24-30: Jack Z Senses Emergency, Breaks Glass

The Mariners lost 2-1 yesterday to the Tampa Bay Rays.  They were swept by the Yankees, and have gone 1-7 on the current home stand.  After clawing their way to .500 on last week’s lengthy road trip through the Eastern division, they’ve now lost six straight and find themselves mired in fourth place, nine and half games behind the division-leading Astros.

It’s June 5th, and it seems like old times again.  Remember all those predictions about how great things were gonna be this year.  Well, forget about it. Remember my fears about the lack of pitching depth? The M’s are experiencing it right now.  All the efforts made by the front office to make the offense better, it’s not working and the Mariners continue to struggle to score.  They are last in batting average, last in on-base percentage and 14th out of 15 teams in runs scored.

Wednesday night the Mariners announced a trade with the Diamondbacks.  They sent reliever Dominic Leone, catcher Wellington Castillo, AA outfielder Gabby Guerrero, and infielder Jack Reinheimer. In return they received outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo and lefty pitcher Vidal Nuno.

Is this a game changer? Um, probably not. Trumbo is the kind of righty power hitter Jack Zdurencik has always loved.  Below .300 OBP, he’ll hit some home runs and strike out a lot. He’s a younger, less injured version of Mike Morse–not much of a defender, but they needed a bat so Jack Z fixed on him. Nuno might be more important, given how short the Mariners are for starting pitching. Nuno, 27, struggled as a starter for the Yankees for three years before coming over to the Diamondbacks.  His performance improved with the Snakes, but he has only had three games with them this year.  He may be someone who can eat some innings for the Mariners, but he will start in the bullpen in long relief.

How important is this deal?  Trumbo may hit some home runs, but it doesn’t change the fact the M’s simply don’t hit with runners in scoring position.  they are fourth in the AL in home runs, but 14th in runs scored. They are second in the league in strikeouts. In their last 15 games the Mariners have scored four or more runs just four times.  Three of those games were just four runs, and the other game was the Fernando Rodney meltdown against Tampa Bay won in extra innings 7-6. It’s clear the M’s need offensive help.

It’s also easy to just brush this off as a panic move.  The fact of the matter is that not much is going right for the M’s.  They didn’t give up much to get Trumbo and Nuno.  It may help, but isn’t going to be transformative.  No, transformation will come when Robinson Cano begins to approach his career norms. The M’s will win more games if Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino begin to hit consistently.  That’s what the M’s planned for. The team will win more games when Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton return from the DL and if the bullpen, especially Mr. Rodney, go out and consistently become the run-stopping crew of 2014.

Finally, this should be a referendum on the types of teams Jack Zdurencik has assembled. Originally building his teams on run prevention-good pitching and defense-Jack has left the good defense part for the false promise of the home run ball.  He’s brought in a procession of players the past few years that have mashed, but mash no more-Corey Hart, Jack Cust, Mike Morse-as well as a few that only mash, notably Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo.  Set aside the signing of Cano and the development of Kyle Seager, and this is the team that he constructed through draft, trade and free agent signing.  Time is running out on the Jack Z Experience.  Fans expected more for this season and they’re entitled to demand blood if the good ship Mariner is wrecked on the rocks by July 1.

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