thus when his velocity sinks, he has a greater chance to float. I understand that Safeco is a pitcher’s park that can maximize his value. I understand that his type is hard to find.

But I also understand that this roster is not good at all. Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and occasionally Chone Figgins are all this team has. The rest just hide behind them and try not to be noticed.

For this team to really become one of the elites, I think we can agree that these four need a sufficient supporting cast, much like a certain superstar in another sport.

This is a problem. With $20M tied to Ichiro Suzuki, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee, respectively, that’s about 2/3 of the current payroll sunk into three guys. Three players, two of whom don’t play everyday, do not win championships in baseball.

For the Mariners to win they will need to maximize opportunities like this to add talent to their future roster. They will need to be proactive in their decision making on the field and in the office. Of course, they will need to get lucky with draft picks and in trades.

Seattle can completely control two of the three. Keeping Cliff Lee and re-signing him, keeping him and then letting him walk, or even trading him and re-signing him this winter is not proactive decision making and will make this team worse.

As good as Cliff is, we cannot move forward without cutting him loose or adding $30-40 million in payroll.

And to top it off, remember, teams that are pushed by their fanbases and their hearts tend to make rash, foolish decisions. A team like the Mets or Twins may be swayed to part with their “untouchable” prospects for a star. We see it every year.

It’s a sad day in Seattle, and I am writing this with a heavy heart, but we must trade Cliff Lee, or we will never get out of this cycle of frustration that is Mariners baseball.

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