Jack Zduriencik To Be Mariners’ GM Until He Isn’t

Jeff Sullivan · August 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


20 Responses to “Jack Zduriencik To Be Mariners’ GM Until He Isn’t”

  1. stevemotivateir on August 26th, 2014 3:59 pm

    Holy crap, I can’t believe they extended him!

    So to be clear, a winning record and contending will get a GM an extension.

    Got it.

    Do we have a set lineup for tonight yet?

  2. Slats on August 26th, 2014 4:04 pm

    Asked about his relationship with Jack Z, McClendon got a sly grin and said: “We’re probably as dysfunctional as dysfunctional can get.”

  3. PackBob on August 26th, 2014 4:04 pm

    If only Jack had made all the right decisions and all his players and prospects had worked out, I’d be behind him 100%.

  4. IdahoFan on August 26th, 2014 4:08 pm

    Aren’t you young? You write with the perspective, dare I say wisdom, of an older person.

    I agree with this: “. . . what guarantee is there that the next front office would be markedly superior?”

    As a fan, I care most about me and me wants to see a winning baseball team. If the GM is a jerk-or not-doesn’t really matter. I’d like a GM that commands respect and treats others well but mostly I want a winner.

  5. diderot on August 26th, 2014 4:30 pm

    I trust Z is sending autographed copies of that contract to Baker, Blengino and Wedge.

  6. Eastside Crank on August 26th, 2014 4:32 pm

    Learned from past mistakes? Uncle Fester would be a Mensa candidate if he could do that. McClendon is the manager because Wedge quit. Young is the improbable star pitcher because another pitcher refused the Mariner’s offer and Detroit inexplicably allowed Fister to go to the Nationals making Young available. Fester’s big 3 pitchers are not panning out. Pineda was unloaded on the Yankees for a one dubious tool player and is now leading the Yankees charge for the last Wild Card spot. Last season, all that mattered was the ability to pull the ball and hit homeruns – defense be damned. A renewed interest in defense would be more believable if the Mariners were not on their 3rd centerfielder. The only thing that makes sense is that Lincoln made this decision and he has proven time and time again that he is clueless in regards to how to run a baseball team.

  7. californiamariner on August 26th, 2014 4:41 pm

    I can’t believe I’m about to defend him, but I feel like Jack Z has actually done a pretty good job over the past year. There was no massive contract that would kill the team for years, like the one we feared with Nelson Cruz or another mediocre player. (Okay, the Cano contract might be a problem down the road, but he’s been an absolute star and if we’re going to see a lot of money spent I would assume it be done on the best free agent and one of the best handful of players in the game). There was also never the major trade we all feared that would give away all of our best prospects.

    The Corey Hart move hasn’t panned out but everybody liked the low risk, high reward behind it.

    Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson looks pretty solid and locks up CF for at least 2015 as well.

    However, the lack of outfield, catching, and starting pitching depth we’ve gone into the season looking at for the past 2 years is a little scary. Chris Young was a very lucky find. Elias has been better than anyone imagined. This season easily could have been destroyed by a lack of pitching behind Felix and Iwakuma.

    Do I think he’s an above average gm? No, I really don’t. But he was obviously going to come back in 2015 after the success they’ve had so far in 2014 and I don’t think his job security for beyond 2015 is really all that different.

  8. terryoftacoma on August 26th, 2014 4:43 pm

    He is until he isn’t can be said about most GM’s.

    This doesn’t surprise me one bit. The announcement doesn’t surprise me, either, when you consider all the flack they took after last season when people found out Z had already been extended.

  9. Westside guy on August 26th, 2014 5:35 pm

    Yeah, given this season – the extension was pretty much a given.

    I’m still not sold on the guy as a GM, but I certainly couldn’t make a good case for letting him go this season.

  10. Paul B on August 26th, 2014 6:02 pm

    Making a list of positive things Z has done, I would not include Morales.

  11. Eastside Crank on August 26th, 2014 6:09 pm

    This season is not over. Why not wait and see how this team finishes before getting all starry eyed. I still do not see much of a core going forward.

  12. diderot on August 26th, 2014 6:40 pm

    Ah, Savannah, you’ve expanded your reach…but not your perspective.

  13. Section329 on August 26th, 2014 7:30 pm

    Agree with you, Westie. Going into the season counting on Gutierrez and acquiring Morales were boneheaded, but he didn’t give up the farm this year.

  14. Kazinski on August 26th, 2014 9:16 pm

    Jack has made his share of mistakes, but he’s drafted well, and hasn’t made any disastrous free agent signings. And most of his trades have turned out well. The Fister trade was a disaster. Getting Smoak for Lee didn’t work out, but it did look good on paper, nobody raised any red flags at the time. Everyone thought Ackley was a can’t miss, I’m not blaming that on him, especially the way Ackley is playing now.

    The farm system is churning out some very good arms and good young infielders.

    The bottom line is he rebuilt the farm system and if we can get a decent DH this team can contend for a while. It took him too long to get here, and now that we’re here it doesn’t make sense not to keep him.

  15. schneidler on August 26th, 2014 9:51 pm

    I’m afraid I’m with Eastside Crank on this one. As Giancarlo Stanton said yesterday when asked to reflect on the recent success of the Marlins, “5 months doesn’t change 5 years.”

    I’m admittedly scarred by the Geoff Baker piece, which seemed to confirm all of my worst fears regarding how the org for the most part fails to understand statistical analysis. He may not be the worst GM in the game, but I think he has to be in the bottom half dozen or so. And apparently he is an insecure bully and jerk as well (in particular regarding the fall of Carmen Fusco). And while yes, the gap between the best and worst orgs is narrowing, its not like it has disappeared. I think the M’s have won despite Jack, not because of him. There is a ton of natural variability year to year. Remember when the M’s were quasi-contenders under Bill Bavasi? The brass was so fired up they pulled the trigger on the Jones/Bedard trade the following offseason. Ufda. I like some of Jack’s moves, even some that didn’t work out like Corey Hart. But mostly, no. I think the next guy actually *would* be a big upgrade, although thats only true if Lincoln et al have learned anything from the last 2 disastrous hires, which seems depressingly unlikely. That’s where change most needs to happen.

    Go M’s!

  16. LongDistance on August 27th, 2014 12:44 am

    At this point, the only thing I feel about Jacky Z. is that I don’t know how to feel about him. This was driven home a few weeks ago when, having lucked into a few second level tickets and was strolling in behind the private boxes, I crossed his path as he and his clan made their way toward the seats. I saw him coming a long way off, and every step I took as we got closer swung me from fleeting feelings of benign appreciation … of something … to the longer-standing feelings of nearly irredeemable irritation. I see a guy capable of landing a contention-oriented foundation piece like Cano, but then slopping on, for mortar, WFB. For me, this was throwing money around with the 1000 Monkeys philosophy … with enough of the one, you’ve got Beethoven, with the other, you’ve got a contender. This is going to be a fascinating off-season.

  17. CCW on August 27th, 2014 12:24 pm

    I think he and most of the rest of the front office are irritating and generally not very good at what they do. I think long-term success for the franchise is going to require a total makeover. That said, you’re right – Jack had to be extended under the circumstances. It’s a little sad that we’re going to be subjected to dysfunctional leadership for a while longer, but if that’s the price of this year’s success, I’ll take it.

  18. Woodcutta on August 27th, 2014 12:47 pm

    Until this front office shows they understand how to put together an actual team and not bits and pieces of one, I will not back them.

  19. Adam S on August 28th, 2014 12:30 am

    You can’t really fire a guy or just offer a one-year extension to a GM who might win executive of the year. Not saying he should or deserves it but if the M’s go from 71 wins to playoffs, a lot of things will fall in their laps.

    That said the success this year seems to be a result of luck rather than design. Morrison, Hart, and Morales haven’t contributed at all and the former two haven’t been able to stay on he field. Bloomquist has indeed been a $3M replacement level player. The success of the team is that Seager and King Felix have had big years and Young, who seems more like an afterthought than a plan, has outpitched his peripherals.

    Rodney was a good signing. I hope in the end we got enough value for Franklin.

    Not sure how to assess Zduriencik as anything other than well below average.

  20. eponymous coward on August 28th, 2014 8:39 am

    That said the success this year seems to be a result of luck rather than design. Morrison, Hart, and Morales haven’t contributed at all and the former two haven’t been able to stay on he field. Bloomquist has indeed been a $3M replacement level player. The success of the team is that Seager and King Felix have had big years and Young, who seems more like an afterthought than a plan, has outpitched his peripherals.

    The fact that Seager and King Felix are on the roster is because Zduriencik signed them.

    Also, um, have you heard of this guy called Robinson Cano? 5+ WAR that wasn’t part of the 2013 team? Might make a bit of difference.

    Also, there’s this guy, Hisashi Iwakuma…

    Finally: yes, the guys Z signed as DH/1B/OF fodder haven’t worked out. The difference is that instead of paying $20+ million for DINGERS111!!!, they’re paying 10 million and are playing Ackley in the OF, and the defense isn’t a disaster.

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