A Calm Evaluation of Jack Zduriencik


Dec 6, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik answers questions on the MLB.com set during the MLB winter meetings at Hilton Anatole. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

It is reasonable to take a look at the job Jack Zduriencik has attempted to do since being hired as the General Manager for the Mariners on October 2008 after the dismal failure and horrific tenure of GM Bill Bavasi who put together the first team with a 100 million-dollar payroll to lose 100 games in a season.

Zduriencik’s first quote was this: I’d love to have guys with good makeup and good character, committed to the city and the ball club. But, when all is said and done, talent wins.” Let’s see if his words match his actions.

He made a big splash immediately after naming Don Wakamatsu as manager by trading closer J.J. Putz and prospect Luis Valbuena for Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp and Jason Vargas. In retrospect, this could have been an all-time tremendous trade if some freakish injuries had not happened to three of the four players involved. He got a star centerfielder in Gutierrez, a decent, fast, slap-hitting left fielder perfect for Safeco in Chavez, a young left-handed stick in Carp and a dependable, serviceable starter in Vargas. Unfortunately, Chavez tore up his knee in a terrible collision with then shortstop, Yuni Betancourt, and was out of the picture. Gutierrez has been cursed with injury after injury which has limited his involvement and been an awful blow to the rebuilding plan. Carp, once given some regular playing time, responded by showing he could handle big league pitching before fighting the injury bug this year. Vargas has become a damn good pitcher and a key part of an effective pitching staff. Without the injuries, this was a great first move by Jack Zduriencik.

He looked like a genius when under Wakamatsu’s guidance the 2009 the Mariners improved from the embarrassing 2008- 61-101 season to a 85-77 winning mark. Ichiro hit .352, Guti had an impressive line of .283 average, .339 OBP and and OPS of .764 and played all-star defense, Chavez was hitting .273 and stealing bases before getting hurt. Jack’s signing of veterans Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey,Jr, who split the DH duties while helping to change the culture and clubhouse atmosphere, worked out beautifully. New GM Jack looked like a genius with a Midas touch.

Unfortunately, the team fell off the cliff in 2010 and ended the year with the exact same 61-101 record as the pathetic 2008 team. Zduriencik fired Wakamatsu, Griffey and Sweeney were gone and Wedge was hired.

Let’s look at Zduriencik’s moves:

Free Agent signings:

Chone Figgins for the 2010 season to replace Beltre—36 million for three years.

This signing was hailed as a great one as Figgins seemed to be a perfect fit for Safeco and many fans were enthused to think about having a combo of Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the order. He hit .259 with an OBP of .340 and stole 42 bases. These figures look pretty good compared to current Mariner standards but they were way below expectations. Then came the 2011 season where Figgins looked disinterested and lost. He ended up hitting .188. Looking backward, this signing appears to have been a disaster but at the time, it was agreed by all the experts as an outstanding move. Is it fair to blame Zduriencik for Figgins turning from a speedy, competitive near All-Star to a scrub in such a short time? Figgins decline was so sudden and dramatic that it was and still is shocking. This signing has to be graded as a “F”.

Miguel Olivo-two years at seven million.

This player had played for several teams including the Mariners in 2005 and had always struggled at the plate. His skills and problems were already a given. He was known to be a tough, hustling competitor with a good arm, a history of being the league leader in passed balls each season and a wild swinger whose career OBP is one of the lowest in history as is his walk to strikeout totals which are astonishingly bad. Olivo is a classic decent backup catcher with a good work ethic. He is not a starter as the Mariners already knew. This signing was curious with the thinking, I guess, being that with all the young kids and pitchers a veteran presence was needed. He does play the game hard and seems to be a good team member and positive clubhouse guy. But was that worth 3.5 million a year? Using him as a DH is laughable. I give this signing a C-.

Hisashi Iwakumafor $1.5 million guaranteed, plus an additional $3.4 million in incentives linked to starts, innings pitched, and awards-

This was a good gamble as Zduriencik got a more than capable major league pitcher for very little money. The guy has been stellar the second half of the season after Manager Wedge finally gave him a chance to perform. This was a B+ signing and could become an “A” if he is resigned for a reasonable amount for a couple of more years.

Kevin Millwood—for one million for one season-

He has done okay for a 37-year old and his signing has proven to be reasonable. He ate up a bunch of innings and filled a hole, allowing other pitchers to develop. I give this a B.

Munenori Kawasaki–$625,000 for one year-

His dancing in the dugout, pushups, huge leads off first base, and obvious love of the game alone make this signing an “A” in my book. He has become somewhat a joke to a few but this guy is one hell of a fielder. He has made zero errors this year while filing in a second and shortstop. He is a better over-all player than most people think. I would have given him more chances to play. He has been a pleasure and a more than decent bench player for the money.

Tom Wilhelmsen—is making only $482,900 after Jack took a chance on him.

This guy was a decent starter in the minors until he tested positive for pot twice in one season and was suspended. He was out of baseball completely but Jack found him somewhere and he has turned into a star. This was a piece of brilliant scouting by Jack and deserves an “A++” for taking a working bartender and giving him another chance. I actually think he could be a decent starter, but people will think me crazy for that thought. Great move here.

Steve Delabar

He is now gone but was also pulled off the scrap pile, signed as a free agent for next to nothing, and has proven to be a good reliever. Jack chose to trade him for yet another young outfielder, Eric Thames. The jury is still out on that move. But the signing of Delabar was another “A” move.

Trades by Zduriencik:

Gutierrez, Chavez, Vargas and Carp for Putz and a prospect was a definite “A”.

Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez has to be graded as an “F”. What would the starting rotation look like with Morrow in there? Terrible move.

He also traded for star Cliff Lee in December of 2009 for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies which was an “A” trade as it was a steal.

The trade of Carlos Silva for nutcase Milton Bradley was a simple salary dump and was probably worth a shot, although it looks bad now.

Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe and cash for Matt Lawson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak. This trade looks like a loss until one factors in that Josh Lueke turned into John Jaso, which saved this for being a disaster. I thought throwing  Lowe into this trade was unnecessary as he was and still is a good arm in the bullpen. Lawson and Lueke were busts. Beavan may turn out to be an okay fifth starter for a bit and what can one say about the centerpiece of this trade—Justin Smoak? This big, strong, switch-hitting, lefty first baseman with great defensive skills advertised by experts as a potential power guy seemed like a fine move. Next year will prove once and for all if this trade was worth it. Smoak’s performance has been way below expectations and he cannot seem to learn to hit off-speed pitches. This trade’s grade is an INC. at this stage but looking like it may turn out to be a “D” if Smoak remains what he has been.

Brendan Ryan for pitcher Maikel Cleto.

This has to be graded as an “A” for Jack as the Mariners received the best defensive shortstop in the majors for a weak pitcher. If Ryan could only hit .230 or so. My Lord, could someone get with this guy and teach him how to hit? That ridiculous open stance has got to go. Someone should teach him how to choke up and punch the ball to the right side all the time. But still, his defense is unbelievable so his hitting woes can be forgiven.

Doug Fister and David Pauley for Franciso Martinez, Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, and later, Chance Ruffin.

I hated this trade at the time because Fister was a young, proven starter under team control for years. My attitude has not mellowed completely over time, either. Martinez and Ruffin have shown nothing. Casper Wells started off great until getting beaned by one of Morrow’s fastballs. He has never really been the same since. His has a great arm, good range but does not appear to be a consistent major league hitter, although in his defense, Wedge’s use of him has bordered on criminal. Furbush has been a pleasant surprise as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen but was that worth a starter? I give this trade a “D”.

Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

At first blush, this seems to be an obvious winning trade for the Mariners as both Pineda and Campos got hurt. However, if they both return to become decent pitchers then what? Montero has proven to be a beast of a hitter against left-handers but below average against righties. He will never be an everyday catcher and this was known by most experts. So we got a part-time catcher and DH. Noesi cannot seem to learn what to do when ahead in the count with hitters. He is looking like another Ian Snell. If Pineda returns to All-Star form in the future what will this trade look like then? Campos was also a highly-rated arm. We needed another bat but is Montero going to be all that he was advertised as being? This trade’s grade is an INC.

John Jaso for Josh Lueke –

This is an “A” all the way and the best trade Jack has made. Jaso is the Mariners’ only legitimate hitter in this lineup at the moment, when he gets to play. Lueke was more than worth the price. This move took some of the sting out of the Lee trade.

Jarrod Washburn was traded for Mauricio Robles and Luke French from Detroit in 2009.

This is a trade that deserves no grade. Robles is still young and may have some value. Luke French was given a few chances but is in the minors again.

Last, was the Ichiro trade for two minor league pitchers to the Yankees.

It is hard for me to be objective but trading off Ichiro was probably the right thing to do. Making him play on this losing team at the end of his career and taking abuse from ignorant fans after all the years of stardom here did not seem compassionate, kind or fair. But I will give this franchise zero credit unless they spend every damn cent freed up by moving my idol next season. Every cent….

After all of these moves what is the verdict? We got a star center fielder in Guti, if he could stay healthy. His back luck has inhibited the progress of this team. The Mariners have gotten two decent bats in Montero and Jaso but nothing more in the hitting department which is why the team is the American League’s worst hitting team for four years in a row now. Getting Ryan for nothing was a great move. Jack got Jason Vargas in the same trade that landed Guti -another fantastic move. Those are the good changes but there is another side of the coin.

Seattle got a lefty specialist for bullpen use in Furbush and nothing more for a proven starter in Fister. The Mariners gave away one of the top starters in the league in Morrow for League who did have one good season as the closer but then washed out.

One must ask what the Mariner rotation would look like with Felix, Vargas, Fister, Morrow the top four. Add in Iwakuma or Ramirez or even Millwood as the fifth starter and wow….what a dynamite rotation. This doesn’t even include Cliff Lee and what exactly did Seattle end up with in that trade?

Do we have a first-baseman or not? It looks like not after Smoak’s continual struggles. But could Carp, also acquired in Jack’s first trade, stay healthy and hit? He is still young as is Smoak. All in all, the trades have not accomplished much, thus far, partly due to back luck with injuries and partly due to prospects never developing. “Trader Jack” gave away three star pitchers and received little in return. None of the trades got a power bat or even a high average hitter. I give his trades a C-, at best, at this point in time.

Draft picks by Zduriencik-

2009—Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Kyle Seager, Vinnie Catricala, Anthony Vasquez—grade “A”

2010—Taijuan Walker, Stephen Pryor, James Paxton—grade–INC. Pryor is a stud already and Walker and Paxton are highly regarded but are still only prospects.

2011—-Danny Hultzen, Carter Capps and Brad Miller—grade? Who knows? Capps has an electric fastball and has done more than okay in his short audition. Miller is a shortstop that can hit but is not mentioned much. Hultzen had real trouble in AAA after dominating AA. Could he become a dependable starter? He better considering that he was the second player taken.

2012—Mike Zunino alone makes this an “A”. I give Jack and his staff credit for figuring out that Jesus Montero would never be a catcher to build a team around. Zunino is both a defensive and hitting star and tore up the minors.

Draft summary—The Mariners have gotten two infield starters in Ackley and Seager and two bullpen power arms out of the four Zduriencik drafts so far along with a handful of good-looking prospects. If Mike Zunino becomes a solid catcher and Hultzen improves his control enough to become a long-term part of the rotation then one would have to give high marks for his draft picks.

Rule Five:

Jack picked a winner in this category with Lucas Luetge who has filled a spot in the bullpen wonderfully as a left specialist.

Signing Oliver Perez has to be rated as an “A” gamble as he has become a reliable lefty out of the bullpen. One of Jack’s best moves.

In summary, many of Jack Zduriencik’s moves made sense at the time. He has been unlucky.

Gutierrez’s multiple injuries could not be predicted. Figgins was once a great, versatile player whose skills dried up at a stunning speed. His signing of Sweeney and Ken Griffey, jr were excellent moves that changed the clubhouse the first year. It was a hard call on what to do with Junior in his last year and it do not end well, but who knew? His hiring and then firing of Wakamatsu was curious and more than a few of us wonder if Wedge was and is that much of an improvement. Ackley was thought of as a can’t miss player coming out of college and Smoak was high-regarded as a potential powerful star. Who could have predicted that both would struggle so much? Ryan forgetting how to hit above the Mendoza Line is frustrating as he was never that terrible before coming to Seattle. Luckily, his drafting of Kyle Seager has been a beam of sunlight for the franchise and it looks like Jesus Montero will be a good hitter in the future.

He has put together a very fine pitching staff and signed Felix to an extension (by far his best move). He has pieced together a bullpen that has been excellent and could get even better. Giving Wilhemsen a chance was brilliant as was giving Luetge a shot and two of his draft picks, Capps and Pryor, are on the squad already firing their near-100 heaters past hitters. Jack also has a developed a collection of young arms in the minors some that could develop into good major leaguers. He deserves credit for that and also for the the defense he has put out on the field. It is incredible. This group has made only 61 errors all year.

But the hitting woes cannot be ignored. There has been very little progress in runs scored, doubles hit, hitting for average, on-base percentages, in fact , the team has been last in nearly every offensive category for three years now. The Mariners averaged 3.17 runs per game in 2010, the fewest by an AL club since the introduction of the DH in 1972. Last season, the M’s averaged 3.43 and this year they are “up” to 3.76.

Time is ticking on Jack. Let’s return to his statement at his first press conference.

I’d love to have guys with good makeup and good character, committed to the city and the ball club. But, when all is said and done, talent wins.

Has he done the job he was hired to do? Has he improved the talent? Is it time to fire him and move on? No, not yet is my answer to all three questions. He has not done the job he was hired to do but he could if players perform. He has improved the pitching talent, and the defensive talent that is true. But his efforts at improving the talent on offense have not worked.

His plan should be given one more year before a different approach is tried. This team cannot continue to put on pathetic offensive shows each night. That is how you get 13,000 people in the stands at a stadium that averaged near sellouts in the days when they did have talent. The team’s average home attendance has declined from 35,983 in 2000 to this year’s 21,719 a drop-off of 14,264 per game.

Aug 15, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners fans in the “Kings Court” section cheer for a strikeout by pitcher

Felix Hernandez

(34) against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

Thank goodness there is still Felix around to draw some fans.