It’s easy to point to the reasons why the Seattle Mariners should go in a different direction at general manager, including two winning seasons in seven years, no postseason appearances and the manner in which the original plan — build a strong foundation through scouting and development — has failed quite miserably. It’s another task altogether to present a case for the club to retain it’s GM for another year.

The reasons for a dismissal, continued:

  • Inability to identify the skills that play well at Safeco Field
  • Inability to identify the needs of current roster
  • Inability to develop consistently through draft, international market
  • Unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes before its detriment to the team maximizes

What exactly has Zduriencik done well in seven years as the club’s No. 1 baseball man? In short, not a ton. A more in-depth look does reveal some key positives, however:

Financial Flexibility
Yes, the Mariners have two large, long-term contracts on the books. Felix Hernandez is owed $103.4 million over the next four years and Robinson Cano is owed $192 million over the next eight seasons. But considering the $125-plus million payroll being carried at present, the club’s future comes with between $71-79 in guaranteed dollars over remaining life of Hernandez’s contract, which is the true window of opportunity for the current core.

Avoiding a collection of bad contracts is greatly beneficial to the club’s future, whether it be under Zduriencik or a new general manager. At least part of this flexibility is a credit to the ownership’s resistance to simply trying to purchase a winning team. They’ve spent money, and at least recently it’s been spent in a fairly wise manner. Zduriencik deserves credit here, too, though, since he and his staff are perhaps the most integral pieces to who is worth the large investments.

Moving forward beyond 2015, the Mariners have room to add one or two more impact players to the tune of an annual salary in the vicinity of Nelson Cruz’s $14.25 million average. Despite the lack of young, high-impact talent coming up through the farm system, the Mariners have a number of young players offering field value while costing the club very little in terms of dollars, including Mike Zunino — despite his offensive struggles — Brad Miller, Taijuan Walker, Mike Montgomery and Carson Smith.

Do the M’s need to add more production to the roster from a position player standpoint? No question about it. And because 1) the ownership has raised the stakes financially and 2) Zduriencik has been able to avoid the colossal mistake in free agency, they’ll have enough flexibility to go out and do what’s necessary. Whether or not the front office can/will identify the right pieces is another story.

The Mariners aren’t that far away
Despite a poor win-loss record in 2015, the Mariners’ roster is not deplorable. It isn’t awful, it isn’t what some like to call a “dumpster fire.” It’s not a good mix, but the overall level of talent is probably somewhere closer to league average than the results suggest. This is both a point in Zduriencik’s favor and a knock against him, perhaps more of the latter.

The roster, however, does not need to be blown up or sold off in a fire sale. Still it needs a a few more pieces, probably about five pieces to add to or replace the present makeup. Since two of those pieces, in my opinion, are relievers, such a task can be done in one offseason. And for those wondering, the answer is yes: Zduriencik can get that job done.

It’s taken seven years to get here, but the club does appear to be close enough to suggest again that next year may very well end the playoff drought.

Discipline
I believe Zduriencik, for at least the first 5-6 years of his tenure as the GM in Seattle, has had the opportunity to make significant deals trading young players for veterans. Indeed he attempted to land Justin Upton in exchange for a package that included Taijuan Walker, a deal I would never have made myself. But how bad would that have been, in the end? Walker is getting it going now and his value moving forward may be enormous — I am a huge fan of Walker and his present and future. But Upton has hit in Arizona, Atlanta and San Diego and certainly would have helped the Mariners for the past three years, even more than the combination of players reportedly heading to the desert.

But on so many other occasions Zduriencik could have moved Walker, James Paxton, Miller and Zunino for short-term fixes, some which may very well have solidified his current job status. I don’t know what kind of restrictions were placed on Zduriencik by president Kevin Mather or the club’s ownership — basically Howard Lincoln — at this year’s deadline beyond the reports that Hisashi Iwakuma was not to be discussed in trades. If there were none beyond that, the same discipline by Zduriencik again took place. At very few points over the past several years has it made sense for the Mariners to part with significant young talent to grab a veteran player.

That isn’t to say anyone should be untouchable but the value of proven major league players is so high in today’s game that outside a bad contract or younger, producing player being part of the return package, those kinds of just aren’t available very often. And when teams do make such trades, the window typically becomes shorter, increasing the risk.

Bill Bavasi was allowed to trade Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, Kameron Mickolio and George Sherrill for short-term help in left-hander Erik Bedard. Maybe Lincoln and Mather learned from that. Or maybe Zduriencik, no matter what one may think of the job he’s done to date, doesn’t want to be Bavasi, since job security or not, such deals would be bad for the club. Until I know different, I’ll lend a little credit to Zduriencik for not going down that path, particularly the past few years when the pressure has built.

The above factors do not outweigh what was outlined at the outset here, but they are legit and credit is deserved.

Conclusion
I don’t have a sense for which direction the Mariners’ brass may lean when the time comes for them to decide whether or not Zduriencik will return for 2016. If they choose to retain him we’ll likely hear reasons including “close to where we want to be,” “heading in right direction” “not that far away” and wanting to “stay the course,” since a new GM may require autonomy to make major changes to the roster and perhaps push off winning for another year — or at least the fear that could be the case.

One can argue with solid evidence the first three are legitimate, of not downright correct. I’m not saying the club should stick with the status quo — I believe the opposite. But I also believe the front office has to know without much doubt that a better candidate — in their estimation — not only is available, but would accept the job.

Again, not that it’s necessarily the right move, but considering the above positives, put yourself in Lincoln’s and Mather’s shoes and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Zduriencik may be the club’s best bet to win in 2016.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

9 Comments

  1. Edman,

    “Jerry, do your best, but you have no evidence that the Mariners don’t do advanced statistical analysis on a routine basis, now do you?”

    I never said they don’t have analysts. I’m saying that they don’t listen to those guys. I say that based on both the things they do and the very persistent noise coming from within the organization that that is the case.

    “You base your comments on the fact that because they don’t do as you would, they therefore must not believe in statical analysis. If you know otherwise, I’m still waiting for you to present real evidence to the contrary.”

    Here is the link to a very detailed article on the subject, with multiple insider accounts:

    http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/dysfunction-at-the-top-eric-wedge-others-point-to-trouble-in-marinersrsquo-front-office/

    I know for a fact that you’ve read this article. But to refresh your memory, here are two key quotes from the article:

    “Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”

    “Blengino said Zduriencik became obsessed with power hitters, ignoring defense, baserunning and roster construction. He said the GM also dismissed the importance of evaluating players within the context of their contract values.”

    Here is another piece on the same subject at Lookout Landing:

    http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2013/12/7/5187320/zduriencik-armstrong-lincoln-destroyed-in-geoff-baker-piece-on-front

    Key excerpts:

    “Without question, there are two sides to every story. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard rumblings about the way Zduriencik handles himself, and many parts of Blengino’s testimony unfortunately line up with rumors that I have heard for a while.”

    “The Mariners front office may be everything we have always feared they were, except worse. Through all of the testimony about mistreatment, the thing that scares me the most is that Jack Zduriencik has no idea what he’s doing and has no interest in learning anything new. Everything within this piece is awful news to fans and outsiders alike.”

    I’m sure you’ll dismiss this, because it doesn’t fit your rhetoric. But I’m clealry not just making this up because the M’s “don’t do as I would”.

    By the way, I don’t want the M’s to do what I would do. I want them to be way better at constructing a roster and accumulating talent than I could ever be! I’m not in the industry. I want them to amaze me with their brilliance, and do things that I would have never considered. The person running the club should be really f’ing smart. I don’t think thats true in this case.

    If you don’t believe the sources I just posted, you should consider those stories in light of the clear changes in how the team has operated over the years. It provides strong reinforcement to what Wedge and Blegino were saying: the M’s went from targeting guys like Franklin Gutierrez to Mike Morse and Mark Trumbo. The change in organizational philosophy is VERY clear, and correlates nicely with the marginalization of Blegino. The story fits the facts.

    But, again, I know you’ll dismiss this as propaganda from disgruntled ex-employees. You clearly see everything this team does through rose colored classes. Just yesterday, you were talking about how the M’s had so successfully improved the offense. Enjoy your Kool-Aid.

  2. Jerry, do your best, but you have no evidence that the Mariners don’t do advanced statistical analysis on a routine basis, now do you? You base your comments on the fact that because they don’t do as you would, they therefore must not believe in statical analysis. If you know otherwise, I’m still waiting for you to present real evidence to the contrary.

  3. Edman,

    The M’s were initially a statistically oriented team under Jack, but he quickly abandoned that approach. Blegino talks explicitly about that, and Geoff Baker researched the changes in the front office in pretty rich detail. You’re familiar with both stories. The stories coming out of the front office are very well reflected in the moves the team has made, as they largely abandoned a focus on defense and well-rounded players towards a myopic focus on one-dimensional power hitters and players who fit into old-school archetypes. Its pretty easy to see for anyone who’s been paying attention: a promising start lead to increasingly questionable moves. All teams have analytical guys in the organization, but the M’s have a reputation for marginalizing those voices, which is reflected in both insiders airing dirty laundry and in their track record.

    “Who the hell cares about previous years, Jerry?”

    I do, and I’d imagine that lots of other fans do too. I don’t like having the team that I follow suck for a decade. Anyone who is evaluating the track record of a front office would be stupid to dismiss the entirety of their tenure.

    “I don’t mind people’s opinions, but you constantly come here and try to use this as your personal sounding board…”

    Ah…wow. Hypocritcal much?

    “…even to the point of calling Jason’s comments misguided. I accept when Jason points out flaws in my thinking. You, see it as a challenge and try to tell him why he’s wrong.”

    Actually, your comments are the only ones I tend to call misguided. Jason does great work, and I don’t think I’ve ever been disrespectful of his views. If it came off that way, it wasn’t intended. But please stop putting words in my mouth: how does “One aspect of the article I don’t entirely agree with…” turn into me stating that he is misguided and wrong? If I really believed that, I wouldn’t spend so much time reading his work. Jason knows what he’s talking about – far better than I do – but there is always room for debate. If its out of line to debate things said in these posts, what is the point of having comments at all? I think you are projecting the things I say about your comments – which are very frequently misguided and wrong – onto unrelated issues. Its a weak rhetorical trick. I don’t want to speak for Jason, but I highly doubt that he is as threatened by alternative viewpoints as you seem to be.

  4. Jerry, you care to back up your words with facts, concerning the Mariners not using advanced statistical analysis? I remember Shannon Drayer commenting about a year ago that the M’s (at that time) had almost a dozen statistical analysts. So, just where are you getting your information? Are you basing it solely on your personal belief, or do you have and proof that they don’t?

    Who the hell cares about previous years, Jerry? You know I was talking about this season, and Jack’s efforts to get to the playoffs. Yet, you throw in Chone Figgins, Doug Fister, Mike Morse, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and a brutal track record in developing prospects? WTF? Oh, and BTW, just to be clear, the great Tony Blengino would have provided the advanced stats for most of those moves. Is it any wonder he was fired? And, he was such a tool, he tried to blame Jack for his failures.

    I don’t mind people’s opinions, but you constantly come here and try to use this as your personal sounding board, even to the point of calling Jason’s comments misguided. I accept when Jason points out flaws in my thinking. You, see it as a challenge and try to tell him why he’s wrong.

    That’s like getting invited to someone’s house for a BBQ, then rushing to the grill and telling him how to prepare your free meal.

  5. Edman,

    “I also love the myth that modern analytics is responsible for the successful teams.”

    The A’s, Pirates, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Rays are great examples to the contrary.

    “What about the not so successful teams that have been using the same advanced metrics? ”

    Such as….??????

    “I know SABRheads think it is a ruling God, but there are so many other factors than statistics.”

    This is a false dichotomy. There are no “SABRE/Moneyball” teams. Well-run organizations excel at analytics, scouting, and player development. Bad teams – like the M’s – don’t. The M’s don’t use modern analytics, and they suck at player development. That is why they fail consistently. Its not a choice between new-school stats and old-school scouting. Its about maximizing all available sources of information. That is why GMs like Andrew Freidman and Billy Beane have had much more success than Jack despite operating with much more limited funds.

    “For all of Jack’s moves, most worked as he had hoped.”

    Ahhhh….. what about Chone Figgins, Doug Fister, Mike Morse, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and a brutal track record in developing prospects???? If Jack’s moves are working out so well, why do the M’s have zero playoff appearances and losing records in 5 of 7 seasons under his leadership?

    “Though they didn’t make overwhelming changes, the did help the offense.”

    The M’s are 26th in MLB in runs/game. They are 27th in OBP. They are below average in practically every metric for offense. They are 6th in HRs, which highlights the problem: they don’t understand that more hrs doesn’t equal more runs. Thats why good teams have people who look at numbers, and listen to their suggestions.

    “But to make him the scapegoat for returning players completely derailing, isn’t fair either. No GM plans for those situations, because this wasn’t gradual.”

    So we should reward him for consistently making decisions that don’t work out? For consistently acquiring players who don’t fit at all in Safeco? For failing to make the playoffs in 7 seasons?

    I’d argue that seven seasons without a single playoff appearance is pretty gradual. I’d also argue that good GMs do plan for ‘situations’ by developing good depth and being able to properly evaluate the talent on their own club. The M’s make bad decisions often, and unsuprisingly get bad results often.

  6. Jason,

    With all due respect, I think you are mistaking facts and opinions.

    The facts are simple: the M’s have four players – Cano, Felix, Cruz, and Seager – who are due $70 million next year ,and Kyle isn’t into the years where his salary goes up near $20 million. In 2018, those same four players will be due over $80 million. Those are facts.

    Saying that the M’s have a great situation in terms of payroll flexibility is an opinion, and it is certainly debatable. I would argue that the current roster doesn’t afford a ton of mobility. Two years ago – when Felix was the only person on a long-term contract – I would have agreed with you. Now, not so much.

    I think the M’s are middle of the pack in this regard. They aren’t the Rangers or Angels, who have lots of backloaded, big money deals and a few albatross contracts to guys like Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols. But they also aren’t the Cubs, Blue Jays, or Cardinals, who have similar payrolls but aren’t nearly as leveraged.

    I’m not saying that the M’s are screwed. Those salaries aren’t albatrosses, and the M’s have done a good job of not signing backloaded deals. But they currently have over half their payroll tied up in three players. That’s not exactly a blank canvas for a new GM. The problems:

    1. The four big contracts currently on the books aren’t great value assets. Seager’s deal is fair, as he’s an above average player who will be getting an above average salary when he gets into the latter years of the deal. Felix’s deal is slightly below market value, but he will still be among the highest paid pitchers in baseball. Cano and Cruz are on contracts that most would argue are negative assets going forward. Cruz’s numbers this year are great, but he’s due substantial salaries through his age 38 season. The chances that he keeps this up the next three seasons isn’t good. And Cano’s on a deal that will have him way overpaid for the second half of a 10-year deal using even the most optimistic projections. His bad first half makes his contract really scary. Its a negative asset at this point.

    2. The M’s don’t have any players locked up on bargain contracts. They don’t have anyone like Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Anthony Rizzo or Paul Goldschmidt, who are all owed very little relative to their projected performance going forward. Besides the four listed above, the M’s don’t have anyone under contract beyond 2016. That gives them flexiblity, but it also means that they don’t have any guys who are extremely valuable assets from the perspective of salary versus performance.

    3. The M’s don’t have much pre-arbitration talent. Taijuan Walker is the best guy we have in that category, but he’s still more upside than present performance. Paxton is the same story, with added injury risk offsetting his solid MLB performance when he has been healthy. Miller, Zunino, Montgomery, Marte, Montero, Smith, and Elias are all good cheap players, but are more solid contributors than future stars. Compared to teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers, Astros, and Pirates, we don’t have a lot of young pre-arbitration talent.

    4. The M’s farm system is among the worst in MLB – especially at the upper levels – and isn’t likely help rectify problem #3 anytime soon.

    I’m not arguing that the M’s are a superfund site or anything. The job would likely be very appealing to any GM candidate, given the ballpark, revenue, market size, and fanbase. The team isn’t a colossal mess. But unless the M’s raise their payroll into the $150 neighborhood of the top 5-7 teams in baseball, the new GM is going to have somewhat limited options because of those four big contracts. Four players are making up over half the current payroll, and the team still has significant issues to rectify. Moving any of those four would be difficult, and would create new problems on the roster. That limits the options of any new GM. Whoever replaces Jack will probably want to shake things up in the first year. But that person will have to do so with four big contracts eating up over half the payroll. It’s not impossible by any means, but it’s not exactly a blank slate.

  7. I love this impression that if you bring in a new GM, that magically the front office will simply let a new GM do whatever they want. Jack has had the most flexibility of any recent GM. So, if they feel that their policy change for Jack is flawed, hence firing him, then what makes anyone think that they are going to give a new GM more flexibility?

    I get the concept that when something isn’t working, heads must roll. But, the reality is the top of the Mariners organization isn’t going to change, and new ownership will not emerge from the heavens. It is what it is.

    I also love the myth that modern analytics is responsible for the successful teams. What about the not so successful teams that have been using the same advanced metrics? It’s simply not that simple. I know SABRheads think it is a ruling God, but there are so many other factors than statistics. That’s just one factor, of many.

    For all of Jack’s moves, most worked as he had hoped. Though they didn’t make overwhelming changes, the did help the offense. Some things simply could not be seen at the beginning of the season. Everyone knew that Seattle would not likely have the best bullpen in baseball again, but NOBODY could have anticipated that sans Carson Smith and Charlie Furbush, would pitch far worse then expected.

    I can see reasons to keep him, or fire him. But to make him the scapegoat for returning players completely derailing, isn’t fair either. No GM plans for those situations, because this wasn’t gradual.

  8. “One aspect of the article I don’t entirely agree with is the argument that the team has maintained payroll flexibility.”

    It’s FACT, Jerry. Look at how little they have committed in future years. And payroll — started the season around 122-123 — isn’t going DOWN. Also FACT.

    When I went asking around of some possible GM candidates, at least five people told me the payroll situation is why a candidate would want the gig if Seattle moved on from Jack. Again, because it’s fact. It’d be one thing if the roster needed $60-80 million in annual salary to fix it, because, once more, they don’t have 120+ committed for future years. It’s 71-79 million per year over the remaining years of Felix’s deal. Not sure how the math got so difficult here.

  9. I think its telling that an article titled “The case for retaining Jack Zduriencik” consists of a very good argument for why we need new leadership.

    One aspect of the article I don’t entirely agree with is the argument that the team has maintained payroll flexibility. I think that was true until a few years ago. The signings of Cruz and Cano shifted this team into win-now mode, and their window to contend has moved forward considerably. Before, Felix was the only player under contract long-term, and he is only 29. Now, they will have three guys all over 30 making up 63 million of their payroll for the next few years in Felix (30 next season), Cano (33) and Cruz (36). That’s half their current payroll. Unless they go well above 150 million, this team’s window is the next 2 years before Cano and Cruz become negative assets. The problem with the M’s is that they are already past the prime years of those guys, and haven’t won anything yet. Their window is set to close soon, and they have nothing to show for it.

    For a well-run organization, young players would be taking up the reigns and making up for the expected declining returns from Cruz and Cano (hopefully Felix doesn’t join that club for a while). But the team has shown a shocking inability to develop young position players. That bodes very poorly for the future: their window to contend is the next 2-3 years, but they aren’t good. And their farm system is one of the worst in baseball. To continue this course, they’ll have to invest even more heavily in expensive, aging vets in free agency. Thats the WORST way to acquire talent.

    Personally, I think that Jack has to go. There are lots of candidates that would be improvements, and several big-name guys who might want the job.

    For me, the ideal candidate for the next GM would be someone like Jason McLeod, as I’d like to see the M’s turn into an organization like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Dodgers, who are focused on using financial resources to hoard and develop young talent. The M’s need to operate like that. Ironically, Jack’s main selling point was his resume as a talent evaluator and player development guy, but the M’s have been an abject failure in that area under his reign.

    However, I’m starting to think that Dave Dombrowski would be the best candidate. I don’t actually like his M.O. as a GM that much, but he brings one thing to the table that nobody else does: a huge name and resume that will likely get him full control over decision making. To get him, the M’s would likely have to make him head of baseball operations and perhaps even let him hire another GM to work below him. If so, great! The M’s biggest issue over the past decades – in my opinion – is that the team is run by buisnessmen like Howard Lincoln who don’t know much about baseball. Dombrowski taking the job would inhere guys like Lincoln and Mather seding some control over the team. That cannot be a bad thing.

    I’d love to see the M’s turn into a modern analytical team like the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, or Red Sox. McLeod is the guy to recruit to do that. But Dombrowski could have a bigger impact, as he has enough of a resume to demand a much greater degree of control over the roster. If you look back on the M’s history, they have had one GM that had great success under the current ownership: Pat Gillick. Gillick was the same type of guy as Dombrowski: a long resume that earned him control over the decision making process.

    But the most important thing: ditch Jack! This clearly hasn’t worked. Expecting anything different going forward isn’t logical.

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