Jack’s back for 2014

 As reported earlier Tuesday by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, the Seattle Mariners have confirmed that general manager Jack Zduriencik will return for year six. The fate of manager Eric Wedge has not been addressed publicly by the team or Zduriencik, but I am being told Wedge will be replaced.

There are a lot of reasons to replace Zduriencik, too — and I wrote last week that cleaning house is the right move, but I also noted that I do believe Zduriencik could eventually make things right. I also stated that the rebuild is now on a very time-sensitive course.

Jack Zduriencik has done some very positive things for the Mariners organization. He’s committed to rebuilding through the draft and player development, he’s taken some good risks on young players every year but 2009. He’s stayed away from trying to build the core of the team through free agency — the club didn’t even attempt to sign big-money names prior to the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons — and the scouting department is in much better shape than it was under Bill Bavasi. Those are all necessary pieces of the puzzle in Major League Baseball.

What Zduriencik has not done, in the most general of terms, is improve the performance on the field at the big-league level. The year before Zduriencik was hired, 2008, the club ended the season at 61-101. In 2009 the M’s won 85 games. Then the win totals went back to 61, 67 and 75. All would be different if 2013 were looking like another step in the right direction, but with even one more loss, the M’s will clinch another 90-loss campaign.

That isn’t progress.

Yes, the farm system is better. Yes, the raw talent on the field is better than it was in ’08. But not enough of Zduriencik’s moves for the 25-man roster have made a significant impact. Making a change at GM was certainly warranted. The higher-ups decided to stick with Zduriencik, anyway.

There are several problems with such a move, including the idea of having a lame duck GM. I’m told Zduriencik is on a very short leash, which is always an absolutely terrible situation for any organization. This likely means he does not have full autonomy over personnel decisions. It strongly suggests Chuck Armstrong has a hand, or two, in all baseball decisions. This is the absolute worst scenario for the Seattle Mariners.

Making a change at GM is something I believe the organization made an attempt to do this summer. I’m told they called around and asked about some veteran general managers, both current and former, and were rebuffed, leading them back to standing pat. And speaking of “pat,” I do not believe for one second that Pat Gillick was part of the Mariners’ “scouting” process if they indeed checked in on some potential GM candidates. Gillick may be more interested in Armstrong or Howard Lincoln’s job, anyway, but from what I can gather there’s zero chance the Hall of Famer will work for Lincoln in any capacity.

So, the Mariners’ GM job is still Zduriencik’s. If you don’t like that, I understand. Whether the club has the wherewithal to make a good choice on baseball people remains to be seen, but all signs — ALL SIGNS — point to NO. I also see the light at the end of the tunnel — with Zduriencik at the helm.

There is money there to be spent. There are young talents to trade to acquire proven players that will have a direct impact on the win-loss record. There are enough smarts in the front office to build a better roster, both in terms of overall talent and in terms of structure. Zduriencik knows that the club cannot sacrifice nearly as much defense as they did in 2013, particularly if the trade-off isn’t huge offensive upside. Zduriencik knows the philosophy has to change or the results won’t, either.

While I don’t believe any general manager in the game could grab the reins of this baseball team and make them legitimate contenders between now and 2014, there are ways to get a lot better, and keeping Zduriencik for another year doesn’t prevent them from doing so, and it doesn’t even greatly reduce the chances. Contention in 2014? No. Eighty five wins? Possible. Maybe it would be more probable with another GM, but not just any GM. And since there’s just as little evidence that the suits would make the right choice, keeping Zduriencik may be the lesser of two evils, so to speak.

When Zduriencik first arrived in Seattle, he made deals that showed he understood what types of things don’t work in baseball; high-paid relievers, poor defensive players up the middle and lack of depth and roster flexibility. We know he recognized these things because he made the trade that sent J.J. Putz to the New York Mets. That trade brought in centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez, an undervalued player at the time, and left-hander Jason Vargas, another great value.

The deal to bring in Cliff Lee was a great one. The move to send Josh Lueke to Tampa Bay for John Jaso was a great one. The path and process that led the club to acquiring Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero in trades for pitching were sound decisions, despite the ensuing results. Bringing in Brendan Ryan, initially, was a smart move.

THAT is the Jack Zduriencik the Mariners need. It’s THAT Jack Zduriencik that can be a solid general manager. He’ll have one more offseason and about 3 and a half months of the 2014 season to prove THAT Jack Zduriencik still exists.

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Jason A. Churchill

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