Randy Johnson trade of 1998… Cliff Lee 2010…

The Mariners lost 7-1 tonight at the hands of the Detroit Tigers 7-1. This game was not very exciting for a Mariners fan with the exception of a lone home run by Franklin Gutierrez. The win puts the Tigers a game back in the AL Central, while the Mariners are stuck 14 back in the AL West. As many of you know there are really two Mariners games going on these days, one on the field and one surrounding the whole Cliff Lee situation.

   Tonight while I was watching the game I was reminded by the presence of Carlos Guillen in the Tigers lineup, of the infamous Randy Johnson trade in 1998 that Guillen was part of. While I realize this was a different situation and era there are still some parallels to the current Cliff Lee situation. I clearly remember being at the Kingdome on July 31st 1998 watching the home dugout all night to keep an eye on Johnson in the hopes we would not trade him. Sadly I remember in about the 6th inning Johnson leaving the dugout, then  hearing on the radio  that he had been traded to Houston. I am not sure the fans ever got an accurate story about why we traded him though there was talk about concerns over his back issues. There were also some derogatory comments floating around that Johnson was not giving 100% towards the trade deadline, which knowing Randy Johnson I never believed. It was definitely a difficult time for most of the fans I know and I still think it was a huge mistake which even Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln would probably admit today in private.

    When it was announced that the Houston Astros were giving us a young pitcher named Freddie Garcia and an infielder named Carlos Guillen along with a player to be named later, most fans were even more stunned. I recall  Ken Griffey Jr. saying in an interview: “I wonder what they would get for me, a bucket of baseballs?” Of course at the time the Houston Astros were making a run for the playoffs and gave up these two top prospects along with John Halama in order to try to get a World Championship. As it turns out the Astros did go on to win 102 games that year only to be knocked out by San Diego in the first round of the playoffs. Randy Johnson went  10-1 for the Astros after being traded though if I recall he wasn’t spectacular in the playoffs. The Astros took a gamble and lost, for even though Johnson pitched well they didn’t make it to the World Series or re-sign him the next year.

   The Mariners however did get a great year out of Freddie Garcia in 1999 as he went 17-8. Garcia would go on to be a big part of the Mariners success in subsequent years before being traded in 2004 to the White Sox with catcher Ben Davis for Mike Morse, Miguel Oliva, and Jeremy Reed. Garcia has been up and down since leaving the Mariners but is now back with the White Sox and having a good year at age 35 with a 8-3 record last I checked. Carlos Guillen was also a valuable asset to the Mariners at shortstop from 1998-2003 though it appears his trade in 2004 to the Tigers was another poor decision. Guillen has played well in Detroit being named to 3 All-Star teams and was rated at 6.7 WAR in 2006 along with accumulating  a career .287 average. The third player John Halama, stayed with the Mariners until he was traded to Oakland in 2003. Halama was 36-27 as a Mariner and was 14-9 in 2000 and appears to be trying to make one more shot as the 38 year-old  actually pitched a game against Tacoma in AAA this year.

   So to bring this all together it appears that the 1998 deadline trade as difficult and unpopular as it, turned out to be a decent deal   for the Mariners in the long run. And with a little luck and cunning Jack Z. should be able to  replicate with the Cliff Lee situation. Houston did make the play-offs though not the World Series in 1998, and the Mariners picked up some great talent in exchange for a player that only pitched part of a season. There are several teams out there that like Houston in 1998, may get just giddy enough with the thought of a World Series that they will mortgage the future for a shot at the glory of winning it all. Of course this was all in the pre-economic crash days when Americans loved to buy now and pay later hoping later would never come, and we all know where that sort of thinking got us….

   While I would love to keep Cliff Lee, I think it would be even sweeter to wait it out for the Mets, Reds, Dodgers, Twins or some other club to break down at the last-minute and give us some players like we got for Randy Johnson. So tomorrow is another day with a game against the Tigers on the field, as well as the Cliff Lee guessing game that will just get more interesting as the days go by. http://jeffsmariners.com

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