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December 16, 2009 at 1:26 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik: first approached on Cliff Lee deal days into winter meetings

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As a side note to this story, if you scroll down this link , you’ll see that the delay in today’s trade was Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos asking for an MRI on the shoulder of Brett Wallace. He’s the third base prospect heading to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor. The MRI came out fine. So, that’s what caused all the panic this morning.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik went to last week’s winter meetings in Indianapolis looking to land free agent pitcher Rich Harden, among other arms. But the Harden efforts were coming undone as the days passed, with the Mariners reluctant to buy into accelerator clauses being demanded by the pitcher’s camp.
“You’re always looking for pitching and we’d talked of some different options,” Zduriencik said in a conference call moments ago, adding that the Mariners “weren’t able to do some things that presented themselves.”
By Tuesday night, things weren’t going well on the Harden front. On Wednesday, Harden inked a deal with the Texas Rangers.
It was right about that time — Zduriencik says it was two or three days after his arrival on Sunday — that he was approached by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. with an early Christmas gift.
Zduriencik knew full well Amaro wanted to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays, something he’d been working on since last summer. But what Amaro said next got Zduriencik’s deal glands salivating.
“He said ‘Look, if I’m able to do Halladay, would you be able to do Cliff Lee?’ ” Zduriencik said.
Zduriencik managed to keep his head from falling off as he nodded vigorously.
There wasn’t much else in the way of serious talk after that until the Thursday of last week that the meetings ended. Zduriencik was waiting for his flight at the Indianapolis airport and met up with Amaro again. At that point, they began talking some turkey and the discussions continued Friday.
“We threw a lot of things around and bounced a lot of different things off,” Zduriencik said.
Amaro needed prospects and Zduriencik had a few he could deliver. From there, things grew more serious. But it’s tough to keep a big trade like this a secret. By Saturday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports had gotten wind of something serious brewing between the Phillies and Blue Jays involving Halladay and Lee and suggested a third team might get in on taking Lee off Philadelphia’s hands.
On Sunday, commissioner Bud Selig granted Amaro a 72-hour window to negotiate with Halladay, who flew into Philadelphia. The next day, news of the pending deal was all over the country and today — barely a week after Amaro first broached the deal with Zduriencik — it’s all come together and Lee is the newest Mariner.

Now, how will this impact the Mariners in 2010. I asked Zduriencik about whether the acquisition of Lee ups the urgency as far as playoff contention goes — since he’s only here for one guaranteed season.
Zduriencik told me that all teams want to contend every year, but that there’s no way of predicting how many other factors will influence a race. His main goal, he said, was to make the team better.
And he’s done that — for now.
For how long remains the question. Zduriencik isn’t planning a full court press on Lee to ink a long-term deal just yet. He wants him to come here, see the city and be with the team for a bit.
Zduriencik insists he really didn’t speak to Amaro about Lee’s long term plans. Their talks, he said, were about the prospects in the deal and acquiring Lee for this year.
But Zduriencik does feel Lee can have an immediate impact on the current pitching staff. He didn’t go into detail, so I asked him whether he envisioned Lee affecting whether the team goes with 11 or 12 pitchers to start the season. This could have an obvious impact on the shape of the roster and possibile platoons at any positions.
Once again, Zduriencik said it was too early to know, but did add that “the deal has the possibilities of taking a little bit of pressure off your bullpen.”
In other words, a pair of 200-inning aces atop a rotation is a lot better than one ace and a 150 innings, .500-record type of guy as far as needing relief innings to follow. We’ll see what the team does next.
But even though Zduriencik really didn’t answer the question directly, I’d say this move does put pressure on the team to make the playoffs this year. It may only get a one-year window with dual aces atop the rotation. The draft picks you get if Lee walks as a Type A free agent really won’t mean anything in the near term.
So, let’s see what happens next.



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