One More Year, Or More Or Less Than That
Jack Zduriencik has alluded to how long it can take a new general manager to make a stamp on an organization. The big-league roster can turn over in a hurry, but an organization runs deep, and it takes a while to fill a system with new and promising talent. This year, more than any other, has been about the Mariners becoming the Zduriencik Mariners. We’ve seen young talent graduate to the majors, sometimes faster than expected, and the hyped pitchers are still down in Triple-A. This year has been about sampling the fruits of Zduriencik’s labor, but it’s also been about wondering whether Zduriencik would even stick around to see this all through. We understood this to be Zduriencik’s contract year, and the Mariners are still well under .500.
But as you’ve read by now, it hasn’t actually been a contract year, because as it turns out, the Mariners extended Zduriencik through 2014. And they didn’t just do it, they didn’t do it as a response to the action on the field — apparently this was finalized last offseason. It was kept quiet, successfully, in just another indication of how this organization is basically leak-free. That is, until the information was leaked, but by and large these people don’t talk, especially when there’s uncertainty regarding the on-field coaching staff. Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik have a close working relationship, but right now a big priority is making sure Wedge doesn’t die as a side effect of his job.
There’s not actually much we can take away from this. Extensions for executives don’t work quite the way they do for players. People can still wonder about possible Zduriencik successors. This doesn’t have to be interpreted as a ringing endorsement, because the extension is only for one year, and since it was signed we’ve seen the Mariners play mediocre baseball for five months. Probably, the Mariners didn’t want Zduriencik to feel like he was a lame duck, but now they’re coming up on another identical situation, where Zduriencik will be faced with the final year of his deal. Maybe there’ll be another short-term extension. Maybe there won’t, and maybe we won’t know either way for a very long time.
An important thing to understand is that one-year extensions aren’t one-year guarantees. General managers can get fired, and a fired general manager is a general manager still under contract. The Cubs fired Jim Hendry when he had more than a year left on his deal. These same Mariners fired Bill Bavasi when he was still on the payroll. The Mariners’ present leadership has dismissed an under-contract GM in the recent past, and it’s not out of the question they could do it again. I thought for a while earlier this year that Zduriencik could be shown the door. Within baseball circles, there was plenty of speculation and more than a little prep.
We should, though, operate under the assumption that Zduriencik will remain in charge for at least a little while yet. I don’t feel about him, personally, the way I used to. We’ve written about the changes here in the past, and the front office now isn’t the front office the Mariners had in 2009. It’s a different sort of person wearing Jack Zduriencik’s skin, and the advisors around him have changed. I’m not wild about the Mariners’ present philosophies, and I wasn’t wild about their last offseason. I didn’t care for Plan A, I didn’t care for Plan B, and I didn’t care for Plan C. Josh Hamilton looks like a disaster. Michael Morse has sucked. The price for Justin Upton was steep, although Upton, at least, is playing well again. When I daydream about the Mariners being competitive, it isn’t this front office I imagine being in charge. I want some of them cookie-cutter analysts. Or I at least want Zduriencik the way Zduriencik used to behave.
But no matter how pessimistic you might be, you do have to acknowledge that it isn’t all bad. These guys have strengths, or maybe they have non-weaknesses, and winning GMs don’t have to be young, brainy, Ivy League GMs. This team can scout, and though the major-league moves have left us all wanting, we could always depend on luck. A winning team depends on a whole lot of luck. Luck and talent and good decision-making, but luck plays a role. The Giants won two World Series during the Barry Zito era. I realize I’m talking about luck in a paragraph that began by wanting to talk about organizational strengths. I guess my point is that this team could be run by better personnel, but this team also isn’t a complete disaster. I’d be more concerned if, again, there were a longer-term commitment or guarantee. Zduriencik still has a pretty warm seat.
And this might be his attempted home-run offseason. This might be the winter that Zduriencik really goes for it. You could argue he tried last winter, what with the Hamilton and Upton things, but now there’s another opportunity. There are obvious parallels between the Mariners and the Royals, and last offseason, the Royals tried to go for it. Now the Mariners will have a ton of money to spend, because there aren’t many commitments on the roster, and the free-agent market includes area guys like Tim Lincecum and Jacoby Ellsbury. They’re obvious fits, both of them, and they’ll be available, and the Mariners don’t even have $35 million in 2014 commitments. This could actually be a make-or-break offseason. This could be when Zduriencik goes to town and really tries to make this team good, now.
Or maybe that won’t happen. And Zduriencik has tried to make this team good before. The big takeaway is that Zduriencik will probably be the Mariners’ general manager through this offseason. The one after? That’s not my problem to figure out. You have to figure, at some point, there will need to be results.