Front Office Changes

Dave · January 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

In October of 2008, Jack Zduriencik was hired by the Mariners to take over the team’s open GM position and essentially fix a broken organization. In order to help facilitate a new direction, Jack filled the front office with his own guys. From Milwaukee, he brought Tony Blengino to be his assistant and serve as the analytical voice as a complement to his scouting background. He also brought Tom McNamara from the Brewers to take over amateur scouting and run the draft. As part of an agreement with the Brewers, he agreed to only hire two front office members from his old organization, so Pedro Grifol was promoted from within to fill the job of director of minor league operations, and Carmen Fusco was hired to run the professional scouting ranks.

In part to familiarize ourselves with the new guys, we decided to host a USSM/LL event in early January of 2009, a few months after they all joined the staff. We booked the auditorium at the Seattle Central Library, and invited a bunch of you guys to come hang out and talk baseball on a Saturday in the middle of winter.

I invited Jack to come to the event, but because of a prior commitment to do an extended radio interview at the same time, he wasn’t able to make it. To make it up to us, he offered to send essentially the entire front office as his replacement, so representing the Mariners were the four executives just mentioned: Blengino, McNamara, Grifol, and Fusco. Here’s some photographic evidence, if you want to see pictures.

That’s the only event I’ve ever not been able to make it out to Seattle to attend, but from what I gathered from those who were there, it went off like a giant four hour celebration. Fusco went through so many bottles of water that people were legitimately amazed at his capacity to retain liquids — I only learned later that he did the entire event while suffering from two kidney stones, which he passed only after the event was over. With that kind of dedication, no wonder spirits were high. Everyone was enthused. While Jack himself wasn’t able to make it, his employees inspired a great deal of confidence in the organization, and reflected extremely well upon his decision to hire them to begin with.

Which brings to one of the most common questions I’ve been asked this winter: how it is possible that a front office that saw so much value in Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, and Brendan Ryan — among others — could spend the winter pursuing the likes of Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, and Michael Morse. The shift in the type of players acquired this winter has been so stark that it is hard to reconcile the idea that it’s the same front office making these decisions. But, therein lies the rub; the current front office is not the same one that was in place in the winter of 2008.

Fusco was relieved of his duties in September of 2010 for reasons that are another post entirely. Grifol was removed from his front office position last year, and was replaced by Chris Gwynn as the head of minor league operations; he just officially left the organization after spending 2012 managing High Desert in the California League. And this winter, the Mariners have made one more front office adjustment, as Tony Blengino is no longer working out of the Seattle office but has moved into an advisory role that involves him having conversations with Jack from his home in Milwaukee. He is still under the employ of the organization, but the official comment that I was given by the M’s PR department is that Tony is going to focus more on analytical research and be less involved in decisions relating to player personnel. Of the four men who made up something like Jack’s inner circle during that first off-season, Tom McNamara is the only one who is still serving in that same function.

It’s not that those positions got eliminated, of course, and Jack still has a group of folks that he trusts advising him on talent acquisition decisions. Jeff Kingston was hired by the Mariners as an Assistant GM in September of 2009, and he oversees the analytical department in the organization now. Ted Simmons was hired as the Senior Advisor to the GM in 2010. Last winter, the team added three Special Assistants, bringing in Pete Vuckovich and Joe McIlvaine, as well as promoting Roger Hansen, with all three currently listed on the organization’s front office page as “Special Assistant to GM, Player Procurement”, notably differentiating them from Blengino, who does not have those final two words in his title. Ken Madeja, who previously had held that role, moved into a pro scouting job. John Boles, who also held that position, left the organization after last season.

And, we can’t forget the one other major change, as there was the complete turnover of the field staff as well, with Don Wakamatsu and his crew being replaced by Eric Wedge‘s coaching staff after the 2010 season.

Blengino represented one of the few remaining holdovers from the initial group brought on by Zduriencik during his initial winter as GM. And now, with his reassignment, the structure of the analytical department is changing as well.

Tom Tango noted on his blog a few days ago that he was now exclusively providing his services to the Chicago Cubs. Tango, as you probably know, is one of the most well known statistical analysts in our community, and was hired by the Mariners as a consultant back during that first winter. According to the organization, Tango left for an exclusive position with the Cubs approximately three months ago, and Tango himself confirmed that publicly when asked how long he’d been working with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in Chicago.

The Mariners stress that they still value analytical decision making higher than ever, and do not see Tango’s departure or Blengino’s new role as a sign of a change in philosophical approach. Indeed, they’ve just brought on several new interns to serve in the baseball operations department, and guys like Andrew Percival and Casey Brett remain in the organization, working in their respective roles within Kingston’s group. The names and titles may be changing, but the Mariners suggest that this is simply part of the natural turnover of the game, and not any kind of organizational shift in decision making process.

That said, there’s no question that different people have different ideas, and it seems pretty clear that the current front office has some different ideas than the 2009 front office had. We’re not privy to the inner workings of each decision, so we don’t know how much each kind of acquisition was influenced by which individuals, but the results of the current roster construction methods speak to a pretty significant shift at some point along the line. Whether that shift is a reaction to the failures of players like Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley, or whether it’s simply a reflection of the preferences of the current front office decision makers, we have no idea. Maybe it’s not either of those things, and there’s no connection between the front office turnover and the shift in the type of players the Mariners have acquired this winter. Without being in the room when those decisions are made, we simply can’t know what has changed, if anything.

But from an outsider’s perspective, it sure appears that things have changed, and changed pretty significantly. For a large portion of the fan base, that’s probably a good thing, as I know many of you are tired of seeing a low scoring offense with no power. You won’t be seeing that again any time soon, and with Blengino mostly out of the mix on player acquisitions — and Tango totally gone — that’s probably a change that’s here to stay. If there’s one thing we can clearly deduce from the organization’s maneuvers over the last few months, it’s that the Mariners are putting a premium on power hitting again. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it seems like it’s probably not.

The moves the team is making are different. Why? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that besides Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, the front office now is entirely different than the front office that was in place back in the first few years of the new regime. I’d guess that those two things are related. Whether this new direction is for better or worse remains to be seen, but it’s hard for me to see how losing Tom Tango is beneficial to an organization, and I’m clearly not the biggest fan of the moves the team has made this winter.

But, I’m reminded of something Jack said during his first few days as GM of the team, as recorded by Larry Stone on October 25th, 2008.

“I’d love to have guys with good makeup and good character, committed to the city and the ballclub. But when all is said and done, talent wins.”

I’d love to have a front office that values the same things I value, and employs people that think similarly to the way I think, but when all is said and done, talent does win. Dustin Ackley doesn’t have any less talent now than he did when Tango worked for the Mariners. Felix Hernandez didn’t relocate to Milwaukee with Tony Blengino. The Mariners have never fired Kyle Seager. Teams without nerdy consultants win too. Letting Tango leave doesn’t mean the Mariners can’t win, or that the hard work done during the last few years won’t pay off in the future. Or, maybe things break right for the organization and they pay off in 2013. Who knows?

This post isn’t about predicting what all these changes will do to the organization. It’s more about attempting to explain why the moves seem so different now. We don’t have enough information to make any kind of firm conclusions, but there’s definitely some correlation between the front office turnover and the apparent change in team building approach we’ve seen this winter. Just because the GM hasn’t changed doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The group around Jack now is a lot different now than it was a few years ago. The group around Jack now is apparently are big fans of home runs.


65 Responses to “Front Office Changes”

  1. Westside guy on January 30th, 2013 9:22 pm

    Thank you for your reasoned thoughts on this, Dave.

    I guess I’d be more positive if I didn’t feel like the ostensibly “power” hitters they brought in weren’t a big bunch of aging, second-hand cast-offs. I am okay with the acquisition of Morales, in isolation. I’m okay, albeit not thrilled, with the acquisition of Morse, in isolation. But looking at the off-season as a whole – especially when we combine those seemingly overlapping pickups with the additional (and earlier) acquisition of Ibañez, and what appears to be a baffling intentional downgrade at catcher – just makes me depressed about the current regime.

  2. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 9:44 pm

    You can’t build a battleship without battleship steel. Or, whatever…

    I think it’s likely that Jack entrusted a little too much personnel evaluation to the Sabermetric braintrust, all while he was breaking in his office chair as a Major League GM. Nice, if you can get away with it. But if your strength is amateur evaluation, and you hand off a lot of that to others, either those “others” better think exactly like you do, OR you bitch about it ’till 3 am, night after night, until you break the will of your boss.

    Now, back to the battleship analogy: Teams in the AL West win by launching fat fastballs into the 8th row. If they can’t do that, they come up with all manner of crazy methodology to compete by confusion. The A’s do it be wringing emotion out of their under-budgeted team. The M’s do it by signing King Felix to a 6 year extension (at least I hope so). Who cares about the Astros.

    My point: Make the fans think that the M’s will hit better, and the fans will come back, spend more money on Moose toys and garlic fries. Ok, how do we do that? I know! Let’s dissolve the current mass of front office braintrust, and replace it with battleship welders! Guys who think offense all the time.

    That’s all that’s happening here. How much analysis does this need? Jack got himself in deep doodoo with disciples of Bill (James, in case you’re an idiot and didn’t understand my nexus), and without coming out and saying it, Jack’s admitting that he hasn’t bought into the idea that you can build a battleship with duct tape.

  3. Pete on January 30th, 2013 9:44 pm

    I agree with a lot of what’s written here. But I wonder how great a “shift” has actually taken place. As Dave suggests, we don’t know whether it’s a permanent “shift” or not. I think it’s possible that the seeming emphasis on power is just how it shook out this offseason. After all, the hired “power” dudes are all on one-year deals.

    It’s definitely weird and different than what the Zduriencik front office has done until now. But one idea is that they couldn’t accomplish what they wanted to, and just bought themselves a year to see if they could figure it out next offseason instead. It sure feels like a one-year “ah, hell, let’s see what happens.”

    What I’m not saying is there isn’t a lot of permanence to what they did. They certainly could have found comparable value with differently-skilled players, that’s for sure. And that does seem like a shift.

    What’s certain is that Wedge thinks these players will help the young talent we have. So, yeah. That’s what happened.

    It feels like a depressing, throw-away year, but we’ll see what happens, and then next offseason offers a ton of flexibility.

  4. Bryce on January 30th, 2013 9:45 pm

    Do you know that Tango was let go, or is it that the Cubs came in and blew away what the Mariners were paying him here? Ricketts is pretty clearly willing to spend to build a powerhouse organization.

  5. Dave on January 30th, 2013 9:48 pm

    I never said Tango was let go. I said he left.

    Also, I’m pretty sure post #2 wouldn’t have been made before the recent legal changes in the state of Washington. Someone get that guy a brownie.

  6. Liam on January 30th, 2013 9:50 pm

    The same Jack Zduriencik who brought up your Fangraphs article on how good the 2009 Mariners defense was during a game interview on FSN also thought that Miguel Cabrera deserved to win the MVP. It’s just weird.

  7. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 9:57 pm

    I’m the #2 poster, and I resent your inference that I somehow was “influenced” into posting my comments. I am quite lucid, never touched the stuff.

    And yes, I understand your entry in its entirety. I simply don’t believe that there’s that much mystery to the front office changes. Fans want tangible change, and most of us simply don’t pay that close attention to front office positions that the media doesn’t interview regularly.

  8. Westside guy on January 30th, 2013 10:14 pm

    Dude… got any pizza?

  9. Typical Idiot Fan on January 30th, 2013 10:32 pm

    Now the money questions:

    How much of this is influenced by Jack himself and not by anybody above him?

    Is this a precursor to a much bigger front office move, such as Jack Zduriencik’s termination?

  10. Dave on January 30th, 2013 10:36 pm

    These moves were Jack’s calls.

  11. 300ZXNA on January 30th, 2013 10:38 pm

    Ugh, yet another reason to hate the Smoak trade. The idea that the M’s cut off their nose to spite their face seems distinctly possible regarding the Fusco firing.

  12. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 10:40 pm

    Westside guy… Don’t be depressed. This current regime will face the same scrutiny all regimes do after they’re replaced. It’s difficult to see fault in many regimes if you believe their intentions are to put a perennial winner on the field. It’s only after they’ve been replaced that the faults are revealed, discussed, and digested.

    What I’m getting tired of is the central thought that regimes in professional sports should only be given just a few years to turn things around, per organization. For example, Mike Holmgren was re-establishing a front office for the Browns, just as his mentor did for the 49ers, only to be cut loose just as his changes were about to take effect. Had he been retained, the Browns would likely have continued to build a complete on-the-field system, as he did in Green Bay and Seattle.

    In Jack Z’s defense, not that I’m an apologist for failing to pull off any bigger moves, what’s holding you back is a regional reputation of cold, dreary springs, long flights, and until 2013, and deep fences.

    There should be a sabermetric formula for organizational chances of success based on team legacy. Put a number next to the team, modifying whomever is the current GM. Like a WAR for GM’s.

    Anyhow, I’m not depressed. Things should get better. We get to play the Astros!

  13. diderot on January 30th, 2013 10:40 pm

    Within the body of the post, Dave, you’re effectively building on the old premise of not confusing correlation with causation.

    The idea that somehow Jack has changed his understanding of baseball…or that a new group of underlings has turned his head…is amusing.

  14. diderot on January 30th, 2013 10:41 pm

    “Had he been retained, the Browns would likely have continued to build a complete on-the-field system, as he did in Green Bay and Seattle.”

    Holmgren was not the GM in Green Bay.

  15. 300ZXNA on January 30th, 2013 10:42 pm

    And by hate the Smoak trade, I agree that it was a great deal at the time that seems to have followed the worst possible outcome.

  16. Typical Idiot Fan on January 30th, 2013 10:44 pm

    These moves were Jack’s calls.

    And I just realized you left out two important names: Patrick Gurrero and Bob Engle. The turnover has been felt in every department, it seems.

    But, if these moves were Jack’s calls, and I’m not doubting your words, is this Jack saying “fuck the stats, I’m going back to what got me here” and going the heavy scouting route instead?

  17. Dave on January 30th, 2013 10:47 pm

    Within the body of the post, Dave, you’re effectively building on the old premise of not confusing correlation with causation.

    The idea that somehow Jack has changed his understanding of baseball…or that a new group of underlings has turned his head…is amusing.

    Assume that I know more about this than you do.

  18. diderot on January 30th, 2013 10:50 pm

    ‘Assume that I know more about this than you do.’

    I not only assume, I conclude that.
    I was only trying to give you credit for very legitimately saying that we have no way of truly knowing whether there was a correlation.

  19. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 10:51 pm

    “Holmgren was not the GM in Green Bay.”

    Nor was he the GM in Cleveland. That position belonged to Tom Heckert. It was Holmgren’s oversight as the team’s President that put him in charge of changing the culture in Cleveland.

    Jack Z’s position is different, but he’s the team’s front office voice, and obvious focus of the team’s developmental success.

  20. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 10:56 pm

    Question: If this is Jack’s call, to replace a great portion of his team, is this linked to his reference of “more money” in an earlier interview? What I mean is, did ownership grant him more money to spend on payroll IF, and only if, he cut loose the previous support team?

  21. Dave on January 30th, 2013 10:58 pm

    No. That’s… a bizarre thing to believe.

  22. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 11:04 pm

    Then why change so much, all in such a short time? Money drives just about all decisions.

  23. eman on January 30th, 2013 11:04 pm

    Dave, it looks like you have the events mixed up a tiny bit. The pictures you showed are from the downtown Seattle Public Library, and the event page you linked to is from Dec. 2009 which would be right before the 2010 event, not the 2009 event.

    But, yeah, the rest of things seem spot on.

  24. Dave on January 30th, 2013 11:09 pm

    Umm, okay. The tin foil hat people generally comment elsewhere.

  25. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 11:24 pm

    Well, they moved the fences in so more HR’s could be hit, right?

    Just sayin’, there’s a reason for everything. Maybe there’s no correlation of events.

    You said it yourself: “It’s more about attempting to explain why the moves seem so different now.” I’m only offering a possible reason. Just because you find it “bizarre” doesn’t mean my thought should be dismissed.

  26. Dave on January 30th, 2013 11:28 pm

    How about this – I know for a fact that your thought is wrong.

  27. goalieump413 on January 30th, 2013 11:30 pm

    Cool. Could you explain?

  28. MrZDevotee on January 30th, 2013 11:37 pm

    Dave said “tin foil hat people” and I immediately envisioned the little green aliens from Toy Story, waddling around, going “Wwwwweeeeeeeeeeeee”…

    (That way I can avoid the depressing info in the original post… It’s really been a big housecleaning, hasn’t it? Dear young players, please reap us some benefits soon!)

  29. MKT on January 30th, 2013 11:46 pm

    Thanks for the post, I’ve been waiting to see some commentary ever since Tango mentioned his exclusive Cubs gig. Bottom line is: we don’t know what’s going on. Slightly comforting, it’s better than discovering that the brain trust has lost its mind and is relying on a “veteran grit wins games” mantra.

  30. vj on January 31st, 2013 1:26 am

    “The moves the team is making are different. Why? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that besides Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, the front office now is entirely different than the front office that was in place back in the first few years of the new regime. I’d guess that those two things are related.”

    can’t resist linking to this:

  31. Seattleken on January 31st, 2013 5:37 am

    I don’t like the basis for the reasoning that Jack Z is using, as it very likely does not win games but it goes help explain the pickups and non pickups this off season.
    I think he believes the way to win and make fans come to games is through long homeruns and to predict homers hes using speed off bat and homerun distance matched against Safeco. Its a way of using charts that traditional scouts would understand and approve no math past grade 5 involved!

    Examples source espn home run tracker.

    Players he went for
    Jason Bay average true distance 408 105mph off the bat.

    Kendrys Morales 405 ft 105 mph

    Morse 403 ft 105 Mph

    Hamilton best in baseball 416 ft 106 mph

    Justin Upton an extremely high 414 and 107 bat speed.

    Ibanez while only 387ft it was 104mph and overlaying Safeco all would be homers

    Players he doesn’t seem to like

    Swisher only 388 distance 102 mph. Chart shows safeco would cost him 4 homers.

    Casper Wells only 385ft 102 mph.

    My guess is that ball off of bat speed and distance are a major key, enough for the new guys in the front office to ignore other factors like base running, defense and Ability to get on base to score runs.

  32. Bryce on January 31st, 2013 5:56 am

    “Letting Tango leave” that you wrote in the post is “I never said Tango was let go”? My point is only that the Cubs are clearly willing to spend more than the M’s. If a guy leaves for more $, I certainly don’t begrudge him that.

  33. philosofool on January 31st, 2013 6:09 am

    I don’t think we can entirely discount the possibility that someone qbove Jack basically said “We’re moving the fences in and we want to see some dingers for our effort.” It would look bad if they moved the fences and all the new dingers were being logged against M’s pitching.

    As Dave points out, we can’t know what the process was, but this sudden urge to get home run hitters seems like it was born of aims that simply can’t be reconcilled with our experience that this front office isn’t dumb.

  34. ChrisFB on January 31st, 2013 7:15 am

    1. So because Jack’s employees are different, Jack’s decision making and final calls are different? I.e., when Jack was surrounded by employees with a sabermetric bent the player acquisitions / decisions went one way, and now they work a different way?
    That doesn’t seem to reflect well on Jack, if this is the case. Being subject to groupthink among his peers, or being directed to change his approach by his superiors, is one thing… being subject to groupthink among his employees and direct reports, is another. I’d like to think Jack has a clear enough vision, enough expertise and most of all enough will, authority and managerial ability to be consistent in his approach. So there was some point at which Jack’s roster building philosophy changed, which meant him changing the people directly around him responsible for implementing that. So, why did that roster building philosophy change?

    2. I wouldn’t call this the elephant in the room, but certainly a surprisingly missing piece here in this post, is that the M’s are Jack’s first GM job. Perhaps his roster building philosophy has changed because he’s been learning on the job and changed his approach based on personal experience, insider knowledge of how front offices work, and just how things change when he needs to be the one making decisions. There’s nothing necessarily good or bad about that one way or the other. But still, “the group around Jack is different than it was a few years ago” absolves Jack of too much responsibility for decisions by “the front office”. Either the buck stops with Jack or it doesn’t…

    3. Perhaps, despite public statements to the contrary, Jack thought the rebuild was further along than he thought, and rather than the Cliff Lee trade being a surprise opportunity to get value to then flip later during a rebuild, he honestly thought that the Cliff Lee trade was “going for it”. Basically thinking that the 2009 team was much better than it actually was. The disaster of 2010 might have made him think that a sabermetric approach wasn’t as viable as he thought when he’d gotten there in late 2008, and that now the true rebuild starts. Which seems to line up with the timing of a lot of the personnel changes you cite here. And lines up with my other 2 points about Jack changing his philosophy and thus who he wanted around him, in what is still his first GM job.

    So, assuming one does not agree with the moves made this offseason, or the trend of moves that have been made the last couple of offseasons… and assuming that Jack has autonomy and intention with regard to his staffing, and no conspiracy theories about Chuck/Howie meddling… front office changes are a symptom of what is “wrong”, not the cause. What has been wrong is Jack apparently learning the wrong lessons since about early October 2009.

  35. ChrisFB on January 31st, 2013 7:20 am

    (I also vaguely remember an article about long-time scouts and others in the org not being happy with Jack’s absolutely-no-leaks approach, and how free flow of information within the office seemed to stopped as Jack’s folks came in… but I don’t remember where I saw that, and can’t find it on a quick googling.)

  36. ThePopeofChilitown on January 31st, 2013 8:02 am

    Perhaps this has been discussed, or I am glossing over something obvious. We generally lauded Jack for his (or his underlings) talent at amateur player evaluation. Why is there such a dichotomy between the organization’s ability to evaluate young talent, and major league talent?

  37. kinickers77 on January 31st, 2013 8:30 am

    It’s definitely been an underwhelming off-season if this is all the material available to write about.

  38. miscreant on January 31st, 2013 8:37 am

    When Jackie Z 1st got here he was all about pitching and defense and speed on the bases.

    Now it’s apparently all about Felix and reincarnating Earl Weaver ball.

  39. kinickers77 on January 31st, 2013 8:54 am

    Do you think it might be possible that Jack Z just didn’t have much to work with this off-season? Yes, he felt pressured to get more offense, as I think everyone can agree that he should have, but the best options for that fell through – Hamilton, Upton.

    Even the sabermetrics guys liked them, no? I honestly think the biggest difference over the years is that it just took time for the FO to learn that players don’t want to come to Seattle. It’s in the corner of the U.S., far away from the area where baseball gets the most respect (East Coast), it rains a lot, and the team was in shambles.

    It was adventurous and exciting to think about rebuilding a team from scratch, but they all probably thought the hatred for Seattle amongst players was more rumor than reality.

    Z and his team have done a great job with the one thing they have the most control over – the farm system. I think these other FO guys honestly, just went on to bigger and better opportunities, nothing more. It’s probably hard to work for a team that the rest of the MLB world kinda blows off. Heck, if fandom was removed, I’d take a job in baseball mecca at Chicago, Philly, Boston or New York way over Seattle.

    I think the deals Z made this offseason are merely because the deals he really wanted to do didn’t work out. So he did the best he could with what he had left. The more I think about it, the more I’m fine with the Jaso for Morse deal, because like Dave said, Jaso was never going to be a full-time player here, and he didn’t “move the needle” anyway. Our future at C is Zunino and he knew we can’t win now so he thought to trade him for someone who might be worth more later to other teams.

    Bay and Ibanez are so cheap that who cares. They aren’t difference-makers in either direction.

    Sorry I couldn’t say it more succinctly, I just think, in short, the FO mindset is not much different. It was just an offseason where they were hoping to be dealt a flush or straight but the cards didn’t fall that way, so they are trying to do the best they can with a high pair.

  40. bookbook on January 31st, 2013 8:58 am

    Miscreant, I get what you’re saying but Earl Weaver’s actual record wasn’t about hoping for 3-run home runs to fall from the sky, He played Mark Belanger–a more extreme version of Brendan Ryan–because he valued preventing runs with the glove just as much as scoring them. He batted Ken Singleton, a slowish sluggery guy, leadoff to get his obp on in front of other sluggers and generate multiple run home runs.
    Earl Weaver valued pitching and defense and getting away from dumb managerial moves like hit and runs and bunting.

  41. diderot on January 31st, 2013 9:17 am

    This is an excellent point. Those Ray Miller pitching staffs were historically good.
    Maybe Weaver was simply adapting his philosophy to the talent he had–hard to imagine Boog Powell as very adept at the hit-and-run game.

  42. miscreant on January 31st, 2013 9:28 am

    book book,

    I get what you’re saying and agree. My point was based on the fact that when many people think of Earl Weaver they associate the 3 run home run with him.

  43. coffeemonkey on January 31st, 2013 9:36 am

    As the Morales trade went down and then the Morse thing happened, I remembered an interview Jack Zduriencik gave where he talked about capitalizing on players he felt the market was undervaluing. Similar to this piece from the Seattle Times in April 2010, “In Zduriencik’s case, that meant taking advantage in what was an under-exploited market for defensive skill last year and transforming it into a Mariners team that performed some of the best glovework the game has ever seen.”

    Could it be that Jack still believes in the type of players he sought and brought to the M’s in his first two years and that the market has adjusted and now values those same players, as he does, therefore making the acquisition of such players more competitive? Does the market value power hitters less than before and Jack believes that he can get a couple low tier power guys for cheap while biding his time until the young player core produces?

    Has Jack’s philosophy really changed with regards to the type of player he seeks or is he just taking what the market will give?

  44. MrZDevotee on January 31st, 2013 9:57 am

    Very interesting point. And plausible. Which kinda fits what went down with Swisher– in Z’s mind, he was going to have to outbid somebody(s) to win Swisher’s services, whereas we’re still in (supposedly) on a guy like Bourn, whose opportunities are dwindling and doesn’t look to get as big of a contract as originally believed.

    And on the flip side, a guy like Hamilton he decided it was worth going all in for, but we simply lost the sweepstakes there.

    We got Morales and Morse as cost controlled bats- rentals really, that can hopefully improve the image (along with the shorter fences) of what playing in Seattle can be like, for future free agents. Which paints those pickups as slightly more attractive than when they first went down.

    And also to fit your theory, he’s decided that pitching is easier to replace than power bats with decent averages (hence Vargas for Morales) and same with platoon catchers (hence Jaso for Morse).

    It is telling that the only legit bats we were able to attract we got via trade (meaning the player didn’t get to decide whether he wanted to come to Seattle).

    In a way, the future of Seattle rests on whether Morse and/or Morales can find an offensive groove that shows bats can succeed here. And if Bay or Ibanez can find lightning in a bottle, that will just add to the image. Heck, in that regard, it could be a windfall. Bay’s a lottery ticket. “Jason Bay’s career was over, until he went to Seattle.” There’s a message no one is expecting to hear, and if it DOESN’T happen, no one is surprised so it won’t be a negative.

    I can almost hear Z saying to himself while looking over the current roster– “Somebody PLEASE hit the fucking ball… So I can get some good players here.”

  45. IdahoFan on January 31st, 2013 10:01 am

    Great article Dave. This is the type of story one would have expected to read in the local paper.

    Can anyone give examples of other teams, baseball or other sports, that have made changes of a similar scope with the same GM?

    Not sure what to make of all this but it doesn’t inspire confidence. I remember Jack and Tony’s comments at an early USS event explaining how carefully they constructed the roster to fit Safeco (e.g., Sexson out, Guti in). There is a clear change in thinking about how to build the Ms.

  46. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on January 31st, 2013 10:12 am

    Dave, I know you have to be a bit careful about how you phrase an answer to this question, but can you give us a confidence level comparison?

    Specifically, the M’s approach with the prior team advising JZ put the M’s where in your mind relative to other organizations?

    Now that these moves have been made, it sounds as if your confidence level in approach for the team has diminished some . . .how much? Not enough moves to know yet?

    Is there any signficant impact to how the team is building or refining the farm system that you see?

    Please appreciate that I am not focused on projected results, but approach to building a team.

  47. Carson on January 31st, 2013 10:49 am

    The Blengino move was unoffcially made quite some time ago. Too bad. He was a pretty cool and funny dude. Had a chance to chat with him quite a bit in Tacoma in the scout section.

    The Andrew Carraway near no-no was a fun one to watch. After Carraway gave up a hit in the 8th, he turned to me and said “Well, I needed to see him in the stretch anyway.”

  48. bat guano on January 31st, 2013 11:31 am

    Isn’t it possible that this is all about attendance and the FO’s seeming obsession with getting non-baseball fans to go to games and spend money? As much as some of us prefer low scoring games built on pitching and defense (and until this year it appeared that Jack Z thought that would win games here), maybe someone told the guys at the top “Chicks dig the long ball”

  49. casey on January 31st, 2013 11:52 am

    the thing that will put bums in seats like nothing else will be a winning/championship club. Also seen guys go crazier for the long ball than “chicks”. Think long term winning is the goal…amazes me people who think they are not trying to put a winning team together.

    loved the article – Z is the face and the guy we hold responsible for the philosophy but it is always a team approach and knowing who is in the inner circle and what they value is key to understanding the moves.

    Ken – loved the swing speed analysis – makes sense here.

    still the starting rotation after Felix is my biggest concern. M’s may exceed the ZIPS projections if a couple of Hultzen, Maurer, Paxton, Ramirez, or Walker burst on the scene Pineda like in 2013.

  50. Paul B on January 31st, 2013 12:17 pm

    I get what you’re saying and agree. My point was based on the fact that when many people think of Earl Weaver they associate the 3 run home run with him.

    Even so, to get a 3 run homer you need to have 2 guys on base. No way Early would have been running somebody out there every day with Miguel Olivo’s OBA.

  51. eponymous coward on January 31st, 2013 12:23 pm

    Isn’t it possible that this is all about attendance and the FO’s seeming obsession with getting non-baseball fans to go to games and spend money?

    Given that Chuck Armstrong probably remembers the 1980′s Mariners hitting plenty of home runs and not drawing worth a damn, since he was in the front office then as well as now, I’m going to go with “no”.

    The team understands that winning = attendance, bottom line. What is lacking so far is the major league roster that’s capable of winning.

  52. roosevelt on January 31st, 2013 1:03 pm

    Interesting read. I’ll make a bold prediction… Jack is NOT brought back next season.

  53. Seattleken on January 31st, 2013 1:39 pm

    Maybe its not a bad thing if Jack is gone in 2014 and the next GM is a more experienced GM focused on taking the great kids Jack drafted and converting it to wins.
    I don’t have any confidence in Jack in free agent dealings as hes been completely awful here for 5 years. His deals are mostly poor in terms of the player being returned as every guy coming back except Guit had huge flaws that made it unlikely he would be a major impact player. Yet hes moved guys that could be major impact players like Fister and Morrow. He trades Morse prime years but gets him back after those years are done.
    So while it will suck for Z to be let go another team will hire him as a head of scouting or rebuilding GM.
    My hope is that Jack was just the fall guy GM and a new one is hired who can deal with agents and other GMS without being taken behind the woodshed.

  54. bubba_gump on January 31st, 2013 2:06 pm

    “This post isn’t about predicting what all these changes will do to the organization. It’s more about attempting to explain why the moves seem so different now.”

    When the current model doesn’t bring expected results in a timely manner, it’s time to reevaluate the model.

  55. Eastside Crank on January 31st, 2013 2:28 pm

    It has been frustrating to try to figure out what the Mariners have been doing the past few years. This post gives some perspective as to what is going on. I do not see how the Mariners will ever be successful if they keep chasing butterflies. They need to decide what type of team they want and how it will play. Then they can decide the best way to acquire those players and find a manager best suited for that style of play. In the meantime one can hope that the strategy right now is to sell the team as soon as possible.

  56. RaoulDuke37 on January 31st, 2013 3:49 pm

    I don’t know if the owner is the issue. I don’t know if Chuck and Howard are the issue. I don’t know if Jack and company are the issue.

    What I do know is the Seahawks are a great franchise. The Sounders are a great franchise. The Supersonics might be back this year, and if that happens the NHL might follow. 2013 will be my 25th year as Mariner fan, and outside of the typical ‘start of the season’ excitement, I could really care less. That makes me sad.

  57. jhatten927 on January 31st, 2013 4:00 pm

    We are talking about Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse for 1 year and the sacrifice is probably going to be Jason Bay and John Jaso. I would be really surprised to see Casper Wells get beat out by Bay.

    This means nothing and really hurts nothing. Jaso was never used as dumb as it was, it wasn’t going to change and we have improved power, something that has been that hasn’t existed in Seattle in almost 10 years.

    None of these moves hurt the team. It’s purely a marketing thing, couple bats that hopefully show you can hit in Safeco these days and drum up some fan interest.

    I’m glad the Justin Upton trade didn’t happen and am surprised at what he was worth in the eyes of other teams.

    I also think a part of this is Chuck and Howard forcing the issue.

    I think Jack Z has done an admirable job. He has built a top flight farm system and hasn’t buried this team with bad contracts. Outside Figgins.

  58. PackBob on January 31st, 2013 5:46 pm

    While Jack is surrounded by a different inner circle and may be getting different assessments of where the team is at and what should be done to improve, I’m not convinced this adds up to a change in philosophy because of the recent moves, mainly because his youthful core is still in place.

    Morales and Morse each have a year left before becoming free agents, Ibanez has a one year contract, and Bay is a minor league hope-for-luck addition. Wedge wasn’t going to play Jaso anyway, and he seemed to believe Wells had hitting approach deficiencies to resolve before he would be considered as a full-time player.

    Another way to look at it is simply buying some time for the young guys. Morales/Vargas was value for value and Jaso/Morse was… well I still don’t like it. But Morales and Morse do bring the potential for more dingers, and why not up the potential for dingers while waiting on the young guys?

    Morales and Morse could easily be gone by August, with some prospects in return, and the Ibanez veteran experience experiment will be over when it doesn’t carry his lack of hitting any more, much like Griffey, but hopefully not as painful.

    I don’t believe Jack has to follow ‘The Philosophy’ with every move he makes to retain that general philosophy. Jack may get some veteran experience to make Wedge happy, some dinger hitters to add some punch to the line-up, but when all is said and done the fate of the team still rests with the young guys he has stockpiled.

  59. Sports on a Shtick on January 31st, 2013 9:09 pm

    Jeff at LL pointed this out already but I couldn’t help but think of Brian Sabean while reading this article.

    San Francisco is a traditional-minded front office and it’s won two championships so it’s not like deviating from analytics automatically makes the Mariners non-contenders. Perhaps it will make the journey more difficult but there are different paths to the top.

  60. ivan on February 1st, 2013 2:09 am

    I remain baffled that the name of Chuck Armstrong does not appear in the main body of the post, and not until the 50th comment in a string of 57.

    Jack does not do his job in a vacuum. This entire post doesn’t make any sense if it fails to take into account Armstrong’s history of meddling in, and fucking up, everything he touches since he arrived on the scene, utterly unqualified, as George Argyros’ gofer.

    I have no idea how much or how little Armstrong is meddling with Jack. Yes, it is possible that he has had no input whatever. But his continued presence at least deserves a mention in any speculation of this type.

  61. MrZDevotee on February 1st, 2013 9:30 am

    And Armstrong doesn’t do his job in a vacuum of suck. He deserves criticism, sure, but let’s not forget the only years the team has ever won over 80 games have all been on his watch (starting the year after he took over, and as recently as 2009). Five times we’ve won over 90 games. We tied the all-time win records in a season on his watch. We won the most games in baseball over a 3 year stretch less than 10 years ago.

    Make no mistake, I’m not an Armstrong/Lincoln supporter, but I’m always amazed when criticism of them ignores any and all positives.

    Anything wrong is his meddling… Anything right, it’s obviously despite his presence. What a fun job he has.

    A couple losing seasons, it’s because of his meddling… Then they bring in all hardcore baseball guys, and stand back, and they lose 100 games… And, it’s still mostly his fault?

    THEN… They get rid of most of those front office guys, for new front office guys, and before even considering any results… Yep, an awful move, all his fault.

  62. TIFO on February 1st, 2013 9:45 am

    It seems pretty clear the M’s are struggling to convince any free agent good to great hitter to come to the Mariners, seemingly partially because nobody wants to be the only guy who can hit and because of Safeco’s reputation.

    To get around this the M’s have moved in the fences. But that seemed to not help too much in player perception. Z still got shutdown by Hamilton and Upton and maybe more. So now he needs to demonstrate that people can hit in the new Safeco. It’s a critical year in that way. If people still don’t hit, moving in the fences will have done nothing for player perception. So Z went out and got a few players on 1 year contracts who can hit and hit dingers.

    This way next year he can say “see, now you can hit at Safeco.” In reality, moving in the fences isn’t going to do that much, but that’s not what is important. It’s player perception that is and having something tangible to point to.

    I think a lot of the moves this offseason were about that and maybe taking some pressure, offensively speaking, off some of the young players, more than a shift in organizational philosophy.

    One more year to let talent develop and come up from the minors and hopefully a better chance of convincing good hitters to come to the Mariners in 2014 and beyond.

    Based on the M’s having gone after Hamilton, Upton, and rumor has it having been in on Grienke, what the M’s ultimately did wasn’t plan A. But it’s not a bad plan B given where the organization is right now.

  63. amnizu on February 1st, 2013 10:24 am

    >It seems pretty clear the M’s are struggling to convince any free agent good to great hitter to come to the Mariners, seemingly partially because nobody wants to be the only guy who can hit and because of Safeco’s reputation

    By this logic good to great free agent pitchers should be tripping all over themselves to pitch here. They should be openly expressing an interest in playing for Seattle as it should inflate their stats and make them more valuable. What we’ve seen over the past few seasons is (other than Felix’s extension) that is not the case.

    No major free agent signings of any type, pitchers included, points to another cause.

  64. MrZDevotee on February 1st, 2013 11:28 am

    Only flaw there (and I agree overall) is that pitchers know, from watching a perennial Cy Young candidate pitch here, that it’s nearly impossible to win with our offense. And, given the debate over whether Felix deserved the Cy he has by national pundits, most pitchers realize wins get them contracts as much, if not moreso, than ERA. And being on a winning team gets you wins.

  65. IllinoisMsFan on February 1st, 2013 12:55 pm

    MrZDevottee, you’re wrong about Armstrong:

    “the only years the team has ever won over 80 games have all been on his watch (starting the year after he took over, and as recently as 2009)”

    Armstrong was part of the M’s well before the first season they won over 80 games. He was president from 83-89, left when Smulyan bought the team, and then returned in 93. So… actually, he wasn’t part of the franchise the first time they played .500 (1991).

    Plus, while you can site the “good years” for Armstrong, the bad years are much, much more plentiful. During the years Armstrong has been with the club, the M’s have finished last in their division 12 times. And 2nd to last in the old 7 team AL West another two times.

    If it wasn’t for a period of five to six years where the M’s had arguably four future Hall of Famers on the team (and the team still didn’t even get to a WS), we’d be talking about a stretch of absolute absurd futility.

    Armstrong’s title is “President of Baseball Operations”. I’d love to have a job where I’m president of “operations” and get to keep my job after over 20 years of suckiness.

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