The baseball general manager’s job is to use the resources he has to assemble a roster that will win over the course of the long 162 game season. In GM Jack Zdurencik’s seven year tenure he has had two winning seasons, and been to the playoffs exactly zero times. In fairness, there’s been times when players simply haven’t worked out. Chone Figgins was a consensus smart signing. Dustin Ackley was one of the best college players in history. Neither worked out. But in the end, that doesn’t matter and the GM has to be be held accountable, accept the blindfold and cigarette and take the fall for a team’s persistent failure. Though he has one year left on his contract, he must go. I’ve assembled some lists that point to the reason why. Let’s see if you can remember some of the names.
As you know, each of these guys represent Mariners first round draft picks in the Jack Zdurencik regime. The list excludes those from 2013-14, and because they signed Nelson Cruz as a free agent, the flipped their 2015 pick to the Baltimore Orioles. What does this list of players have in common? Very little major league success. Franklin and Ackley were shipped off in trades as failures in the Mariner system. Hultzen, seen as a fast track, middle-of-the-rotation starter, will likely never see a big league pitcher’s mound due to his severe shoulder injuries. Because he didn’t have a decent back-up catcher or a suitable organizational piece in place in 2013, Zdurencik rushed Zunino to the majors before he was ready to face big league pitching. Only Walker has enjoyed a modicum of success this far in his career. But it’s still too early for the 22-year old to declare his future as a front of the rotation starter.
High draft picks are like gold. Clubs must choose wisely, develop players for the majors while controlling their costs or every time there is a need they must go out on the free agent market to pay top dollar to fill their needs. Zdurencik’s inability to select talent for the high draft picks the Mariners have had, or failure to properly develop them, or foresee their injury issues over seven years earns him a firing.
Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, Nelson Cruz, Austin Jackson, Mike Morse, Raul Ibanez, Cory Hart, Logan Morrison, Endy Chavez, Jason Bay, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, Trayvon Robinson, Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez.
What does this list of names have in common? They’re all outfielders, or at least played outfield for the Seattle Mariners. But none of them were drafted by the Mariners as outfielders. Many are guys the M’s had to give up valuable pieces to get, like Smith and Jackson. Others were free agents like Cruz. Further, the M’s have none, zilch, zero outfielders ready to play the outfield in the major leagues. How can that be? Zdurencik’s had seven years to have outfielders ready to play on the big club. Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller are infielders who were converted to play outfield. They may be good athletes, but it still takes time to develop the instincts to play Safeco’s wide open spaces, let alone the annual trip to Fenway Park. Cruz, Hart, Morrison, Morse and Ibanez really didn’t belong in the outfield, and their skills serve only to make the Mariners shaky pitching worse. In October Austin Jackson will probably walk and leave the M’s without a center fielder. No, James Jones is not an answer and the M’s will likely have to pay big dollars to get a league average guy..
These are all productive players Jack Zdurencik traded away for lollipops and magic beans. Castillo went to Arizona, thus depriving the M’s of a productive catcher who could back up Mike Zunino, or even start if they wanted to give Z time in Tacoma to work on his game. They got Mark Trumbo, the kind of all or nothing player Jackie Z just seems to love. Fister went to Detroit 2011 for these immortals: Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin, and Charlie Furbush. Since then Fister has gone a nice 52-33 for the Tigers and Nationals, while only Furbush has had any kind of major league career. Michael Pineda struggled through injury to emerge as a starter for the Yankees. In 32 starts for the Bombers, Pineda has gone 14-12, but that eclipses the horror that has become Jesus Montero‘s career. I truly wish Montero success, but if it doesn’t materialize, like instantly, there’s no way this trade looks non-disasterlike for the Mariners. Jaso for an injury riddled season of Mike Morse playing out of position doesn’t pencil out. Not clear if Erasmo Ramirez for Mike Montgomery is a tragedy, but it’s not looking good so far. Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Matt Lawson, and Blake Beavan in 2010. Lee and the Rangers went to the World Series, the M’s went down the shitter. Mark Lowe’s been traded twice, once with Lee in 2010, and then as the only reliable bullpen piece the M’s have for prospects in 2015. You can thank Jack Z for the current bullpen horror show. Steve Delabar has been a contributor to the Blue Jays bullpen since the M’s traded him to Toronto for the immortal Marcus Thames.
Rickie Weeks, Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Mike Morse, Raul Ibanez.
Jack Zdurencik is a great believer in the big bat: a guy who can hit a home run and win you a ball game. So he picks up guys who have had big bats at one point or another in their career and sticks them in a position they are unsuited to play and lets them look foolish there, undermining their pitchers and sinking efforts at run prevention. Further, with few exceptions, this list includes guys who were good, once upon a time. Some, such as Hart and Morse were recovering from injury, and their contributions were based on rainbows, hope and unicorns. Weeks was done, lost his starting job in Milwaukee and had never played the outfield. Nelson Cruz has done so many things offensively in 2015, I hate to call him out, but he is not a good outfielder and should be filling the DH role he was signed for. This team has taken a huge step back from 2010 when run prevention was job one and Franklin Guttierez was “Death to Flying Things.”
LF 331′, Left Center 378′, Deepest Point 405′, Straightaway Center 401′, Right Center 381′, RF 326′
Why is it that Zdurencik and Bavasi before him could not see and utilize the characteristics of Safeco Field. It’s a large park, not easy to hit homers in, but the two of them always seemed in search of guys who could regularly muscle it out despite statistics demonstrating the difficulty of doing so. Lefties, like Kyle Seager and Raul Ibanez have had some success as mashers. Right handers, with the exception of Nelson Cruz and Richie Sexson, not so much. Why not build a team around pitching and defense, high on base percentage and speed–like Kansas City. They seem to be having success in roomy Kaufman Stadium don’t they? The Mariners have had a winning record at Safeco only in 2009 and 2014. A GM who can’t build a team to succeed in their home park lacks vision and should not keep their job.
Jack Zdurencik is in his 7th year as general manager, and he has a contract through 2016. During his term, the Mariners have never been in the playoffs, despite their expansion. they’ve never finished as high as second in their division, and have finished 4th five times. Under Zdurencik the Mariners have been a bad team, and there is no sign of light at the end of the tunnel. Seven years of losing and no prospect of winning is enough, and no GM with a similar record should keep their job.
The question should not be whether Jack Z is fired, but when and who replaces them. They cannot be another management tool, but someone with the power to make meaningful changes to bring a winner back to Seattle. The team has money; all it needs is vision and judgement.