The 2014 Seattle Mariners had a real chance to break the then 12-year playoff drought by acquiring the best pitcher (and possibly best bat) available at the trade deadline. But Jack Zduriencik wouldn’t pull the trigger.
The 2014 Mariners entered July at 45-38, just 5.5 games back of the division lead. They were just 2 games back of the Angels for the top wildcard spot and up 1.5 games on the Orioles. Seattle had made their big splash in the winter of 2013, signing Robinson Cano to one of the largest contracts in baseball history.
On top of Cano’s first season, Kyle Seager was in the midst of a breakout season, on his way to his only All-Star game appearance, a Gold Glove, and a 6.3 bWAR. But aside from Cano and Seager, the Mariners offense was anemic. But the Mariners pitching staff was one of the best in the game and kept the team afloat.
Felix Hernandez was in the last year of his elite years, posting a 2.14 ERA, a 6.3 bWAR, and would finish second in the AL Cy Young voting (insane he didn’t win). In addition, Hisashi Iwakuma was in the midst of a typical strong #3 starter season. James Paxton was nearing a return and Chris Young and Roenis Elias were having great seasons as a solid #4 and #5 season.
The bullpen of misfit parts was one of the best in all of baseball, anchored by Fernando Rodney and career seasons by Tom Whilhelmson and Dominic Leone. The Mariners appeared to have caught lightning in a bottle and were hunting for big game at the trade deadline.
On the top of their list was Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, whom the team had been chasing since before they officially inked Cano to his mega-deal. By all accounts, the Mariners and the Rays got close to a deal that would have involved Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and another prospect going to Tampa in exchange for David Price.
But Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik would refuse to part ways with Walker, even when the Rays dangled the possibility of adding Ben Zobrist to the deal. Price would eventually be traded to the Tigers, as a part of a 3-team deal in which the Mariners sent Franklin to Tampa for Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson.
Walker would throw just 38 innings for the Mariners in 2014, albeit a very good 38 innings. Price would go to Detroit and make 11 starts covering 77 innings and posting a 1.7 bWAR in the process.
Price would follow up a solid opening act in Detroit with a solid first-half of 2015 before the Tigers dealt the then rental pitcher for Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd. Overall, Detroit would get 32 starts out of price and a 5.4 bWAR, well worth the price they would pay.
Seattle had an opportunity to add Price to the rotation and sandwich him in between Hernandez and Iwakuma, with Chris Young, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias filling out arguably the best rotation in baseball.
But instead, they kept Walker, who would post a 2.6 bWAR in parts of 4 seasons. Austin Jackson was a disaster for the Mariners and didn’t provide any of the on-base skill Seattle was looking for. Seattle would finish 2014 just 1 game out of the playoffs.
Jack Zduriencik made a lot of questionable deals as the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners. But perhaps more devastating than the deals he did make were the ones he refused to make. In this case, Zduriencik’s stubbornness and fear of failure got in his way and would ultimately cost him his job.
We may never know how the inability to get this deal done would have changed Seattle, but it is hard to imagine that a rotation led by Felix Hernandez, David Price, and Hisashi Iwakuma wouldn’t have won 2 extra games down the stretch.