The Mariners went into the season with some optimism and some solid talent… but a slow start took them out of the race early and not even the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. could turn things around.
So Seattle took their left handed ace who was in his walk year and traded him off. It seemed like New York, looking for another October run, was the likely landing spot, but instead sent him to a team that had never won a pennant before and despite financial troubles was going all in.
The Mariners fell apart after the trade but some good solid talent came back giving them some optimism for the future.
Meanwhile the ace flourished at first, but then came back down to earth.
Which Mariners team am I talking about?
This year’s team? Or the 1989 team?
Which left handed ace am I talking about?
Cliff Lee? Mark Langston?
In 1989 there was some optimism with the arrival of manager Jim Lefebvre and rookie Ken Griffey Jr. And a quick glance sees there was some talent on that team.
An infield of Jim Presley at third, Harold Reynolds at second and Alvin Davis at first is nothing to sneeze at. And oh yeah, they had a young shortstop named Omar Vizquel.
Griffey anchored the outfield that had Hac Man Leonard and a young Jay Buhner.
Plus pitchers who had some success in their careers like Billy Swift, Erik Hanson, Scott Bankhead and Mike Jackson were all on the staff.
But they fell into 5th place well behind the A’s when it was clear that Mark Langston, their best pitcher and a legit #1 starter, wasn’t coming back.
The Mets looked like the likely landing spot as they had tons of young pitching talent they seemed ready to move. (They ultimately would trade Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani and David West that summer to the Twins for Frank Viola… a move that helped clinch a World Series for Minnesota, not New York.)
Instead they found a partner with the Expos who were jammed packed with talent and had their eyes set on unseating the Mets.
Langston dominated the Padres in his first start, striking out 13 and giving up 1 earned run over 8 innings.
He began his Expos career with a 10-3 record and people declaring him the second coming of Steve Carlton. The Expos were in first by the All Star break and at the height of Langston’s winning ways, the Expos built up a 3 1/2 game lead and remained in first place by themselves as late as August 4.
When Langston threw a complete game shutout on July 25th against Philadelphia, the Expos were riding a 6 game winning streak and matched their 3 1/2 game lead for the widest margin of the year.
Then the roof caved in.
The Expos lost 40 of their last 62 games. Langston lost 6 of his last 8 decisions and the Expos, who seemed to have everything in line to win the National League East for the first time in a non Strike Shortened season, finished the year at .500, 4th place and 12 games behind the Cubs.
Langston left Montreal for the Angels.
Meanwhile one of the players in the haul from Montreal became a more fearsome pitcher than Langston ever was… future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson who did indeed lead the Mariners to their first ever post season berths.
Which brings us to 2010.
The bookends of Ken Griffey’s career has him see aces dealt from the Mariners.
Cliff Lee is sent not to the Yankees but to the Rangers, who like the Expos, are pushing their chips to the center of the table.
Like Langston, Lee came out smoking but has slowed down considerably.
Now with an 8 1/2 game lead heading into the last day of August, it is safe to say the Rangers aren’t going away. But can Lee turn things around to help deliver a pennant?
And there seems to be little doubt that, like Langston in Quebec, his stay there is temporary.
I wonder who in the haul back be the future Hall of Famer? I’ve got my eye on you, Justin Smoak.
By the way… there’s another part to this analogy of the Mariners dealing ace left handed starters.
Remember when the Mariners had to deal Randy Johnson when HE was facing free agency?
Once again they found an unlikely trading partner looking to finally win a pennant (The Astros)… the ace pitched well but fell short of a pennant (Johnson lost to the Padres twice in the Division Series)… and left town (to the Diamondbacks)… and the Mariners got back a nice haul (Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen were big parts of the 2000 and 2001 playoff teams.)
What I am saying is… the Mariners are good at this whole “trading a left handed ace away” thing.