The Mariners announced more minor-league callups today, in the wake of Tacoma’s season ending, and pitcher Josh Lueke was not among them. This is not surprising to me. Considering the firestorm that has erupted around his acquisition from the Texas Rangers, I expected the M’s to table the ultimate decision they will have to eventually make on Lueke.
By pure numbers, Lueke warranted a callup. Lueke, in 50 games this year between the Texas and Seattle organizations, ranging from Single-A to Triple-A, had a 5-2 record, 17 saves, a 1.86 ERA, 48 hits allowed in 63 innings with 15 walks and a whopping 94 strikeouts. In 18 games for West Tennessee (AA) and Tacoma (AAA) after coming over in the Cliff Lee trade, he saved five games, had a 1.46 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, with 18 hits allowed, five walks, and 18 strikeouts. Those are spectacular numbers that indicate a player on the cusp of being major-league ready.
Yes, I’m sure Lueke could use some rest after pitching just 7 2/3 innings in 2009, with the Arizona Fall League looming. But I think under normal circumstances the Mariners might have let him get a taste of big-league life as a reward for a great season, even if his workload was going to be minimal, or even non-existent. But as we all know, these aren’t normal circumstances. Bringing Lueke to the Mariners while the controversy is so fresh would be a hot potato the ballclub doesn’t really need at this point of the season.
The pertinent question is whether Lueke will ever see the light of day as a Mariner, and that’s an incredibly complicated issue. They really have two options — bring him to camp next February, brace for whatever backlash might come, and then hope that it all blows over and he can compete for a bullpen job; or endeavor to trade him over the winter, despite not being in a great bargaining position. Yes, they could simply cut him, but if that was their intention, wouldn’t they have done it by now? Remember, according to Geoff’s article, the Rangers have a standing offer to take him back, and there probably would be some teams willing to take a chance on a 98-mph arm, even with the attendant issues (but I doubt if they’d be willing to pay full value).
For what it’s worth — and I’ve vacillated on this one, believe me — I’m leaning toward the opinion that the Mariners should put Lueke on the shortest leash possible, spell out the consequences of even a minor slipup (as they say they have already done), and bring him to camp next year. Yes, the Bakersfield incident was ugly, and Lueke made a terrible mistake, as he acknowledged. But the legal system has ajudicated his case, and he has served his time. He will have to live with the consequences of his actions (as will, of course, the victim). This is a nation of second chances, and Lueke would hardly be the first wayward athlete to get one. Believe me, I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about that conclusion, but right now I uncomfortably side with those who believe that Lueke shouldn’t lose his livelihood over this.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who feels passionately that he shouldn’t ever get to put on a major-league uniform, and certainly not the uniform of the team they root for. It’s a situation that’s going to polarize people, which is why I strongly suspect the Mariners, if they had it to do all over again, would have insisted Texas give them another player besides Josh Lueke. Their lives certainly would have been less stressful.
I’m interested to hear what you think about this.