When the Mariners traded Cliff Lee to Texas last July, the focus was on having Justin Smoak as part of that package.
Unfortunately, much of the talk from that trade has not been the potential of Smoak, but the issues that come with one of he other pieces of that deal.
In 2008, Lueke faced a rape charge that was later reduced to false imprisonment with violence, which to he plead no contest. Neither crime should be taken lightly, obviously. The original charge is the one that the court of public opinion will always charge him with and he'll face lots of negative press and fan reaction for that.
The Mariners and Rangers had a public spat about how this information was disclosed and what happened after the Mariners fully knew what was going on. Carmen Fusco, pro scouting director, was fired. Jack Zduriencik uncomfortable read from a script as explained the situation to the media. The "Refuse to Abuse" program grew a collective look of befuddlement.
Here's the real problem in all of this:
Josh Lueke has major league talent.
If this were some minor league fodder, we can probably safely assume the Mariners would have just sent him back or cut him loose. But, because he has a big arm and projects as a late inning strikeout machine, here we are facing an uncomfortable situation.
The Mariners had been quiet on the situation since. When talking about prospects, Lueke was left out. When talking about Arizona Fall League success stories, Lueke was left out.
Then came a piece on the Mariners official website where Jack Zduriencik was quoted as saying "We view Smoak as a middle-of-the-lineup bat and Lueke as a late-inning guy. Both should be with us in 2011.""
Josh Lueke was not left out. Zduriencik has become known as someone who chooses his words wisely. I've gone to events to see him speak candidly a couple times. When he's asked a question, it's as if you can see the wheels turning before he answers. He's an intelligent man who knows about perception and how things can take off if that perception isn't reality.
So, to have Zduriencik change course probably means the Mariners are having serious thoughts about putting Lueke on the active roster at some point in 2011. That might not be opening day and it probably won't be the home opener either. My guess would be he gets added during a road trip in the first couple months of the season.
Of course, this also could be very careful plotting by Zduriencik. The Seattle community wasn't willing to hear about the greatness of this guy with such a bad label, especially during a tumultuous season. However, essentially removing Lueke from existence almost certainly diminished any remaining trade value he had. So, did Jack possibly wait for the dust to settle to start slowly reintroducing the thought of Lueke playing in Seattle, while also trying to raise his trade value?
This is a subject that pulls hard at a lot of baseball fans. How do you root for a convicted criminal? Does the fact that the charges were lessened change your mind at all? Do you believe in giving people second chances? Where do you draw the line in wanting your team to have the best chance to win or having the most trade leverage? Why should this man be permitted to be a role model for children?
There are a lot of questions here that I cannot answer. We all have extremely strong opinions on this, especially those of us who have been touched personally by the crime he was originally charged with.
Whether we agree with Lueke's inclusion on the team or not, there are 59 days until pitchers and catchers report, and the looming issue has started to be addressed.
Discussion on this subject is welcome in the comments section below. Please, though, keep them civil. I'd like to point out that I've tried to not show an opinion in this piece, but only lay out the facts.