The Jack Zduriencik Era is Over

marc w · August 28, 2015 at 10:27 am · Filed Under Mariners 

December 18, 2009 at roughly 10:40am Pacific. The rumor that the M’s had swapped Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley of the Cubs had just been confirmed, and there were unconfirmed stories and quotes from unnamed sources floating around on the still-new platform of Twitter. One of those rumors, one that no one could actually source, was that the deal was a straight swap – despite somewhat unequal contracts and even more unequal 2008 stats, Zduriencik possibly rid himself of the entirety of Silva’s contract. Jon Heyman harshed our buzz and said the M’s were sending $6m to the Cubs, but that wasn’t until 10:45. About 48 hours before, Zduriencik pried Cliff Lee away from Philadelphia for a package headlined by Phillippe Aumont and JC Ramirez. He turned the M’s worst starter into a Cy Young favorite at a cost of a couple of decent prospects AND somehow come out with a league-average bat with the potential for a lot more. It still sounds impossible, even when you know exactly how bad everything went on and off the field. At 10:40am on 12/18/2009, I, and I suspect many other M’s fans, thought the only real worry the M’s had about their GM is that he might ascend to another plane of existence, or force MLB to make rule changes to restore competitive balance (“Jack, you’re not allowed to look directly into other GMs eyes anymore, because wheeeeennnn ok, MLB will allow the Mariners to begin each game with a 2 run lead.”).

For those who’d suffered through the previous GM’s tenure, or for those who came later, all of this optimism must seem pretty strange. We’re the fanbase that’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the next punch to land. There are fans who sincerely believe 2015 is the most disappointing season in M’s history, but I don’t think anyone who lived through 2010 dizzying fall could see 2015 as comparable. The M’s have had plenty of disappointment, even in their greatest years. But there was something about watching a team we believed in too much become the laughingstock of the league – from WS expectations to historically inept – that’s made it hard to invest too much in any M’s team that’s come after it. Let’s be clear: this is MY fault, OUR fault and not Jack’s. But while we all high fived and breathed a sigh of relief when Bavasi left, my feeling’s different now. The intensity of my fandom’s been permanently restricted; I simply can’t be the kind of fan I was at 10:40am, December 18th, 2009 anymore.

A big part of that might be age and life and the way 518 losses in 5.5 years rewires your brain to spare you some pain. But a part of it is that we fell too hard for the idea that the right executive is all you need. That a General Manager can remake an organization, from top to bottom, relatively quickly and have everything just work out. We see this all the time – Cardinals fans believe in their org, and Astros fans will tell you more than you wanted to know about their vaunted Process. But the more you look into them, the more you see just how extensive change needs to be. The Cards aren’t the Cards because of their GM, they’re where they are because of dozens or hundreds of people. A leader can be vital in creating and nurturing a culture that works for player development or pro scouting, but it takes an entire organization to make it work. As fans, we thought at one point that Zduriencik was a kind of cheat code – his blend of scouting acumen and willingness to listen to newfangled metrics would blend the best of old school and new and make the Cardinals look like the St. Louis Browns in short order. Instead, what we saw was a front office that seemed to be at war with itself. Instead of creating a culture, the GM created a growing list of enemies. Nearly every group – from Pro Scouting to Player Development was overhauled, and nothing much seemed to change.

Today, Ryan Divish tweeted out the two words that felt inevitable and overdue.

Kevin Mather released the kind of statement that always accompanies moves like this, and so the M’s search begins in earnest. The new guy (or gal) inherits a farm system in the bottom third in baseball, and with a very good but aging and expensive core. There are a number of strategies the new group could employ, from Astros-style teardown to using their new revenue to essentially buy their way out of rebuilding years. I’ll be a fan, and I look forward to writing about the differences between the new crew and the old one, but I think we’ll all going to look at the early moves – and feel differently about the early moves – than we did back in the heady days of 2008-2009. For now, Jeff Kington will lead the team, while Kevin Mather reviews his list of experienced candidates. Kingston won’t be the permanent GM, which recalls the days in the Bavasi-Zduriencik interregnum when ownership blocked a trade and the M’s couldn’t really begin to retool in earnest. The M’s and fans just have to get through a string of games that feel even more useless than most Septembers’. After that, we’ll try to feel optimistic again.

I’ll end with a stab at optimism: The M’s front office was incapable of building a team to reliably compete in the AL. The M’s realized this and made a change. Realistically, the M’s are further from their goal of competing in the medium term than they were before the year started, but even this helped clarify things and point a way forward. We knew before the year that the M’s had risks at the catcher spot, the bullpen and CF, and those risks have ended up sinking the season. The risks have turned into a shopping list or a player development challenge. Someone else will figure out what to do about these issues, and I’m excited to see what they do. I’ll just never be excited as I was in December of 2009 again.*

* Seriously, what does it say about the M’s that the best many of us have felt about the club in a decade or so came in the offseason?


37 Responses to “The Jack Zduriencik Era is Over”

  1. mksh21 on August 28th, 2015 10:45 am

    I don’t want them to hire a woman. The media can’t handle it and will interject into every story written about the M’s till eternity.

    I’m fine with hiring the second woman GM but I hope some other team breaks the glass ceiling so people like me who don’t give a crap about the sex of the GM don’t have to be reminded of it every 5 minutes.

  2. ck on August 28th, 2015 10:59 am

    Finally !

  3. bluemoonking on August 28th, 2015 11:17 am

    And the final move of the Z era came down as optioning Zunino to AAA.

    I am hoping that the M’s really clean house, including McCheese.

  4. dantheman on August 28th, 2015 11:29 am

    “I’m fine with hiring the second woman GM but I hope some other team breaks the glass ceiling so people like me who don’t give a crap about the sex of the GM don’t have to be reminded of it every 5 minutes.”

    A truly appalling comment.

  5. Zero Gravitas on August 28th, 2015 11:31 am

    Great post. I really have re-wired my brain to dull this pain. Competitive Seahawks football also helps a lot. But it will be nice to have something to look forward to next year as new leadership comes in. And if they fail, I hope they fail fast and get yanked fast. At this point, the idea of constant Mariners turmoil is more appealing to me than consistent Mariners suckiness.

  6. bluemoonking on August 28th, 2015 11:37 am

    Bring in the best person for the job and that is all that matters.

  7. NBarnes on August 28th, 2015 11:55 am

    What dantheman said.

    mksh21: “I don’t want them to hire a woman.”
    also mksh21: “people like me who don’t give a crap about the sex of the GM”

    If people like you are listened to, there will never be a second female GM hired, because there will never be a first female GM hired. And yet, somehow, you think of yourself as someone that doesn’t care about gender.

  8. Westside guy on August 28th, 2015 11:55 am

    After Bavasi was canned, I remember lobbying (to you guys, obviously not to the team) the idea that the Mariners should hire Kim Ng. But a) Mather’s comments could be construed as indicating he’ll only consider people who’ve already been a GM before; and b) I wonder if the organization is seen as snake-bit by the rest of the league.

    But c) as others have pointed out, there are only 30 of these jobs and lots of people yearning to be the GM of a baseball team.

    To be honest, I’m both bothered and hopeful regarding Mather’s comments. He obviously realizes there’s a window that’s going to close in the next couple years (although I think he may be overestimating what Cruz will be in contract year 3), and that’s good even if it’s rather obvious. But I am bothered if he means he will only look at previous GMs, since most of the unemployed ones just weren’t good at their job (and are old school to boot). This next few months are going to tell us a lot regarding whether the ownership has figured out they need to be forward thinking, or whether they still think it’s just a matter of identifying the *right* old-school guy.

    I don’t know that I agree with Marc regarding whether a GM can remake an organization. I think Jack Z came in and hired a bunch of good people, and those people were largely responsible for the amazing early 1-2 years. But then Jack Z fired all those people and replaced them with people who weren’t nearly as good at their jobs… in the end, that’s all on the GM.

  9. Evoxx on August 28th, 2015 12:00 pm

    The Seahawks have left the blueprint. Talent evaluation, talent evaluation, talent evaluation. From the top of the organization to the bottom, you cannot build a contender and certainly not a perennial contender without being an organization that is considered one of the best in the sport at evaluating people. The Mariners are stuck with having another professional sports team in the same city that has mastered this area; they cannot keep doing what they’ve been doing.

  10. Zero Gravitas on August 28th, 2015 12:12 pm

    I do also question some of Mather’s comments. I think any MLB GM position is by default desirable. But I am doubtful that Seattle is seen as such a plum opportunity as he seems to think. You have absent or lousy ownership, a bare cupboard in the minors and your team has a massive travel deficit sapping its energy every year. There’s a reason this team has found 14 ways to suck in the past 14 years. They shouldn’t expect that people will be bending over backwards to take the next step of their career here because Seattle’s “a great market”.

  11. Justinodhans on August 28th, 2015 12:14 pm

    Lincoln needs to go, too. I don’t see that happening though. The inside talent has been bad for quite awhile, at least the development of said talent, no matter how hot a prospect they are, the M’s don’t seem to be able to develop it. Maybe Edgar can help with the bats, we’ll see about the rest.

  12. LongDistance on August 28th, 2015 12:20 pm

    If it was left to Howard, the next GM would be Ronald McDonald. Wouldn’t it be nice, for the next news cycle, to hear he’s finally retiring along with the M’s murky ownership.

    Anyway, nice wrap-up, Marc.

  13. rjfrik on August 28th, 2015 12:29 pm

    I haven’t been this happy as a Mariners fan in at least a decade. I’m on cloud nine. The witch is dead. Ding dong the witch is dead!!!!

  14. Westside guy on August 28th, 2015 12:36 pm

    One Z quote Drayer passed along was interesting.

    @shannondrayer – Zduriencik’s last move was to send Zunino down “This was for his best. Just a breather a break. We would have liked to have done it sooner.”

    I’m trying to figure this out… what was stopping him from sending Zunino down “sooner”? It’s been obvious for a couple years now that it needed to happen. Jack even had a capable replacement in hand, but then turned him into the completely unnecessary Mark Trumbo.

    Unfortunately, they took so long it’s possible Zunino is now permanently broken.

  15. dantheman on August 28th, 2015 12:44 pm

    “After Bavasi was canned, I remember lobbying (to you guys, obviously not to the team) the idea that the Mariners should hire Kim Ng.”

    She’s still available.

  16. Shoeless Jose on August 28th, 2015 12:46 pm

    I’m trying to figure this out… what was stopping him from sending Zunino down “sooner”? It’s been obvious for a couple years now that it needed to happen. Jack even had a capable replacement in hand, but then turned him into the completely unnecessary Mark Trumbo.

    I’d love Shannon or someone to have followed up with that question, but I expect that chance has passed. My best guess is that Zduriencik still irrationally thought the team had a shot at the postseason and the team therefore needed Zunino (presumably for how much he improves the pitching staff, but knowing Zduriencik he probably thought the team needed Zunino for his ability to hit long home runs very occasionally)

  17. bluemoonking on August 28th, 2015 1:21 pm

    So maybe between Rodney and Zunino, that was the final straw?

    After these many years, does anyone know what the player development and acquisition plan was for the Mariners? Was there a philosophy?

    The next GM needs to be someone with a track record of being involved with the day to day operations of a successful club.

  18. mrakbaseball on August 28th, 2015 1:51 pm

    Not really excited about some of the names of the “experienced” GMs that have been tossed out there.

  19. Eastside Crank on August 28th, 2015 1:53 pm

    Nice write up Marc and thanks for continuing the content during this dreary season.

    This is Mather’s chance to show he is not Tweedledee to Lincoln’s Tweedledum. Hopefully he has learned a lot about running a baseball club this year and will be able to make a competent choice. I also like the idea of seeing if Ng is interested. Of course Cherington is available and meets the experienced GM bar and the analytics bar as well.

  20. WalterNeff on August 28th, 2015 2:56 pm

    dantheman—totally agree. Neanderthal

  21. Woodcutta on August 28th, 2015 3:13 pm

    Isn’t that at least a small part of the reason Michael Sam is no longer in the NFL though, the media circus? I really don’t care who they hire as long as they do a good job but there would be a media circus, at least for a little while, surrounding the first female GM hire.

  22. raul_podzednick on August 28th, 2015 3:35 pm

    How much differently would we feel about Jack Z if ownership had allowed him to sign Nelson Cruz LAST year?

  23. eday on August 28th, 2015 4:05 pm

    Westside guy, zero gravitas, et al:

    Here are Mather’s actual comments.

    He specifically says he’s looking for experience as a “GM or an assistant GM.” That does not suggest they wouldn’t hire an assistant GM.

    “I would lean toward an experienced general manager or an assistant general manager that’s had a heavy hand in the operation. I don’t want to hire someone that’s going to learn on the job for the next two or three years. That is a candidate that I’m not interested.”

  24. mksh21 on August 28th, 2015 5:15 pm

    Not a neanderthal I just get tired of getting a social lesson every time I try to enjoy sports.

    She has interviewed with the Dodgers and Padres a combined 4 times, plus the Mariners and Angels not getting any of them. So I don’t see in any way how she is any different than hordes of other people below other GM’s in baseball, other than people here being fascinated with her here.

    She worked with Colletti and Cashman who are adept and wasting 200 million dollars better than any other GM’s around, so maybe learned what not to do?

    But I guess I’ll just stick to game day posts with the three other people that still watch the games and post rather than have an opinion on team matters that hurts people.

  25. r-gordon-7 on August 28th, 2015 6:15 pm

    Another Kim Ng supporter here (as I was last time ’round), though admittedly for essentially foolishly selfish reasons. She, as am I, is a grad of The University of Chicago – well-known sports powerhouse institution that it is… 😉 😉 😉 And her selection would likely make for some high-quality Mariner-related U of C Seattle Chapter Alumni Assn. events…

    Seriously though, just look at her resume. It includes having been Assistant Director of Baseball Operations for the White Sox, Director of Wavers and Records for the American League, VP & Assistant General Manager for the Yankees, VP & Assistant General Manager for the Dodgers, and since 2011, Senior VP of Baseball Operations for MLB… Yes, she has interviewed for GM spots before, including for the Mariners, without being selected. (As an aside, I wonder where we might be how had she been selected instead of Z… Anyone really believe we’d not be in better shape than we are right now?) In any event, she may not be the perfect candidate – frankly probably no one is. However, the very last thing we need is yet another recycled “old-school guy”. And whatever her shortcomings might be, I doubt being “that” is one of them…

  26. mksh21 on August 28th, 2015 6:46 pm

    I will agree 100% not getting the M’s job was probably the greatest thing to ever happen to her considering the ineptness of the rest of the organization.

  27. martini on August 28th, 2015 7:21 pm

    Jack Z getting fired is good. However, as a fan since ’87, I’ve become adept at curbing my enthusiasm during these types of moments.

    It took about seven years for the CEO and the Prez to realize that Jack Z is not competent and that he never was. Neither was Bavasi before him.

    The M’s are expert at mediocrity. They hire mediocre GMs, who hire mediocre coaches, who produce mediocre players. Considering the players in the farm system, the scouts are probably mediocre too.

    I’m hoping the next GM is better. If they hire a re-tread with a spotty record, I hope they recognize when it is not working before a half dozen years are up.

  28. californiamariner on August 28th, 2015 8:02 pm

    Honestly, I kind of hope the Mariners hire a GM I’ve never heard of before. I just feel like hiring a re-tread never results in finding a genius that dramatically improves the team.

  29. Bryce on August 28th, 2015 8:34 pm

    Hire Jason McLeod. And then have him stock the front office with former Cubs and Red Sox employees.

  30. goalieump413 on August 28th, 2015 10:40 pm

    Jack Z going bye bye is a good thing, and just at the right time too. Mather pointed out that he wished he’d done it sooner, but I strongly believe these are just “effect” words, emphasizing his patience and faith in his GM (characteristics he’ll need going forward throughout the hiring process).

    But maybe more importantly than timing is baseball sense. Here in this town, we’ve become accustomed to a winning formula, that begins with talent evaluation, continues with talent development, and ends with said talent executing on the field. The Seahawks have made a bold statement in the NW, and around the NFL that doing things a little differently can, and has so far, produced great results. Wins. Championship expectations. A championship. In a way, we’re spoiled a little now, and naturally transfer that same expectation to the only other pro team in town.

    I guess Jack Z never caught on. The idea is pretty simple: build a strong, organically grown organization at all levels, and give fair warning to any chump on the ML roster that sits back and collects his guaranteed money: There’s a kid down on the farm pushing you out the door! Like the late Bill Walsh would tell his 49ers players, that they’re going to be replaced someday with younger, bigger, stronger players that are hungry.

    But, instead of this, we received news that Jack Z shook things up in the front office, letting people go (likely because they stood up for themselves, continuing to provide their boss with facts, even if those facts were bad news). Way to go Jack! Clean out the front office and replace good baseball people with bowling pins!

    I like the tone of Mather’s comments to the media. He seems genuine that he was done with Jack. In a way, his job’s on the line too, and putting together a winning ML team and a strong farm has to be done, or his time as an exec will be mired with piddly baseball viewed by an intoxicated crowd. I also like his willingness to pay attention to the facts that sabermetricians around the league report. Seems to me, there’s a good reason: Facts don’t care who’s reading. Facts are democratic. Facts are dismissed only by those not willing to open their eyes.

    I don’t care who becomes the next M’s GM, as long as I get a ring-side seat to the moves this individual will take in his/her first offseason with the M’s. It ought to be a lot of fun reading and commenting…

  31. LongDistance on August 28th, 2015 11:12 pm

    It’ll take quite a while to untangle all the things that went wrong during Jack’s tenure, but remembering the echoes of how his decisions since 2013 were often categorized — desperation moves — it can be easy enough to see that Jack gambled, and lost.

    Gambling, with a team like the M’s, is a risky business indeed. But, hey, with player development in tatters, it was probably the only way to go.

    By the way, although I haven’t written here for a while, having found myself repeating the same sorts of things, I read Marc’s analyses with constant interest.

    It would be nice to have some sort of click feature to assure the writers at USS Mariners they are being read, without having to always respond.

  32. djw on August 29th, 2015 6:00 am

    Not a neanderthal I just get tired of getting a social lesson every time I try to enjoy sports.

    What on earth does this mean? Can you give an example (there must be several, since it happens “every time”) of a “social lesson” that sports broadcasts force upon you, making you “tired”?

    “I”m not sexist, but I don’t want any women to be hired into position X if it means I’ll have to hear people talk about it.” is textbook sexism.

  33. amnizu on August 29th, 2015 7:52 am

    Interesting comments here. Personally I agree that we should hire someone with major league experience who has gone through the failure of running a unsuccessful FO before. I also could care less of the gender of that person.

    I’m not saying a first year GM won’t be successful, but it is much more likely for someone to know their leadership characteristics after their blind spots have been exposed to them before.

    This is what led Pete Carroll to develop his philosophy and forced Billy Beane to adapt and change to his environment.

    I don’t think our next GM needs to be a “carbon copy” of an already successful leader but they need to have a solid understanding of their own leadership style. They also must to be strong enough to demand the helm of the ship from Lincoln and Mather or walk away.

  34. stevenboise on August 29th, 2015 3:13 pm

    A few days ago, when the M’s began a series against the A’s, I thought to myself…..”I bet the A’s reach the playoffs again before we do.”

    That sucked. Not with Z gone, I’m not sure if the A’s will or not. I had just lost hope with things with Z around. And after such a great start, as mentioned in this post.

    Such a shame.

  35. mksh21 on August 29th, 2015 6:21 pm


    I guess you haven’t had the pleasure of Michael Sam updates, Hurricane Katrina guilt articles all over ESPN, Ray Rice coverage, Sochi Olympics boycots, racial demographics in baseball problems etc. etc. Just tiresome to me.

    That’s why I say I don’t care if they hire a woman, just the media coverage and all things M’s related will have to bring up that fact every day for a year when it isn’t a big deal.

  36. djw on August 30th, 2015 5:20 am

    mksh21, August 28th:

    I don’t want them to hire a woman.

    mksh21, August 29th:

    That’s why I say I don’t care if they hire a woman

    So which is it?

    Everyone is confronted with the fact that there exists journalism about subjects they aren’t interested in. The key, for most of us, is to avoid reading those stories, not to insist on gender discrimination in hiring in a quixotic effort to reduce their number.

  37. mksh21 on August 30th, 2015 8:53 am

    I don’t want to hire a woman due to the fact of the lazy and endless stories that will follow. I hope one of the other 29 teams do. It’s not discrimination it’s in the same vain of every clever writer using “Sleepless in Seattle” as a head line for all Seattle sports related article.

    I want to be interested in M’s articles I read, not “OMG THEY HIRED A WOMAN THIS IS A HISTORIC MOMENT”

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