When pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in preparation for the 2015 Major League Baseball season, there was buzz. There was hope. There were expectations for the first time in years. The Seattle Mariners were supposed to be legitimate contenders from Day 1. And you know what? If the roster performed the way it should have, they would be, at least enough to stay in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card spot, which at present doesn’t take much more than being a .500 club.

When the regular season began, the worst-case scenario for wins and losses probably was around the .500 mark, give or take a few games either way, and depending on who was asked. This is all barring disaster injuries, of course. While the club currently is on pace to come up short of the .500 mark, the absolute worst thing that could happen is a meaningless, good stretch of baseball that gets the team back into the 80-win range. Now, .500 is the absolute worse-case scenario, but not in the same way as it was to start the season.

A .500-ish season is damaging in many ways. For one, it’s not good enough to actually contend. It appears 85 wins is the lowest win total that will produce a playoff club in the American League in 2015. Second, the 2016 Draft is expected to be pretty darned good, and 80-plus wins probably drops the club into the teens. They currently are slated to pick No. 7 overall. It doesn’t matter who is pulling the trigger on the picks, it’s always better to have a higher pick, unless the reason you don’t is linked to a playoff appearance the previous season.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, a .500 season may be just enough to stave off change. It’s apparent to some, including yours truly, that yet another new direction is necessary in the front office. What started off so promising seven years ago never really got off the ground and has produced two winning seasons, no postseason appearances and dozens more trades and signings that didn’t work out than those that did. I’m not going to pretend to have any clue what the president and CEO/owner of the Seattle Mariners is thinking, may be thinking in two or three months or may do at season’s end. But common sense says a .500 season looks a lot better on the resume than one that ends with 85 or more losses for the fifth time in Jack Zduriencik’s tenure. But this isn’t about whether or not Zduriencik should or should not be back in 2016. It’s about the difference in impact a .500 season has versus a win-loss record several games worse.

Zduriencik reportedly was signed to a multi-year extension last August. Whether that means two years or more, we can only guess, but it’s reasonable to believe there’s a non-zero chance that a .500 season convinces the decision makers to honor what may be the final year of Zduriencik’s most recent contract. But 74-88 or 75-87, which is about what they’re projected to finish? Certainly has a vastly different level of impact, don’t you think?

Another way a .500-ish record hurts the organization, and perhaps in both front office possibilities — Zduriencik returns or a new GM is hired over the offseason — is what the ownership, and Zduriencik if he’s back, believes the team actually has in place and how that impacts what’s done over the offseason. An 81-win team only needs 8-10 more wins to be good, therefore, the resources and effort poured into the roster could very well be different versus a 72-76 win finish, for example. Describing such an approach as ‘flawed’ is the understatement of the millennium — if you can add 30 wins worth of talent to the roster, it shouldn’t matter if the club won 60 games the prior season or 100 — but there’s no reason to believe the leadership in Seattle above the general manager won’t act in such a manner. And while I don’t necessary buy that Zduriencik sees things that way, the GM’s preference may not matter much if the payroll flexibility isn’t there. A new general manager is going to want to make changes, sure, but if he’s limited to inexpensive additions or move that rely on lateral salary moves, what he can do in one offseason would be limited, likely leaving the Mariners with yet another sub par roster.

I’m not suggesting the club tank the rest of the season. I don’t advocate clubs ever putting players in a bad situation intentionally in order to come up short on the scoreboard night-in and night-out. But there likely will come a time — barring a ridiculous run by a team that so far has a season-high winning streak of four games, hasn’t won two straight since the start of July and has not won three straight since May — when winning meaningless games late in the season is absolutely not the best thing.

If a strategy aimed at development and proper exposure for prospects and other young players produces but a 72-win season, so be it, because there are rewards to be reaped for such a result in a season where the playoffs is out of reach. And such rewards could very well mean the kind of change or changes that ultimately ends what quickly is turning into a 15-year postseason drought.

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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.

13 Comments

  1. Edman is correct. I can tell from conversations with the Mariners’ brass (Jack, Tom) that they never seriously considered Trout at 2. You know who else didn’t consider it at all?

    The Padres at 3.
    The Pirates at 4.
    The Orioles at 5.
    The Giants at 6.
    The Braves at 7.
    The Reds at 8.
    I do not know if Detroit at 9 did or not but I’d bet the farm they didn’t. Turner was there, DC LOVES prep power arms.
    The Nationals at 10.
    The Rockies at 11.
    The Royals at 12.
    The A’s at 13.
    Don’t know about Texas at 14 but the only word heard from camp Rangers all spring was college pitching, prep pitching, and they went college pitching.
    Indians at 15.
    Arizona at 16 and 17, I don’t know. They very well could have seriously considered Trout with one of them.
    Marlins at 18.
    Cardinals at 19 I don’t know, but it would have way off their page.
    Blue Jays at 20.
    No idea if HOU at 21 did.
    Twins at 22.
    White Sox at 23.
    Trout went 25, the Angels had 24 also and took Randal Grichuk.

    The Mariners board was about Ackley, Matzek, Miller, Turner, Purke and White. The two college pitchers were eliminated very early. If it wasn’t Ackley it may have ended up am overdraft to save cash for later.

  2. I agree on Jackson. But will you and others stop the horribly bad rumor that the M’s were waffling over the selection of Trout. There is absolutely NO proof that it was any more than a passing discussion. Ackley was according to almost every prognosticator, the pick, hands down.

    It’s amazing the number of crappy rumors that are out there. I wonder if other teams who had a chance to pick Trout, have to deal with the same nonsense.

  3. Edman,

    If you followed the 2016 draft you would know that if the Mariners are fortunate to be able to select one of the top three OF, that player WILL BE the best player available. Also way way way to early to give up on Jackson, he’s an 18 year old kid who struggled in his first pro season while battling an injury. That doesn’t mean he still wasn’t the best high school bat the year he was drafted and it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have some of the best bat speed for kid his age I’ve seen. He’s good.

    Ackley is another story, to me it’s all mental, he doesn’t have the mental capacity to make adjustments and frankly they should have just pulled the trigger on Trout, like some in the FO wanted to do.

  4. Jerry,

    Blah….blah…blah……last seven years. It has NOTHING to do with the question I asked.

    Thank your for your hindsight is 20/20 post prediction analysis, but it’s not what I asked. You implied that Jack made moves before the season started that were flawed, questioning his logic. I asked, if Jack’s moves were so flawed, why did a vast majority of sports writers/commentators pick Seattle to win the division, including SABR friendly sites. We all know looking back, what happened. That takes no critical thinking to resolve.

    So, answer the question, “If Jack’s moves were so bad in the offseason, why did other baseball minds pick the Mariners to win the division?” My contention is they weren’t seen as steps backward by those around baseball who follow the game. Do you think you’re smarter than them?

  5. Edman,

    So, missing the playoffs for 7 seasons is OK if the sports media thinks you contend. Once.

    Got it.

    I never understood why people thought the M’s would be so good. Adding Cruz filled a need, but at huge cost for the future. They needed solid contributions from younger guys to be a legit team, and most of those guys have failed. Ackley is the same guy he’s always been. Zunino has been a catastrophic failure, and the way he was rushed through the system and Jack’s inability to get an even moderately adequate fill-in has stalled his development. Miller was a question mark. And guys like Smith, Morrison, and Jackson were more likely to be 1 WAR types than really good players. I think the idea that they were legit contenders was based on simplistic reasoning. People saw an 87 win team that added Cruz, Smith, and a few other role players. But the 2014 team wasn’t as good as their record, based largely on unsustainable pitching performances (especially the bullpen). Those projections were based on the assumption that the M’s were really an 87-win team, along with unrealistic expectations on improvement by younger players that didn’t happen.

  6. Jerry, how many baseball writers/commentators thought the M’s would win the West? That suggests that they too, thought Jack had made the necessary moves to complement the existing roster to be able to get to the playoffs. So, that would indicate that at least on paper, moves that were made should have improved the roster this year. Are you calling those baseball writers inept too, for following the same logic that Jack did? Keep in mind, you’re the same guy who last year said the Mariners had no chance of reaching the playoffs. So, it’s not as transparently easy as you make it seem.

    If the M’s don’t get to .500 or better by the end of the season, I have little doubt that the front office will be fired. That’s how baseball works. Seattle isn’t the only team that have had unexpected failures. Boston, Detroit, and San Diego are just three teams off the top of my head that aren’t performing as expected. There will always be a luck factor, which I know frustrates SABRheads, because it can’t be calculated, no matter how good your algorithm is.

    I don’t know why guys like Ackley and Zunino have stuggled so badly. Perhaps they were rushed. Perhaps they weren’t mentally prepared. But, other teams have rushed their prospects to the bigs too, and the results are always mixed.

    Bottom line is that I could care less if Jack and company stay or go. That happens all the time in baseball. For every Ackley, there’s a Seager. Many first round picks ever reach greatness. I’ve given up on Ackley, but there’s still time for Zunino.

  7. On July 23 they will stand pat. Because they’re idiots and think they are still in it or have a chance to get back in it.

    On July 30 or 31 if they don’t come close to running the table? A smart FO changes his tune. Inept approach is not selling on your pending FAs.

  8. The rumor mill seems to be pointing to a ‘stand pat’ approach by Jack.

    Joel Sherman tweeted today:

    “3 strong starts in row by Iwakuma makes him interesting name in SP mkt. but execs say #Mariners GM Jack Z hesitant to sell”

    Thats EXACTLY why he shouldn’t be running this team.

  9. Edman,

    What exactly has to happen before you conclude that this team’s front office just isn’t good?

    Two points concerning this front office:

    First, you are right that no GM is perfect. Sometimes wise moves turn out poorly, while bad ones end up being surprisingly solid (Cruz is an example of the latter, IMHO). But if a team puts a good process into place, the moves they make based on that process will tend to work out more often than not, with the positives outweighing the negatives. If a team doesn’t make substantive improvement over the course of seven years, then any rational person has to question whether or not they need a new process. This isn’t revisionist second-guessing, either. For me, Jack’s decisions have gotten worse and worse over the past few years, from trading Jaso for Morse to the idiocy of the Trumbo trade.

    Second, a front office isn’t just responsible for drafting, trading, and signing players. They need to put a system in place that gives those players the best chance to succeed. The M’s are DISMAL in this area, particularly with position players. For whatever reason, good players have a strong tendency to fail here. From the past few years, and just off the top of my head, Richie Weeks, Mark Trumbo, Chone Figgins, Justin Ruggiano, Logan Morrison, Jason Bay, Corey Hart, Justin Smoak, Mike Morse, and Jesus Montero were all ML players who came to Seattle and sucked. For every Seth Smith (who has played up to his previous levels of performance), there are four guys who fail. That suggests that there is a systemic problem. The same rule applies for prospects. Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin…and now DJ Peterson and Austin Wilson, were top prospects who failed to develop into good players. The early returns on Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan are really bad. The M’s – at all levels of the organization – have a track record of players turning into messes when they come to Seattle. You write this off as “how was Jack to know that X would be such a spectacular failure?” The correct question to ask is “why do talented players consistently fail when they come to Seattle?” Its not just Safeco Field. And if it is, why haven’t the M’s been able to get players who WILL have success here? What are teams like the Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox, Rays, A’s, and now the Cubs doing that the M’s aren’t?

    The M’s are a broken franchise, and it shouldn’t be that way. We have the financial resources to be a consistent winners. We deserve better. Jack has to go. Keeping him through the trade deadline is just putting off the inevitable change in leadership, and passing by a golden opportunity to get this team back on the right track.

  10. Really, rjfrik, they should select a top three outfielder with their draft pick next year, instead of picking the best prospect available? That’s a good road to success? Didn’t they do that when they selected Alex Jackson or Dustin Ackley?

    A recipe for disaster.

  11. The bigger problem with Jack, IMO, is drafting and signing young talent and then developing that young talent. That was supposed to be his strength and in 8 years, it’s been exposed as something he’s not very good at. Next year’s draft class has premier OF prospects in it that haven’t come around in a long time. The best thing for the Mariners in the long term is to not win this year, play the same type of baseball they have played all year and obtain a top 5 pick, it doesn’t matter who the GM is, as long as he selects one of the top three OF prospects in this upcoming draft.

  12. So, docmilo, do tell me how before the first game was played to start the season, how you felt about the M’s chances to with the division, or at least win the wildcard. Did you predict how this season would turn out? I’m betting you were at least closely aligned with with a majority of baseball writers who predicted that the M’s would win the division. Did you display your dismay that they were horribly wrong?

    Was Jack at fault for expecting that Ackley had finally turned the corner on his career and would be an above league average contributor? Was Jack supposed to assume that Zunino would not improve on his offensive production? Should he have predicted that Cano would slump in the first half of the season (which may have been aided by his stomache issue and the loss of his father)? That after a great season last year, nearly the entire bullpen, sans Carson Smith and Charlie Furbush, would struggle so mightily?

    I suggest to you that you’re expecting that a Mariner GM come equipped with a crystal ball. You can only blame so much on the GM. On paper, Jack built a club that should be above .500, if everything stays static. But, baseball is an unpredictable game. The Padres went out and spent money, and brought in some players that, on paper, should have made them a contender. The Tigers are near .500, and fighting to stay there. Did you predict that?

    Jack did do some good things for the team. He brought in Smith to platoon in LF/RF. He’s been the most steady hitter this year. He signed Guti and gave him an opportunity to get healthy. He signed an All-Star player in Nelson Cruz. He traded for Mike Montgomery.

    Were all his moves golden? No. Name a single GM who’s never made a wrong move. There isn’t one.

    In the end, Jack may very well lose his job. That’s the risk you take as a GM. But, Jack isn’t personally responsible for all the M’s failures. By the position he holds, he’s the one who will take the overall blame. But, it’s more about not being able to fire the team, than it is about firing Jack because he failed. Jack did his job. He brought in the kind of players that should have added to last year’s success. But, unfortunately, key players from last year’s team did not progress, or did not build on their successes. Jack can’t calculate on any more than last year’s results.

    Baseball is a strange game, in that there is so much parity, that any team can get hot and surprise everyone.

  13. The worst case scenario is the current GM and coaching staff be around for another year. The 2nd worst case scenario is the GM being left in place and allowed to make trade in attempt to correct the season where the M’s play many more games with teams under .500 than over. The schedule is filled with the White Sox, Rockies, Rangers and Athletics.

    If the GM can’t be trusted to make the necessary changes, then there is no reason for that GM to remain in the org. I won’t even talk about the manager. I will talk about a lineup today that has Chris Taylor and Sucre going up against David Price when Taylor has 3 ABs in the last 10 days and Sucre has played in 2 games in July. I will be crossing my fingers for those two.

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