Lorena Martin’s Ouster and Acute Pangs of Zduriencik

marc w · November 12, 2018 at 8:43 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Let’s get the obligatory throat-clearing caveats out of the way: Lorena Martin and the Mariners are saying very, very different things about not only the circumstances of Martin’s departure, but about the M’s leadership’s attitudes towards players from Latin America. We don’t know what’s fact and what’s just frustration (on anyone’s part). We weren’t in the various rooms, and don’t know anything about intention. But we do know that Lorena Martin was relieved of her duties as Director of High Performance, and that she claims to have observed racist behavior from the M’s player development brain trust of Andy McKay, manager Scott Servais and GM Jerry Dipoto. Without knowing anything else, this is an unmitigated disaster.

A year ago, the M’s were confident they could end a playoff drought that had grown into a distraction in its own right. They came to that confidence not through free agent spending, or by a team whose projections showed a league-beating colossus. The projections *all* agreed that the M’s were somewhat mediocre. The M’s confidence was the result of what they thought was a superior process.
Here’s what I wrote back in Spring Training:

That’s really the main reason why the M’s feel confident ignoring PECOTA and Fangraphs: they believe they’re elite at coaching and teaching. This is why they angrily dismiss the consensus that their farm system is the sport’s worst. It’s why they brought in Dr. Lorena Martin to add new dimensions to their development process, and it’s why they actually give up real talent to acquire Healy, Shawn Armstrong, Nick Rumbelow and others whose projections are…uh…not encouraging. They’re betting that there’s untapped potential there that has never shown itself, and they believe they’re the org to uncover it. This approach, it must be said, hasn’t been all that successful, isolated wins like Nick Vincent aside. Confidence like this is what’s dividing the M’s fanbase, I think. To the saber-inclined, this is pure hubris- the team that’s burned its farm system to the ground now thinks they can teach up other teams’ cast-offs, their own meager talent reserves, turn Dee Gordon into a gold-glove CF, teach Ryon Healy patience, and turn Ariel Miranda back into an effective starter. To others, this is simply confidence, confidence borne of watching a development-focused plan come together, changing everything from how they train, what they eat, to how they look for and acquire talent.

The Mariners had scoured the world and brought in a person with an amazing resume in a variety of sports and brought her in to get more out of every player on the roster. This wasn’t about changing a workout routine, or re-thinking off-season training. The idea was not only to bring a quantitative view towards diet, exercise, skill-specific training, etc., but to meld her view of personality and mental attributes of successful players (in any sport) with the mental focus of McKay and others in player development. The idea was to integrate physical and mental training to unlock the potential in players, potential that would never show up in anything as black and white as ZiPS projections or a player’s Fangraphs page. The M’s were supposed to be able to get much more out of players than other teams had, and in doing so, sneak up on the playoffs. They knew – everybody knew – that they didn’t have the talent of many of their rivals. But they were working on making post-hoc talent evaluations meaningless.

The M’s went out and blew their projections out of the water for a while, but they couldn’t sustain those abnormal winning percentages in the second half. This was clearly intensely frustrating for all involved. Yes, Marco Gonzales was faring better than his projection, but Ryon Healy looked *exactly* like Ryon Healy, only with a slightly less explosive baseball. Dee Gordon couldn’t get out of a slump, nor could Kyle Seager. Things came to a head in a locker room fight between Gordon and Jean Segura that spilled out into the hall for the media to document. Scott Servais downplayed it, but in hindsight, it was clearly a bigger deal than they’d let on. The club’s culture had been set by Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, and that seemed to create a positive, fun-loving environment, as these old Spring Training stories document. There’d be contests, lots of trash talk, and lots of laughter. Somewhere in the second half, amidst Cano’s suspension for PEDs and the A’s insane hot streak, that all curdled.

I think it’s likely that both sides in this dispute would pinpoint the few weeks around this event as the reason we are where we are. For Martin, the M’s leadership – who’d already been oddly public about their expectations for Felix and their anger at his falling short of them – saw the clubhouse leaders as the primary culprits for the lack of cohesion, and that frustration took on racial overtones. Perhaps the M’s saw this as the final evidence that Martin’s methods simply wouldn’t work: she couldn’t force recalcitrant players to actually change their ways, and thus was a barnacle on the hull of the good ship Mariner. Performance wasn’t changing, and either players weren’t improving after implementing her suggestions or weren’t going to her at all.

One of these explanations is considerably worse. If the M’s management has ever displayed a hint of the behavior Martin alleges, then none of them should work in baseball again. It’s so shocking, so ugly, but it doesn’t require some imaginative leap, either. What WAS the Felix Hernandez situation about, really? And what has the FO done to really earn the benefit of the doubt? Doesn’t all of this just feel like the Jack Zduriencik situation? It was Zduriencik who hired a non-traditional high performance specialist from another sport. Just like the recent story about instructs without baseballs, there was this old story about the M’s conditioning program without weights. That revolutionary path to building a better system quickly foundered, and the M’s parted ways. Shortly thereafter, the M’s fired plenty of FO members, from the director of pro scouting to the director of analytics, and more. Just as now, people you’d have expected to be circumspect named names and absolutely blasted the GM and the culture of the team.

It’s easy to say that the ills of one FO don’t have any bearing on a new FO. That’s true to a point. But it’s pretty clear that you can’t hire someone to revamp a process without *everyone* being on board with it. My hunch is that plenty of people in the org weren’t enamored with Martin and her newfangled ways, informed by a bunch of other sports. My hunch is that players were somewhat resistant to her, and that coaches were reluctant to insist that players follow her methods. When the M’s season fell apart, people within the org blamed their high-profile leaders like Cano, while giving other struggling players a pass, whether due to injury, displaying classic signs of effort (#eyewash), or because those players reminded the M’s leadership of themselves. The M’s management may be racist, or they may simply be frustrated by a painful season. What they aren’t is building any kind of new model of player development. The dream of being better than the stats, better than the farm system rankings, better than their competition – all of that is dead right now. They can work on a new model tomorrow, but they’ll do so amidst the fallout of this failure. They’ll get to work needing to hire for a position that just blew up due to inability to work with *current* management. They’ll need to convince Dominican players to sign with them. They’ll need to get qualified women in a variety of positions to stay or come on board in the wake of the Kevin Mather scandal and now this. I’d say “good luck,” but I’m not sure I mean it.


18 Responses to “Lorena Martin’s Ouster and Acute Pangs of Zduriencik”

  1. Coug1990 on November 12th, 2018 9:51 pm

    It has been one heck of an offseason already, unfortunately. Because of the way that she went public with this, I think there is more to the story than you wrote. Most people will stay quiet because they do not want to upset potential employers. Instead, she went the social media route.

    It currently is not a good look for all sides. We shall see how this entire situation plays out.

  2. Westside guy on November 12th, 2018 11:28 pm

    We basically have zero information on which we can even pretend to draw conclusions. Unless the players themselves speak up – which I don’t really expect – we’ll probably never know how much of this is true.

    But something about Martin’s statement bothered me. She seemed to go out of her way to personally insult Dipoto. If she was primarily interested in getting truth out there, the smart thing to do would be to take the high ground – say what you feel you have to say about a racist environment, but avoid vicious sniping at the individuals who fired you. As it is, she came across as someone who was only interested in hurting certain individuals who, in her view, did her wrong.

  3. LongDistance on November 12th, 2018 11:51 pm

    Frankly, it’s better this season finishes with fireworks and acrimony, and things get shaken to the core. Very ugly. And the bitterness is a tangible proof that whatever it was they were fiddling with, wasn’t really there… and the dropped contracts and firing a sign they’re looking to try something else. But … what? 2019 is becoming more obscure by the minute.

  4. Liam on November 13th, 2018 1:10 am

    >She seemed to go out of her way to personally insult Dipoto.

    Yeah, that is a knock against her as it was unprofessional. She sounded like an upset fan when she bashed his W/L record as a GM. Not making the playoffs has very little to do with the allegations being leveled against him.

  5. groundzero55 on November 13th, 2018 3:21 am

    I think she went out of her way to say those things about Dipoto because in her reasoning, his views on other ethnic groups and the Mariners’ (as well as his previous team’s) lack of playoffs under him are connected. Which of course may or may not be true.

  6. bookbook on November 13th, 2018 1:03 pm

    I have mostly supported Dipoto, and enjoyed the frenetic trading, except that we always seemed to be paying $1.10 to get $.95 back.

    At this point, I think the team needs new ownership, and new leadership all the way down to the grounds keeping crew.


  7. Westside guy on November 13th, 2018 9:24 pm
  8. LongDistance on November 14th, 2018 3:30 am

    I thought maybe it wouldn’t happen, but it looks like this story is going to develop into a complete black hole that it will be hard to get out of. This will impact all involved, and in ways – whether fair or not – no one can predict. This may go beyond news cycle opportunism and punditry. It could become another “cause celebre”. It could finish with book deals and speaking tours (I doubt, but there are plenty speaking tour agents who would snap such things up). Could it end careers? For some, definitely… for others, maybe not… although it could create difficulties of trust. I said earlier I didn’t mind the season ended in open acrimony… meaning they would do more than tweaking, etc. But this is something else. On a strictly baseball optic, this could create a wariness that will do more harm than good. I’m thinking this will pass, and sensible people will say and do the right things. But it will cost.

  9. Stevemotivateir on November 14th, 2018 3:13 pm

    I feel the same, Westy. She made it sound much more personal which in turn, makes her story appear much more about bitterness.

    It’s a one-sided story so far, with the M’s doing nothing more than denying everything.

  10. 3cardmonty on November 14th, 2018 10:23 pm

    Why does Kevin Mather still have a job

  11. mrakbaseball on November 15th, 2018 1:00 am

    The Mariners are such a dysfunctional mess. With the lack of on-field success and the front office being populated by scumbags, it really is hard to justify remaining a fan.

  12. ripperlv on November 17th, 2018 9:56 pm

    The accused is guilty because they are accused. If you don’t believe it, ask the accuser.
    I say innocent until proven guilty, thank you, John Hancock.

  13. sexymarinersfan on November 18th, 2018 6:07 pm

    This was such all well written piece. One of the that I have ever read! Up until the last sentence. I won’t bash anyone for their opinions, as we are all entitled to our own. But I must say that I thourghouly enjoyed reading this article, that I had to read it Twice!!

    I have seen zero facts to back up Martin at all and believe that whatever is going on in the Mariners organization is because of a lack of leadership. I’m not talking about the owner, GM, Manager, or Player. It could be anyone of them. Not since Lou Pineilla has anyone took this team by the “Balls” and imposed their will and vision on this organization. Pat Gillick is close runner-up. This organization will continue to suffer until we find that true leader. It will have to be one that will unite the team from top to bottom.

  14. mksh21 on November 19th, 2018 2:56 pm

    She sounds like a real Gem.

    Meanwhile did we really deal Paxton to the Yankees???

  15. eponymous coward on November 19th, 2018 4:09 pm

    Yes. DiPoto says 2019 is toast, time to fire sale the MLB talent and rebuild for later.

    The open question is whether or not he’ll be here for “later”. At this point I wonder what makes him better than Zduriencik, other than “hasn’t had a complete 60 win season implosion yet” (which might be this year).

  16. mksh21 on November 19th, 2018 9:05 pm

    Sheffield will probably pitch more innings on a limit than Paxton will without one. I’m going to be positive and feel like we just dumped Eric Bedard 2.0 on someone

  17. LongDistance on November 21st, 2018 12:15 pm

    Question one: Where are we going to be, in November 2019, in terms of our logjam contracts? Next summer, I’m going to two home games… mainly to hang out with friends on level 2 eating pulled pork sandwiches (go ahead and smile Howard Lincoln), and watch with a certain interest if a team where the non-Z percentage of the team can hold its own. Question Two: what other teams have their feet stuck in concrete, and what are their options? Question three, what’s a better word for rebuild, when that implies being “there”, when the “there” in hindsight, wasn’t there?
    If anything, in Seattle, baseball clichés no longer seem appropriate.

  18. eponymous coward on November 21st, 2018 3:00 pm


    Next year the M’s are at 80 million because Felix and Nicasio come off, plus some other things. That’s completely survivable at the Ballpark Formerly Known As Safeco.

    The guy who is probably completely immobile without a rebound season is Seager. Cano probably could go if you sent some cash with him.

    The M’s could probably take payroll under $100 million in 2019 if they moved Nicasio, Colome, Leake and Segura. Throw in Diaz (I mean, do you REALLY need a proven closer if you’re going to throw a season away anyways?) and you should get SOME stuff back in terms of talent. It’s all a question of how much roster demolition they want to do.

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