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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 8, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Don’t be surprised if Zduriencik does something surprising (PLUS minor-league report)

Here’s today’s minor-league report.

A few things we’ve learned about Jack Zduriencik in the short time he’s been in charge of the Mariners when it comes to trades — he’s ambitious, creative, and fearless.

That’s not to say he’s flawless. Zduriencik made one great trade (the three-way swap with Cleveland and the Mets that netted Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas, among others) and others that haven’t worked out quite as well.

But as the Cliff Lee trade derby nears its conclusion, it’s important to keep in mind those traits: ambitious, creative, and fearless.

Remember that at last year’s deadline, Zduriencik was angling to get Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and at least contemplating a three-way blockbuster that would have involved Felix Hernandez. Geoff Baker broke that story, and the Boston Globe has since written about it as well. Talk about ambitious, creative and fearless.

Zduriencik also let it be known, after the fact, that he was working on getting Cliff Lee at last year’s trade deadline, and there’s some belief the Mariners might have been in on the Roy Halladay talks. Zduriencik finally acquired Lee in December, working a deal with the Phillies that, no matter what you think about it, was audacious: Giving up three pretty good prospects for a one-year rent-a-player. Of course, Zduriencik knew he had an escape valve if the Mariners’ season went south — and we’re seeing it now as the Mariners work to trade Lee.

The Milton Bradley-for-Carlos Silva trade was another one that, regardless of what you think about it, or how it has turned out, took some guts. Not many GMs would have taken on the baggage that Bradley brings, but Zduriencik has showed that he’s willing to take chances.

Putting all that together, I’m expecting the Cliff Lee end game to take some unexpected turns — or be accompanied by outside-the-box moves. For instance, the Mariners continue to be linked to Prince Fielder, who was not only drafted by Zduriencik when he was the Brewers’ scouting director but would also fill a gaping and obvious hole on the Mariners. Could Zduriencik be working on parallel paths to both trade Lee and acquire Fielder? It would be in line with his “aim big” M.O. Fielder has one more year left before free agency and could conceivably be viewed much like Lee — a piece that could help the M’s contend in 2011 in the best-case, or a July trade chip in the worst-case (with a third option as well: giving Fielder the huge contract extension that he and his agent, fellow by the name of Boras, are said to be seeking). What would it take to land someone like Fielder? I’d imagine the first name out of Doug Melvin’s mouth would be Michael Pineda.

This is just educated guessing and speculation at the moment, mind you. The Mariners guard their trade talks pretty zealously. But I’m trying to learn to think like Zduriencik. He is holding the biggest prize in the game right now in Cliff Lee, which is putting him in touch with most of the GMs in MLB. I’m sure there are teams flying under the radar who are making hard runs at Lee. I heard Steve Phillips on KJR today insisting that the Tigers are a major player for Lee. I’m hearing rumblings that the White Sox are at least kicking tires — which isn’t surprising, considering their hot streak that has thrust them back into contention, and their GM, Ken Williams, who never shies away from blockbusters. With 15 or so teams believing they are in contention, there’s a lot of directions for Zduriencik to go, above and beyond the ones that have hit the rumor mill.

I’m reminded of July, 1998, when there were a million rumors flying about Randy Johnson’s trade destination, and he wound up going to a team, the Houston Astros, that had barely been mentioned.

Could Zduriencik help pull together a three-way trade to facilitate a Lee swap? I could see that. Or could he be working on parallel paths to acquire proven talent at the same time he is working on a prospects deal for Lee? I could see that, too. I think Zduriencik has shown that he is trying to do two things as Mariners GM: Build a contender right now, and build up the talent in the system. And that he’ll go in unexpected directions in pursuit of both.

Right now, I’m prepared for anything.

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