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December 23, 2009 at 12:14 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik: Morrow trade “complete, separate” entity from Lee deal, fills big need in Seattle’s bullpen

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Just got off the conference call with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and I can tell you, we all pressed him about as firmly as we could to figure out exactly what was behind this Brandon Morrow-for-Brandon League -and Johermyn Chavez trade.
One of the first things I asked him was whether this had anything to do with the Cliff Lee deal of last week.
Zduriencik replied that he and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had been discussing this deal for over a month. That’s long before the Lee trade even popped on the radar.
“It was not an easy decision,” Zduriencik said. “We had debated this thing for over a month. Alex and I had at least 15 different phone calls debating various scenarios. And at the end of the day, I think that he fit their need real well and Brandon League, at this moment in time, fits our need.
“When you acquire talent, you have to give up talent and I think that was the case here.”
Zduriencik concluded by saying that, for him, the two trades were “complete, separate entities.”
He did add, though, that the Roy Halladay portion of the Lee deal, which Toronto was involved in, might have created scenarios on Toronto’s end that made acquiring Morrow more of a priority. From his end, though. Zduriencik said this deal was all about acquiring League to fill a serious bullpen need.
“From our estimation, we were a little bit uncomfortable with the current status of our bullpen,” he said, alluding to the Sean White injury, the inconsistency of Sean Kelley after his oblique injury and the relatively young status of the bullpen in general. “Last year, that was a big part of our success.”
This trade, he added, gives the M’s “an additional arm that was experienced and would fit into our ballpark very nicely and with our pitching staff.”
Which raises the obvious question of why Zduriencik would trade a promising future starter for a bullpen piece that — in theory — should have been easily acquired for less. Well, the short answer is, lots of people view Morrow differently. Let’s see how Zduriencik views him.


Zduriencik did his best throughout the call to maintain an upbeat stance on how he sees Morrow and insisted that he will become a solid major leaguer.
“I think Brandon Morrow has a lot of ability,” Zduriencik said. “He has a chance to be a good big league pitcher in this game.”
OK, then, why not keep him here and trade someone else to get the bullpen piece?
Notice that Zduriencik said “big league pitcher” and not “starting pitcher.” Yeah, it could be semantics, but I don’t think so.
Zduriencik started to get at the hard core answer when he said that Morrow would have competed for a job at the “back end” of the rotation this year. Not the No. 3 spot. Not the No. 4 spot. On a couple of occasions, Zduriencik mentioned Felix Hernandez and Lee as the obvious 1-2 punch, then Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith.
After that, he saw Morrow fighting it out with Garret Olson , Doug Fister and Jason Vargas for the No. 5 spot.
So, no, Morrow wasn’t this team’s third starter. He was envisioned as a potential fifth starter this year if he had a good spring. So, that answers a big part of the question right there.
Zduriencik then went into a long discussion about how all major league players have timeframes and that, at the end of the day, what they do on the field is the most important thing. A player can have all the potential and ability in the world, but it’s how that translates on the field that matters.
“Every player has his own timeframe,” he said. “You’re going to get guys that are going to exceed your expectations when you get them and you’re going to get guys who take a little longer. Brandon did a nice job. There were flashes of wonderful things out of Brandon Morrow and we’ve all seen them, either in the bullpen or as a starter.
“But again, in this particular deal, I don’t reflect back on it and look at what was disappointing or what was satisfactory. What I looked at was, we had a player on our staff, he’s a big league player, and we acquired another big league player. And the big league player we acquired was also a first round pick.
“So, we acquired a very talented arm and we gave up a talented arm. They just are going to fit in different roles, one in their organization and one in our organization. We, at this moment in time, met a need that Toronto had. And Toronto, at this moment in time, met a need that we had.”
And Zduriencik came about as close to saying that the team didn’t have time to wait for Morrow to blossom as he possibly could without saying it. Pressed repeatedly, Zduriencik finally said:
“He was going to have an opportunity to compete for a starting job, that’s about the best way I could say it,” Zduriencik said.
Now, here’s the kicker, which he added seconds later.
“All I can tell you is we had a handful of candidates for, let’s say, the other parts of the rotation, the back end of the rotation,” he said. “And I really didn’t necessarily see this type of arm that could fit into the back end of our bullpen. And that’s why we acquired Brandon League.”
Are the Mariners in more of a “win now” mode? Logically, they appear to be, since they only have one guaranteed year of Lee and need to persuade Hernandez to sign on long-term this year. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the rebuilding Blue Jays are in a better position to take a wait-and-see approach with Morrow than are the Mariners.

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