Prelude to a Cliff Lee Trade

Along with the so-called heat wave this week came fabulously clear skies. I don't know if it is just because we get them so infrequently, but brilliantly clear skies are always a wonder for me in Seattle. The beauty surrounding this city is tough to beat anywhere in the world and when given the opportunity to view it without obstruction nature really offers something special here.

I have a particular spot in the city for gazing out to Elliott Bay and I happened to walk by it yesterday afternoon and out of reflex glanced westward. I stopped walking. The view that I had was why I live in Seattle. The dark blue of the water matched the impossibly uniform cerulean blue of the sky and sitting between those two were the snow-capped mountains of the Olympics.

The peaks hovered there as if photoshopped into my eyes. They were so clear that I could make out individual ridges and the peaks were so discernable that I felt as if I could reach out and grab some snow to help cool down. It demanded awe. This scene provoked both humility and inspiration all at once.

Cliff Lee is a little bit like that. I know Lee isn't a newcomer just bursting onto the scene like Felix in 2005 and wowing everyone with what he can do. Lee has been around and many others knew him already. He was never a Mariner though and there is a difference between neutrally following a player from afar and watching him play in your jersey.

Lee makes his mark not from the jaw-dropping stuff like Felix and so many other marquee pitchers. Rather it is from his exacting precision. Cliff Lee doesn't bring anything to the table that we have never seen before. He cannot throw a 90mph changeup, a 100mph fastball with movement or a slider that's untouchable. What Lee does is take what he does have and repeat it time and again, over and over, doing precisely what he wants with it. Instead of being the Swiss army knife of pitchers, Lee is the Swiss watch. He is simply pitching, perfected.

There are reasoned and detached arguments in support of keeping Cliff Lee around as long as possible. He helps to win games which helps keep attendance up. Our GM Jack Zduriencik recently cited winning games and maintaining a winning attitude as a reason for acquiring Russell Branyan. The ultimate goal is obviously a championship, but I feel having a watchable product on the field to be a companion goal. The people that inhabit this website are among the most dedicated of fans and how many of us checked out in 2008? How many checked out on this year? To what joy is there when a baseball season is over by the month of May?

Cliff Lee seems to have taken at least a token leadership role on this team and perhaps his leadership rubs off on some of other pitchers. Keeping Cliff Lee through the end of the season probably slightly increases the odds that he would sign with Seattle this coming winter, if that is something you prefer to see. If he doesn't, he's nearly assured of Type A compensation at this point.

There are a couple other reasons as well. Overall, do they cancel out the obvious benefits to trading him? It is unlikely. However, it is impossible to tell because none of us has an insight into what trade offers Zduriencik is actually receiving for Lee, how they feel about those prospects, how the amateur scouting team is feeling about the talent in the 2011 draft or how the budgeting process is looking. The amount that we do not, and cannot, know exceeds what we do.

Regardless, this is not an overview of objective arguments in favor of the Mariners keeping Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee is going to be traded, likely within the next week and compiling reasons to not trade him feels like pissing into the wind at this point. Rather, I am just saddened that this is how things have turned out. I understand the excitement over the prospects that are likely heading here shortly but I also find it slightly off putting. There will be plenty of time to be excited about the new players, but for now I feel sorrow that we had Cliff Lee and couldn't make anything of it. What do we follow the day-to-day actions of the Seattle Mariners for if it is not to be able to glimpse players like Cliff Lee?

To be explicitly clear, I am not arguing for the Mariners to keep Cliff Lee. I certainly would like him to stay around, but I know that based on the trade return it is almost certainly not the organizationally prudent move. This is not like Jarrod Washburn last season though where I was all gung ho about trading him. Washburn was a roughly average player with no specifically endearing qualities to me. He had an unexpectedly good season and offered the team a chance to reap some future benefit. Jarrod Washburn's 2009 was like finding a $20 bill in a pair of pants that you were just about ready to donate to Goodwill.

Cliff Lee is special though. I was never attached to Jarrod Washburn, but Cliff Lee made an instant impact. I was smitten from his first start. I could see the talent right away, sure, but all the little things helped push it past the usual interest in a new player. I love pitching and I love quick pitching most of all. That Cliff Lee was both the fastest pitcher I have ever seen and at the same time the most refined is a beautiful combination to witness.

Like Felix Hernandez or Ichiro Suzuki, Lee has reached a level for me that I don't view him in the same way that I do most other players. I don't keep track of his current and projected WAR totals. I don't think of him as a piece to an ultimate puzzle of building a winning team under a certain budget. I view Cliff Lee as entertaining. I view Cliff Lee as a personification of why I like baseball.

Lee demands attention. Not just from us, but from others. Having Cliff Lee in our rotation makes us respectable. The Yankees are reportedly demanding an answer from Zduriencik today because they don't want to face him tonight. How many other players could evoke such a reaction? Teams scheduled to face us must pray to avoid the Lee-Felix combo.

Cliff Lee will soon be another team's joy to behold and I wish that were not to be. Cliff Lee has pitched as well as we could reasonably hope anybody ever to pitch over such a long stretch. I am well aware that does not guarantee that Lee would continue to pitch at that level going forward, but there's nobody with a better chance of doing it and I want to hold onto that as long as possible.

Yeah the Royals just swept us, but the Yankees don't want to face Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee the Mariner.

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