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Lueke Reveals M's Off Field Mess

Here are the first words I ever wrote about Josh Lueke, from my Cliff Lee trade post:
In some ways, the most interesting piece is Josh Lueke. He is a 25-year-old righty blowing hitters away out of minor league bullpens. He is a little old for the levels he has played at, so take the eye-popping numbers with a grain of salt. However, one way or another, Lueke and Lowe are probably tied together in the deal. Did the Rangers want Mark Lowe bad enough that they were willing to add Lueke, or did the Mariners want Lueke bad enough that they were willing to give up Lowe? I am not sure, but my educated guess is that the final haggling was done over these two players.
I had no idea what I was saying. Lueke remains a hot topic, with the climax (so far) being this in-depth report penned by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times a few weeks ago. Just a few days ago, pro scouting director Carmen Fusco was fired, and the timing may or may not be linked to Lueke as well.

For details on what I'm referencing with Josh Lueke, check out the Baker report that I linked to in the above paragraph. I have steered clear of it this whole time for many reasons, mostly tied to the sensitive nature of the charges, and the fact that this is a baseball blog.

However, at this point, it is hard to deny that baseball decisions are being made by the Mariners centered around Lueke's rape and sodomy charges. Furthermore, the Mariners reaction is more and more curious, to put it lightly.

First of all, the Mariners are treating Lueke as a prospect they really like. He was quickly promoted to AAA Tacoma, and is slated to play in the Arizona Fall League. Clearly, Seattle has put him on the fast track to the major leagues, and with good reason. He has overpowering stuff, and uses it to generate overpowering results. Lueke is a shut-down closer waiting to happen. Going back to what I first wrote about Lueke in my recap of the Lee deal, it would seem like the Mariners wanted him bad enough to include Mark Lowe.

Purely based on the on-field decisions, it seems to me that the Mariners want Josh Lueke. He is treated as a valuable part of the M's future.

However, for a second, imagine what it is like to be Josh Lueke right now. He has been great as Tacoma's closer. The team just won their first game in the PCL finals since 1969. He is filling a significant role on one of the best Tacoma teams in a while, and succeeding. However, despite Lueke's talents and accomplishments, the only major press time he gets revolves around the worst moment in his entire life.

I am not here to try to rile up some pity for Lueke, but on some level, wouldn't you think that wears on him? Wouldn't the Mariners, the organization that traded for him, and is making obvious moves to set him for success in the near future, care about how the press impacts Lueke? Given the on-field and off-field contexts around Lueke right now, I would expect the Mariners to counter with some sort of official statement. Something to show Lueke the same kind of support off the field that they are on it. There is some room to do that without forgiving him for his charges.

Yet, where I would expect a statement, there is complete silence.

In fact, the silence is deafening in this situation. Rangers GM Jon Daniels pretty bluntly accused the Mariners of lying. Former pitching coach Rick Adair more or less informed Baker that the Mariners knew exactly what had happened with Josh Lueke. Those are both significant claims, especially coming from the people that issued them.

Again, silence. No fight back. No referral by the organization to their original comments. Literally, absolutely nothing, and it has been almost two weeks since the big report by Baker hit the presses.

The Fusco dismissal is the latest wrinkle in this bizarre, halfway-cloaked controversy. Fusco is a longtime friend and colleague of Zduriencik's. He was one of the first people hired when Z took the job almost two years ago. He is one of the last people I would expect Zduriencik to let go. Yet, Fusco is the first front office person ever let go by Zduriencik with the Mariners.

Weird things happen in bad years, but the Mariners are acting really, really weird these days. Here is what I am sure of:
  • Ownership did not know the extent of Lueke's past when the Mariners traded for him
  • Ownership did not want Lueke in the organization
  • Josh Lueke is being fast-tracked to the majors by the Mariners
  • Don Wakamatsu, and everyone associated with him, got fired
  • Carmen Fusco just got fired
Here are some things that I think are going on:
  • Ownership does not want Josh Lueke in the organization
  • Jack Z actually pursued Josh Lueke in the Cliff Lee trade
  • The Mariners have not said anything after the damaging comments by Jon Daniels and Rick Adair because they cannot refute them
  • Z would never make Fusco a scapegoat
  • Griffey had something to do with Wak's firing (more on why I think that in this post)
Add up what I know and what I think, and the Mariners are a bigger mess than even the disaster that unfolds in the batter's box every night suggests. Here is my big "what if" scenario...

As this season went south, Jack Zduriencik starts more aggressively pursuing Cliff Lee deals. The Yankees and Rangers emerge as front-runners, and ultimately Texas ups their package to something that Z can't refuse. Z pulls the trigger.

Jack Zduriencik knows about Lueke's past before the trade. He knows the entire package he is getting, and he probably has a good idea how ownership would react. Zduriencik wants Lueke pretty bad though, so he downplays the problems to ownership. They okay bringing Lueke aboard.

However, as Lueke's charges come to light, Chuck Armstrong goes to Z, and asks for the trade to be re-worked. Zduriencik says the deal is done, which is misleading. Z is right, but he fails to mention the standing offer that Daniels has to bring Lueke back. The Mariners can return Lueke, which isn't the way Zduriencik presents the situation. He really thinks that Lueke is something, as does the whole front office.

Josh Lueke gets promoted to AAA, and on the list to go to the Arizona Fall League. Meanwhile, Zduriencik gets in some legitimately hot water. Ownership is somewhere between leery of Z, and feeling like they are owed something in return, particularly Chuck Armstrong. Armstrong is close to Griffey, and knows that Junior and Wak did not end on good terms.

Don Wakamatsu, and the coaches most associated with him, are relieved of their duties.

Life goes on, until a couple weeks ago. Geoff Baker comes out with his report on Josh Lueke. Ownership does not learn anything new about Lueke at this point, but hears about the comments by Rick Adair and Jon Daniels for the first time. This new information makes it even harder to exonerate Jack Zduriencik. At best, it becomes clear that he warped reality. At worst, he flat-out lied.

If Zduriencik did not lie to ownership, he got remarkably bad information from somewhere. The scouting department would presumably be in charge of information on players. When it comes to players in other organizations, pro scouting is the department. So, from ownership's perspective, if Zduriencik is not at fault, the head of pro scouting has to be at fault.

Carmen Fusco is told he won't be retained, effective immediately.

I have no idea how close my theory is to reality, but it connects the dots pretty nicely. What's done is done, and we do not need to know all the inner working to know what has happened.

Where is this team going though?

I think Jack Zduriencik is on razor thin ice. It seems like ownership does not want to fire him, but they have run out of ways to give him the benefit of the doubt with how the Josh Lueke situation got handled.   The finger is on the trigger.

The only part that does not add up to me is why Josh Lueke is such a big deal. He is a talented prospect, but at best, he is a dominant reliever. He wasn't even the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal. Is he really a guy worth this much drama? Personally, I really like Josh Lueke as a prospect, but not enough to fight ownership over him as much as the M's front office has...especially when ownership's concerns and beliefs are so strong and understandable.

In the end, there is just no good way to paint the decisions the Mariners are making right now. Either the M's keep firing people with limited justification, seemingly haphazardly, or the firings are a series of scapegoats for the 2010 debacle(s). Neither explanation is appealing at all. I suppose it is possible that each individual did some secretly horrible thing that isn't public knowledge, but then the Mariners hired six people who probably should not have had their jobs in the first place. Even that far-fetched idea is utterly unappealing.

It is hard enough to watch the on-field product. Off the field, things are no better. The Mariners are a fractured family right now, and I'm not sure how they will reconcile their differences. It would not shock me if the only way is to cut ties with Josh Lueke and Jack Zduriencik.