The Lueke Situation
I generally prefer to stay away from gossip. I’m not an investigative journalist, and we’re not here to try and dig stuff up. But, given what has come out in the last few weeks, and given Carmen Fusco’s firing today, this is something I feel compelled to write about. And yet, I don’t necessarily feel qualified to do so. I generally write from a place where I believe I have some steady ground to stand on. I like the evidence to be on my side, and I like to be able to point to facts to support my opinions. On this issue, those are unfortunately few and far between. Here is a timeline of what we know to be factually true about the Josh Lueke acquisition.
July 10th – The Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of what we know. We don’t know what happened leading up to the deal being completed, and we don’t know what happened after the trade was completed.
What we do have are public comments from people, all of whom have their own agendas, that we can choose to place degrees of trust in or not. I’m going to try not to tell you who to trust and who not to trust, because I don’t know who is telling the truth. Neither do you. We can make guesses, but that’s all they are, and we need to realize that. Among the quotes that we can choose to put stock in, we have the following, all courtesy of Geoff Baker:
Chuck Armstrong tells The Seattle Times that he was “not aware” of Lueke’s legal problems before the trade was completed.
In the same article, Jack Zduriencik says: “We had a degree of information and we have flown Josh in for a face-to-face. We were satisfied with the interview and it’s an issue that’s behind us”
Rick Adair tells The Seattle Times that he told Jack Zduriencik everything he knew from his time in Texas: “”I told him everything I knew about every prospect I was asked about, including Lueke, including any court case.”
Chuck Armstrong, on whether he ordered Zduriencik to send Lueke back to Texas: “We tried that on Friday night, but then, on Saturday morning, the Rangers said, ‘No, we’ve already notified the players. The deal stands as is.’ ”
Jon Daniels, on whether that statement is true: “We offered several times to reacquire Lueke in a separate transaction — an offer originally made the same night the deal was announced. That offer stands.”
Jack Zduriencik, on Lueke’s future in Seattle: “He’s part of our organization, he understands our policies, he understands that there’s a short leash … and believe me, we do not take it lightly. I think he understands that from us and here we are. We’re moving forward and he’s pitching for us.”
Obviously, some of those statements are mutually exclusive. You can’t believe everyone is telling the truth, since their statements conflict. There are half-truths and potentially even outright lies in there somewhere. How do we identify which statements to believe? There’s no magic formula – we can’t sick Jack Bauer on these guys and extract a confession. The best thing we can do is use common sense and understand the limitations of our knowledge, refraining from drawing conclusions that outstrip what we can know.
Let’s put the story that has gained traction in the last few weeks to the common sense test first.
The Mariners didn’t know about Josh Lueke’s past issues and found out about the true extent only after the deal was completed. At that point, the Rangers wouldn’t take Lueke back as the deal was done.
That wouldn’t be how they would phrase it, of course, but that’s essentially the story that is most often repeated, and it’s somewhat pushed forward by the company line that is being peddled by the organization. Does any of that make sense logically, though? In order to believe that story, you’d have to believe that the Mariners knew less about a player that they were trading for than I did. Forget the ridiculous “they didn’t google him” thing that has somehow become part of the narrative – there was no googling required. Josh Lueke’s history was, as Rick Adair stated, common knowledge among anyone who followed the Texas Rangers or the minor leagues with any kind of diligence. Jay Yencich, in his post reviewing the prospects the Mariners received – this was published on our blog within an hour of the deal being finalized, by the way – talked about Lueke’s history.
It would take a ridiculous leap that is beyond reason to believe that the Mariners were unaware of Lueke’s past. Did they know everything about the situation and what happened? Maybe, maybe not. Did the people who knew communicate well enough to the upper management? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know the full extent of what they knew and when, but it is outside of the realm of common sense to believe that the front office – one that had been negotiating with Texas for several weeks – did not know about Josh Lueke’s past. I think we can essentially reject the notion of ignorance as just overly implausible.
So, why does the company line push forward this notion? It could be because its the one that someone in the organization decided would appease sponsors and allow the team to try to treat it as a finished story and one that they could move on from, with Josh Lueke remaining in the organization. Both of Jack’s quotes above, as well as the fact that the Mariners haven’t taken the Rangers up on their public standing offer to take Lueke back (assuming that Daniels is telling the truth on that), point to the Mariners wanting Lueke in the organization. Somewhere, the decision was apparently made that they would rather have Lueke than not, baggage and all. There is nothing forcing them to keep him around. If he was seen by the management of this club as a bigger liability than an asset, he wouldn’t be closing for the Tacoma Rainiers in the PCL championship series.
I don’t know who made that call, when it happened, or who all was involved in the conversation. But, I think we can look at fact that they traded for Lueke, and that he’s still in the organization, and make some assumptions about how the organization views the respective costs and benefits of employing him. And, since those calculations have been made, it doesn’t take much of a leap to believe that those calculations were probably made before the deal was consummated. Do we know that? No, but it makes the most sense, right? Could I be wrong? Of course. But, gun to my head, that’s my interpretation, based on what appears to be common sense to me.
So, that brings us to yesterday, and Carmen Fusco’s firing. How does that fit into all of this? We don’t really have any additional facts to go off of. It certainly seems suspicious that Fusco loses his job a few weeks after the Times story comes out. As Larry Stone noted today, Jack and Carmen go back a long, long way, and their friendship extends outside of the game. The safe assumption is that Jack did not fire his long time friend. I have a hard time buying any explanation of the move other than upper management deciding that someone had to get fired because of how this has played out, and Carmen Fusco was the unlucky fall guy. I don’t know that to be true, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. If you want to punish the GM for how this was handled without actually firing him, making Fusco the fall guy is probably the most severe action they could have taken.
There’s no doubt that this situation has been handled poorly all the way around. The M’s screwed up, plain and simple, and they’ve perpetuated the mistake with public comments that could best be described as cryptic and unsatisfying. The organization deserves to take heat for the debacle that this has become. I would guess that, given a chance for a do-over, they’d go back and take the Yankees package. Acquiring Lueke set off a series of events that they didn’t see coming (presumably – if they knew this would happen and went through with it anyway, they’re insane), and they should have seen a good deal of this coming. You can’t acquire a guy with who plead no contest to a terrible crime and hope no one notices.
We can argue about whether they should have been willing to acquire Lueke in the first place. I don’t know where I stand on that, honestly. And, really, that’s another issue, even though its connected to this one. This story is about what the M’s knew and what they’re being honest about. The organization’s lack of transparency has been disappointing, and it’s a big black mark on everyone involved. This whole thing is, quite simply, an organizational failure. It probably cost Carmen Fusco his job. It might cost more people their jobs before this thing is over with. It might cost Jack Zduriencik his job. He’s done a lot of good things since he’s gotten here, but this is clearly not one of them. I think he’d admit that. Mistakes were made. Pretty big ones, at that.
But, at the end of the day, we don’t really know what exactly went on. We weren’t there, and the only thing we have are statements made in self interest. So, we can speculate, but we have to acknowledge that’s all it is. Beware of conclusive statements – there simply isn’t enough in the public arena to build a foundation that would support dogmatic claims. It’s up to you who and what you want to believe. It’s up to you whether you want to root for Josh Lueke, or an organization that employs him. You can make your own choices about who is credible and what statements pass the smell test. I’ve got my theories, but that’s all they are. That’s all any of us have.