1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baseball America, Danny Hultzen, Dominic Leone, Don Drysdale, Doug Melvin, Eric Wedge, Felix Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez, Gabby Guerrero, Geoff Baker, Greg Maddux, Jack Reinheimer, Jack Zduriencik, James Paxton, Jesus Montero, John Smoltz, Mark Trumbo, Michael Pineda, Milwaukee Brewers, Nelson Cruz, New York Yankees, Robinson Cano, Sandy Koufax, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Times, Taijuan Walker, Tom Glavine, Tony Blengino, Vidal Nuno, Welington Castillo
By Tom Gibbons
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik may yet look like a genius if he somehow manages to stay around long enough.
Right now, not so much.
But he is good at staying around. Really good.
Back in 2002 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Zduriencik was with about the only guy in baseball operations who survived a purge by new GM Doug Melvin. Zduriencik not only survived, he thrived and vaulted to prominence in baseball circles.
Zduriencik has been the Mariners’ GM since before the 2009 season with minimal success, but last season he landed a contract extension.
Some have wondered about Zduriencik’s job security of late.The Mariners were the trendy pick to win the American League West, and so far it just is not happening. After Wednesday, they were 24-29, 9 1/2 games behind the Astros.
The Mariners are once again starved for offense.
So Zduriencik pulled off a deal to get power-hitting Mark Trumbo from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a six-player trade.
I have doubts that Trumbo will be the answer for the Mariners, but my focus is Zduriencik.
How does this guy keep his job?
He has been the GM since before the 2009 season.
He has had two winning seasons, two with 95 or more losses and no playoff appearances.
He has been on the wrong end of a couple big trades and has not pulled off a winner since December 2008 when he got Franklin Gutierrez in a three-way deal.
Zduriencik built a team before the 2010 season around a flawed concept and put the franchise in a hole that took years to dig out of.
Since 2012 he has been hanging his hat on three pitching prospects that have yet to deliver in a big way at the major league level.
Before the 2010 season, ESPN magazine featured three Mariners on the cover with the headline “OUTS ARE IN — AND SO ARE THE MARINERS.”
Inside, you could read that Zduriencik had noticed the offense trending down after the PED era. So the Mariners were all in on building around pitching, speed and defense — sort of a mid-1960s redux — to improve upon an 85-77 season in 2009.
That’s why they had acquired Gutierrez, a light hitting center fielder who could cover a lot of ground. Gutierrez posted a 105 OPS+ in 2009 but a 6.6 WAR (baseball reference).
But 2010 wasn’t really 1965, and even if had been the Mariners wouldn’t have produced enough runs.
The Mariners lost 101 games in 2010, scoring 513 runs, almost 100 runs fewer than the classic successful mid-1960s speed, defense and pitching team, the 1965 Dodgers.
Making matters worse, Gutierrez’s bat went south in 2010. He was slowed by injuries after that and hasn’t played the past two seasons.
Somehow Jack didn’t get the sack after the 2010 debacle. The Mariners weren’t much better in 2011, losing 95.
At that point, Zduriencik decided the Mariners needed more offense. He made a four-player trade with the Yankees in which the headliners were promising young pitcher Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero, a catcher who couldn’t catch but had showed promise at the bat while playing for New York.
Pineda suffered a tear in his shoulder in 2012 and didn’t pitch for the Yankees until last year. He went 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA last season and is 7-2 with a 3.33 ERA, including a win at Seattle this week.
Montero has never posted an OPS+ better than 94 with Seattle. He is currently down the road in Class AAA Tacoma.
Safe to say, the Mariners wish they still had Pineda.
Besides Pineda, Zduriencik’s trade of pitcher Doug Fister was a loser, too.
That’s still the plan.
Paxton and Walker have made it to the big stage. They have yet to make a real impact — or rather, a positive impact; Walker has been awful.
Zduriencik stayed the course in 2013. After the end of the season, Eric Wedge bolted as manager.
Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times wrote a postseason piece in which Wedge and former front office/ scouting types painted Zduriencik as a malignant version of the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert cartoons: clueless, hypercritical, quick to place blame and grab credit. Also something of a fraud.
Tony Blengino — who had worked for Zduriencik when Zduriencik was a special assistant to the GM in Milwaukee, then came with him to Seattle before being forced out — said he created the presentation that Zduriencik used to wow the Mariners brass during the interview process. Zduriencik sold them on the idea that he was a hybrid of new-fangled number crunching and old-school scouting.
“Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis,” Blengino told the paper.
Wedge said Zduriencik kept his job because top management was afraid to admit they hired a boob.
Zduriencik declined to comment on the specifics of the article.
That off-season, Zduriencik and the Mariners finally bit the bullet for offensive help. They signed Robinson Cano as a free agent and just missed the wildcard in 2014. In August, Zduriencik was given a multi-year extension.
Before this season, the Mariners acquired Nelson Cruz, who after Wednesday was tied for the MLB lead in homers with 18. Cruz can’t do it alone, and Cano has slumped.
So the GM is counting on Trumbo. Good luck with that. Trumbo is a high-strikeout, low-walk guy whose bat seems to go into long funks. He has a .322 career batting average in Seattle, but I wonder how the challenge of playing at Safeco Field, where would-be homers turn into long outs, will affect him over the long haul.
Zduriencik is 64 and a baseball lifer. He came up through the scouting and player development ranks. He was credited with helping turn around the Brewers and their player development operations. Baseball America named him their Major League Executive of the Year Award in 2007, the first winner who was not a general manager.
Zduriencik’s challenge at this point is to last long enough that the so his troika of Hultzen, Paxton and Walker can develop. If the pitching trio becomes into this generation’s John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and are teamed with Felix Hernandez while Zduriencik is there, he will be hailed as a genius.
If not, well, he’s been making good money since 2008. He’ll still have a comfortable retirement.