Jack Zduriencik To Be Mariners’ GM Until He Isn’t
A two-part story about a general manager. Just about a decade ago, the Diamondbacks hired Josh Byrnes to serve as the team’s GM. A little while in, Byrnes was given an almost unheard-of eight-year contract extension, that would’ve run through 2015. He was let go in the middle of 2010.
But, not to worry — Byrnes landed on his feet, getting picked up by the Padres in October 2011. That was right when Jed Hoyer went over to work with the Cubs. It was reported that Byrnes had a long-term contract and an option, lasting through 2017. A couple months ago, Byrnes was dismissed.
I bring this up because news is out that the Mariners have signed Jack Zduriencik to a multi-year extension. Or Jack Zduriencik has signed Jack Zduriencik to a multi-year extension, I don’t know how this works. But, before, the Mariners extended Zduriencik for one season. Before, the Mariners kept quiet about it, citing organizational policy, or something. This time the contract covers multiple years, and the Mariners sent out a press release, complete with a quote from Kevin Mather. So it’s an opposite situation, and, here are Mather’s words:
“Since Jack took over after the 2008 season, we have been building toward our ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series. We believe, with the efforts of Jack and his staff, we are now well-positioned as an organization to be a contender for many years to come.”
So let’s go back to Byrnes again. Some words upon his dismissal:
“The search for a new General Manager begins immediately,” Dee said. “We are looking for someone who can define, direct and lead this franchise’s baseball philosophy for years to come.” (source)
“You expect better performance. We gave baseball ops [operations] a clean slate as far as what they want and what they want to do,” Fowler said. “We’re standing here as a result of that not working.” (source)
That’s June of 2014. That’s just several weeks ago, that the Padres finally decided to make a dramatic organizational change. Here’s some stuff from April 2013:
Without being asked about Josh Byrnes, the new Padres owners are bringing up his name and saying how terrific he is.
Ron Fowler said he trusts the 42-year-old general manager will make “smart baseball decisions.”
“The more I get to know Josh Byrnes, the more I like him,” Peter Seidler said.
Byrnes has a knack for getting a baseball team’s big shots to believe in him.
The Padres loved Josh Byrnes until they didn’t love the team he’d built, and then they let Josh Byrnes go. It was the second time Byrnes had been fired in the middle of a long-term contract, the point being: any GM who gets fired gets fired in the middle of a contract. Any player who gets cut gets cut in the middle of a contract. The Mariners got rid of Chone Figgins with money left to pay out, and Figgins was due a hell of a lot more money than Jack Zduriencik is.
I don’t mean for this whole post to be about the fact that Zduriencik can still be fired, because that seems kind of cynical in what’s been something of a magical year, but it’s an important point to keep in mind. A multi-year extension isn’t a job-security guarantee. It’s a money guarantee, and a job-security suggestion. Jack Zduriencik was the Mariners’ general manager, and he is the Mariners’ general manager. He is to remain the Mariners’ general manager until their general manager is somebody else. Depending on which way their fortunes go, the Mariners could have a new GM in a year and a half, or they could keep the same guy for as long as they keep Felix.
What this is is a thank-you, an acknowledgment of how well the team has been playing. It’s a commitment to the Zduriencik way for at least a little bit longer, as the Mariners are throwing their support behind the team’s current direction. It’s a vote of confidence without the negative connotations, and, why wouldn’t one expect exactly this? The Mariners are in the race and statistically a good baseball team for the first time in more than a decade. Zduriencik’s contract was almost up and there was no clear reason to let him go. A line thrown around last winter was that Zduriencik and the rest of his front office would make moves to try to save their jobs. I don’t think that’s how they behaved, but if a good year was going to be enough to keep everyone around, well, hasn’t it been a good year, last night be damned? Hasn’t Zduriencik constructed a successful roster? Do the Mariners not somehow look like one of the best teams in baseball?
The future has been touched but not mortgaged, and the team is a legitimate World Series contender. A front office shouldn’t be judged only on its most recent results, but the Mariners were never going to make a change after a year like this, so we’ve got seemingly significant news that really isn’t that significant in truth. And while we all have our opinions of Zduriencik, and while many have lower opinions of him than we had some years back, lately he hasn’t done that many objectionable things. The Mariners of 2013 were a disaster, but perhaps the organization learned from that. I don’t know, maybe I’m reaching, but a commitment to a GM is like a commitment to a player. You’re not paying a player because of what he’s already done. You pay him because of what you think he will do. Zduriencik doesn’t always have to be the same guy with the same ideas. God knows we already saw him shift course once.
I know, this past trade deadline, there was stuff written up about how Zduriencik is really hard to deal with. Those lines have been floating around for years, and they’re not the stuff of fiction. Certain people really don’t like trying to engage Zduriencik in a negotiation, but then, look at what just happened. Zduriencik added Kendrys Morales, he added Chris Denorfia, and he added Austin Jackson. He was far from inactive, and if his personality worked to his detriment, I’d need to see the evidence. He does annoying things, but they might not have an effect on the roster he builds. I don’t like when I have to call my bank, but sometimes I need to call my bank.
My outlook is hopelessly biased by what’s been happening the last five months. With just a little worse luck, the Mariners could be 59-71 instead of 71-59, and Zduriencik could be the exact same guy, and I’d be fine with seeing him leave. I think that mostly captures where I am. I’m pretty much certain he’s not the best GM in the sport. I’m pretty much certain he’s not even in the top half. But now it’s hard to see him as a catastrophe, especially if he’s learned from past lessons, so, what guarantee is there that the next front office would be markedly superior? At the recent Saber Seminar, one of the speakers — I don’t remember who — remarked that it’s harder to build a great team now than it was, because the gaps between organizational intelligence have been reduced. Most teams know, now, a good deal and a bad deal. The inefficiencies are fewer and farther between. How much worse is the Zduriencik front office than another, really? What is the Mariners’ disadvantage? Do they even have a meaningful disadvantage? How much of what we think of as general managing is coaching and player development?
I like this team that Zduriencik has built, and it seems capable of winning now and also in 2015. So it makes sense to me to let Zduriencik at least see that window through. I’m not so much in love with the Zduriencik front office, but I can’t rip on it today, not after it’s finally managed to put a winner together. If things go south again, Zduriencik could be made to pay the price. He doesn’t truly have that much security. He’s just the guy the team likes the most now, and, who could forget the image of Chone Figgins smiling in his introductory press conference? When things change, things can change.
If you’re upset by this news, you’re asking that the Mariners make their decision based on the process, instead of the results. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect any organization to let Zduriencik go after a season like this — the results might’ve come out of the process. How much can we say about the process? How much does the process have in common with last year’s process? How much does a GM even have to do with the wins and losses of the team on the field? Situations can look different when Dustin Ackley doesn’t suck. My gut tells me one day we might reflect on this afternoon with a certain degree of sorrow, but you know what they say about predicting baseball. All this is is another step of the ride.