One More Year, Or More Or Less Than That

Jeff Sullivan · August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

13 Responses to “One More Year, Or More Or Less Than That”

  1. Westside guy on August 22nd, 2013 4:17 pm

    Amateur scouting – no question the org is good at that. Major league level, though? I know they brought in Raul for some intangible leadership quality, but it’s hard to see how the Morse pickup was expected to be anything more than a wash.

    That’s what I don’t get. They can identify talent – they picked up Morales, they picked up Guti, even Figgins looked like a good pick up at the time. But then there are things like tying up two roster spots with bad DHs (Sweeney/Griffey), signing four guys in one off-season, all of whom really should only be at 1B or DH, and so on – stuff that had “this is stupid” stamped on it from the get-go. Does Jack occasionally forget to take his medication or something?

  2. MrZDevotee on August 22nd, 2013 6:25 pm

    I can’t help but wonder when the offseason didn’t go as planned (ie, Hamilton/Upton) if Z and the ownership decided “let’s wait till NEXT offseason if we’re gonna spend money” and then stopped looking at last offseason as do-or-die and started looking at NEXT offseason that way…?

    And Z wanted to be sure he would be around to get a chance to make it happen, so asked that they extend him one more year. Or they offered.

    Would seem reasonable. And would also be why they’d agree to one more year in such a meager, un-ceremonial way. “Let’s give this one more year… And just sign some 1 year guys this season to get there.”

  3. scraps on August 22nd, 2013 7:04 pm

    And that’s what I’m afraid of. One of the things that I’m afraid of.

  4. Dennisss on August 22nd, 2013 7:21 pm

    “…the front now office isn’t the front office the Mariners had in 2009.” I’m holding out hope that the front office in 2014 won’t be the same as it is this year. With a stronger cast around Zduriencik, maybe he can still be the GM to turn things around.

  5. killeverything on August 22nd, 2013 10:42 pm

    I hate to be such a negative nancy, but his failures far outweigh his successes. I know he tried to get THE big free agent last offseason and wasn’t chosen. Could you imagine what the team would look like if Hamilton signed here? A Figgins2.0 ( who wasn’t stoked about that one? ), he dodged a bullet there.

    The problem is as I see it is I don’t know any other options. Are they going to rebuild again? While I’m not enthused for one more year to see his team play under .500 again. There isn’t another option that I’m aware of so they extend the guy that traded Pineda, Fister and brought in Eric Wedge to manage. Great.

  6. MrZDevotee on August 23rd, 2013 1:58 am

    It’s odd to me how the lessons about the “dangers of free agents” (or trades) get thrown out the window if you don’t sign any free agents, or win all your trade offers.

    Z gets blamed for acquiring Figgins, Smoak, Ackley and Montero–4 guys that arguably every team in the league wanted if given the chance when we acquired them. (Ackley as a consensus #2 draft pick.) Through sheer bad luck, none of them has amounted to much so far (though ironically the one we all wanted cast off last season has seemingly turned a corner– J.Smoak… We all get a pass for saying he should be jettisoned from the team as quickly as possible, last season? Me included… Yet Z is awful, and inexcusably clueless, for keeping him here when he was bad?).

    And, the flip side… NOT signing someone, which ends up being a good thing, is still a sign of his same awfulness because he was merely “dodging a bullet” that time?

    Proverbial “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”…

    He just got derided for trading Pineda above… A guy who hasn’t contributed a single inning of Major League baseball since the trade. And then in the same breath– Fister, a guy who’s been better since he left… (Toss the coin, heads or tails it’s Z’s fault…)

    Basically, he got blamed for not getting Hamilton and Upton this offseason, and then got blamed for almost getting Hamilton and Upton (overpaying in Upton’s case)… (scratches head) Heck, there have been half real criticisms thrown at him for not acquiring Giancarlo Stanton by now… The most obvious move he’s overlooked because he’s not a good GM! (?) Some of the suggestions of “packages” we should have traded for Stanton were bizarrely laughable… “We’ll give you six of our awful players for your 1 good one!”

    We screamed for his head– fire him already!!! (Me included…) Right when his ‘actual’ best talent acquisitions were making their MLB debuts, and ended up hitting 1st and 2nd in our lineup, less than a month into their careers… And because they held their own, suddenly the “we’re ruining these young guys by asking too much of them too early” chants (mine included) disappeared… Which was the loudest chant going on 6 months ago…

    I think the lesson here is just HOW HARD it is to build a perennially contending team in MLB. “But Billy Beane!… But Tampa!…” And yeah, small sample size? Cherry picking? More and more it’s starting to look like AAA success is an absolute NON-indicator of true MLB potential.

    Mike Trout anyone? How many teams during the amateur draft said, outloud, “Nah, we don’t want the best young player in baseball…Pass…?”

    And the ongoing “his bad is way worse than his good” arguments about Z, where of course we all know the bad… But it’s an argument which never includes…

    >>>TYSON GILLIES & PHILLIPE AUMONT became: Temporary Cliff Lee + Justin Smoak + Blake Beavan + John Jaso then Mike Morse + Aaron Laffey

    >>>JJ PUTZ/JEREMY REED/SEAN GREEN became:
    Death To Flying Things + Mike Carp + Endy Chavez + Jason Vargas then Kendrys Morales (wow)

    >>>FABIAN WILLIAMSON (who? exactly…) became:
    David Aardsma and 38 saves

    >>> NATHAN ADCOCK, RONNY CEDENO, JEFF CLEMENT, BRETT LORIN, AARON PRIBANIC became:
    Ian Snell & Jack Wilson

    >>> RUBEN FLORES (who? exactly…) became:
    Bill Hall and then Casey Kotchman

    >>> EZEQUEIL CARRERA & JUAN DIAZ became:
    Russell Branyan

    >>> MAIKEL CLETO became:
    Brendan Ryan

    Those are all great swaps… The guys who left did nothing… The guys who came here contributed mostly at the MLB level…

    The guys we got “far outweigh” the guys he gave up…

    Yet, none of them were flashy, so they don’t breach the surface of “wow”…

    But “wow” isn’t always the path to success…

    Look at Toronto this year… Major haul of awesome players this season… Supposed to compete for the AL East title. Ahem… Oops. Angels? (Ouch… “Hi, Josh Hamilton… Albert Pujols…”) The Red Sox during the Bobby V experiment… “Fried chicken and beer, oh my…”

    Realistic expectations and baseball just don’t seem to go hand in hand… And, being a baseball GM appears to be a really really really REALLY hard thing to do successfully and sustainably… (Waving over to the other coast at Brian Cashman – “how’s it goin’ bud?”… Waving over to the other coast at Theo Epstein “what’z up, bud… er wait, you’re in Chicago now?”)

    I think it’s wrong to overlook the fact that if half of our sure thing foursome moves (Smoak, Ackley, Montero, Figgins) had panned out, things would be very different right now. And success was just as likely as the outcome we got instead. It’s a total process/results dilemma… The process of gaining all 4 of those talents were no-brainers, and envied by many rival GM’s. And that’s not even including we said “no” to Montero to get Smoak… Then still got Montero anyways.

    Has he been great? Well, no… Has he turned the club around competely and made us yearly contenders in the toughest division in baseball (AL East-esque)…? No.

    But guess what… We’re 31-26 vs the AL West this season (Detroit is 13-13 vs the AL West)… And that includes an awful series versus the Astro to start the season…

    Oh, and Seager. (The Rodney Dangerfield move of the Z era… Our own Dave was down on the idea that Kyle Seager could be an everyday contributor at 3B in the majors… And we were all wrong. If only Ackley could be that good…)

  7. smb on August 23rd, 2013 7:29 am

    I believe they might be able to blind squirrel their way to a WS if the team were in the NL, but as long as they have to do at least 2 of 3 out of the following– 1. outthink Oakland; 2. outspend Anaheim; or 3. outscore Texas, plus beat Houston just to make the playoffs (okay that part’s probably a formality), then I think our chances at a WS appearance are slim under this executive leadership. At least as long as they remain committed to a middling confusion of pieces of different philosophies haphazardly executed as a roster construction strategy. I, too, miss the more hands-off HoChuck…I feel like they are back to exerting their will on the roster construction process, even if only indirectly, and we will probably never see a WS until they’re gone.

  8. eponymous coward on August 23rd, 2013 7:57 am

    I think the lesson here is just HOW HARD it is to build a perennially contending team in MLB.

    OK, fine.

    So please show me the list of MLB general managers who had 5 years worse than Bill Bavasi as Mariner GM at the beginning of their careers who went on to do anything notable as a GM (aside from likely getting fired). I’m going to submit it’s not a very long list.

    The 2013 team is about what I expected- not particularly good. There’s some upside surprise (Smoak). There’s some downside surprise (Saunders). There’s some perfectly predictable messes (the outfield and catcher, weak bottom of the rotation). The entire package isn’t much different than the projection at the beginning of the season of “this team isn’t very good, or actually, good at all, or even mediocre”. Given that, I’m not impressed with the quality of the team and quality of decisions. It seems to me we’ve got a GM and organization that is finally making the cut on player development, but is still failing at 25 man roster assembly. You kind of need both to be a really good organization.

    So, you’re giving Zduriencik a pass on 2013, just like 2009-2012. When does he stop getting passes? What does he have to do to not have you in his fan club? Another 100 loss season? The Astros finish ahead of us?

    More and more it’s starting to look like AAA success is an absolute NON-indicator of true MLB potential.

    Good grief. No. One just has to understand AAA stats (and of course sometimes things are wrong because “predictive” is not “100% accurate”, since this future thing is still a guess). But if AAA stats weren’t predictive at all, sabremetrics would have been strangled in the crib in the 1970′s/1980′s. That was one of the first things it started to show us.

    Has he turned the club around competely and made us yearly contenders in the toughest division in baseball

    You do realize that the AL West is as a group below .500, right, and 3 out of the 5 teams in the division are also below .500?

    Hint: there is an AL division that’s above .500 as a group. It’s not this one.

    We’re 31-26 vs the AL West this season (Detroit is 13-13 vs the AL West)…

    This doesn’t particularly mean anything, since they hand out playoff spots against how you play against ALL the teams on the schedule, and given that the AL West isn’t a tough division.

    And we were all wrong

    Actually, no, we were not all wrong.

    eponymous coward on October 5th, 2011 12:49 pm
    So, basically, Kyle Seager is the new Willie Bloomquist? 200 PAs a year as a utility infielder?

    I’m not buying it. That’s wasting a player. Basically, I think Seager’s probably the new Kevin Kouzmanoff (but batting LH)- nothing flashy, probably a little less power and a little more walks/batting average, but a decent ~2-3 WAR regular at 3B. His minor league stats blow Princess Willie’s away, and he raced up through the minors to the majors without looking lost at any particular pro level, which is exactly what you want someone who’s capable of significant contributions at the MLB level to do.

    So far he’s a little better than that, but that’s an everyday contributor. (Note use of minor league and AAA stats.)

  9. SeattleSlew on August 23rd, 2013 11:31 am

    @MrZ

    If your child got a D grade average in school year after year would you still congratulate him/her for not getting an F?

  10. SeattleSlew on August 23rd, 2013 11:34 am

    “He just got derided for trading Pineda above… A guy who hasn’t contributed a single inning of Major League baseball since the trade.”

    I can guarantee to you that Pineda still will end up having more success in the in the big leagues than Montero ever will.

    Jack didn’t dodge a bullet when he failed to acquire Josh Hamilton or Justin Upton, the bullet didn’t want to hit him.

  11. Westside guy on August 23rd, 2013 1:56 pm

    Wait a minute… Justin Upton is actually turning out a pretty typical year for himself – .855 OPS so far in 2013. That’s not remotely like the Hamilton case. Upton would’ve been a good pickup for the right price.

    However Zduriencik offered the moon and the stars for Upton, and Justin didn’t want to come here. Z gets no credit for that – his bad overpay was on the table! And remember, he tried to get Hamilton too – Z doesn’t get credit for the Angels making a bigger offer, does he?

    Z lucked out of a couple big mistakes he made. He made a good decision in picking up Morales for Vargas – but then picked up three other guys whose best position is the same as Kendrys’. These guys have accumulated roughly ZERO WAR for the season between them thanks to their incompetence playing corner outfield – guys who’ve contributed to the team scoring roughly a dozen runs more than last year’s team, but giving up in the ballpark of A HUNDRED EXTRA RUNS in the process.

    This wasn’t exactly a stellar offseason for the guy.

  12. amnizu on August 23rd, 2013 4:40 pm

    I think we have to try and predict GM success in the same way we try to predict player success. We use the data we have available and that is past performance.

    So far, Zduriencik’s past performance in evaluating, negotiation and signing free agents has been poor at best and but for a few strokes of luck might have been disastrous. In addition, he has failed to target undervalued free agents, most recently in Bourn and Swisher.

    In my opinion this team should be able to afford and sign three to four free agents (2 OF, 1 SP, 1 RP) that can push them at or over the 85 win mark and make them a contender this off season.

    However, based upon his past performance Zduriencik is not the person to be entrusted to do this. Rebuilding should be considered over and the remainder of Felix’s contract needs to be considered “win now” time.

  13. Athanasius on August 26th, 2013 3:43 pm

    The argument in defense of Zduriencik is never that his results at the major league level have been “good enough.” It’s that he made aquisitions (Figgins, Guti, Smoak, Montero, Ackley) that were well thought of at the time he made them and were moves that represented “good process.” Having a good process to making decisions has been cited over and over on the blogosphere as being the true litmus test for success rather than getting good results. Now, he is being criticized for not getting good results for many of these same moves, which is what is being pointed out above.

    However, based on the moves of the last offseason coupled with the turnover in the FO itself, we might discern that the process has changed for Zduriencik, et al. In my view, this is a more nuanced and legitimate criticism of the FO rather than blasting Zduriencik for not getting results for moves that had previously been widely supported.

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