MUTKA: Oakland blockbuster makes Lloyd McClendon’s job tougher
BY JOHN MUTKA Post-Tribune senior correspondent July 6, 2014 10:59PM
Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, right, sits with bench coach Trent Jewett, left, on newly installed seats close to the rail of the home dugout, Monday, April 21, 2014, during a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) ORG XMIT: WATW118
Updated: August 8, 2014 6:28AM
CHICAGO — “Trade? What trade?”
Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon was being facetious, of course.
All weekend he’s been asked that question, ever since Oakland acquired pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the endlessly rebuilding Cubs.
Already pitching-rich with innings-eaters Scott Kazmir (10-3, 2.53 ERA), Sonny Gray (8-3, 3.08) and Jesse Chavez (6-5. 3.23), the Athletics are going for broke to separate themselves from the Angels and Mariners in the wild, wild American League West.
In the visitors dugout at the Cell on Saturday, McClendon shelved his dry sense of humor, then grudgingly complimented the A’s.
“They did a nice job of pulling it off,” he said. “It’s a real good team that got better, but it really doesn’t change things as far as we’re concerned.”
Under McClendon’s guidance, Seattle is making a bid for most improved honors. He’s jump-started a team which staggered to a 71-91 record last year. Saturday the Mariners improved to nine games over .500 with a 14-inning victory over the ever-collapsing White Sox bullpen.
The Mariners own the third-best road record in the majors and stack up as one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, but will be hard-pressed to catch Oakland, which owns a major-league high .621 winning percentage.
“It’s tough because we’ve got three teams (in the division) playing really good baseball, but I’d rather have it this way than have a team playing horse-bleep,” McClendon said. “That’s no fun.”
Oakland’s blockbuster move was shocking because it required some creative wheeling and dealing. Baseball has made it more difficult to move players because of the expanded postseason. Adding a second wild-card team keeps more teams reluctant to tinker with their roster.
“So many teams are still involved,” McClendon said. “Nobody’s willing to make a trade because they still think they’re in it. You have to be very intelligent in how you go about it.”
Seattle’s farm system is stocked with prospects, but general manager Jack Zduriencik is reluctant to mortgage the future by using them as trade bait.
“I don’t think Jack is ready to sell the farm for a rent-a-player,” said McClendon, who could include Samardzija in that category with free agency looming.
Samardzija’s future with the Athletics, who have been forced to play small ball because of poor attendance and their wrong-side-of-the-tracks relationship with the revenue-hogging Giants, is obviously short-term, considering recent breakdowns in negotiations with the Cubs.
The A’s obviously can’t afford a 29-year-old pitcher long on potential but short on victories; he’s 31-42 over seven years, but the media darling is making demands you might expect from an established ace.
Meanwhile, McClendon and his GM talk daily about ways to improve a team that is third in the arms race (3.22 staff ERA) and owns one of the best defenses (.987 percentages) in baseball.
Other than an early eight-game losing streak, it’s been a smooth transition for the first-year manager, but Mac’s not one to rest on his laurels.
“There’s always a honeymoon period coming in the first time,” he said. “Our fans have been very supportive, but in the end you gotta win.”
That’s a luxury he never enjoyed with the Pirates, who were in a constant selling mode during his five years at PNC Park.
“I was a young manager on a young team,” he said. “We weren’t very talented at Pittsburgh, but the last eight years have been great.”
Mac spent them with the Tigers, who made four postseason appearances, including the World Series in 2006 and 2012. In his final year as hitting coach, they led the majors with a .283 average.
What did he take out of life in the Motor City?
“I’ve learned to relax and enjoy the game,” he said.
During his time with the Pirates, Mac often was described as confrontational, a reputation which sprang from uprooting first base and carrying it into the dugout in a unique 2001 protest. More recent, he tossed his cap into the stands to vent over a called third strike.
That reputation irks him, such episodes to the contrary. He considers the label unfair.
“That’s a bunch of bull-bleep,” he said, referring to the swiped base. “I’m the same person I’ve always been. I speak my mind.”