It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik, in his first season of 2009, rode his scouting background and willingness to adhere to sabermetrics to the appellation of “genius.” It was either shunted to the side or outright ignored that the Mariners’ 2009 rise to 85 wins after a 101 loss disaster in 2008 was helped greatly by a dramatic overachievement and substantial luck.
Obviously, those invested in the sabermetric method being seen as “right” were uninterested in full context. To sell the idea of a Zduriencik-type being the proper kind of GM teams should look for, they twisted their own reality to suit the narrative. Zduriencik would be the first one to tell you that the 2009 Mariners were lucky, but that didn’t stop him from making a drastic trade to acquire Cliff Lee and expedite the team’s rebuilding process from a three-to-five year plan into a “go for it now” plan. Needless to say, it didn’t work as the Mariners lost the same number of games in 2010 as they lost in 2008, the year before Zduriencik arrived to “fix” the franchise.
The Mariners and Zduriencik went from the upper echelon of sabermetric fantasies as what the prototypical “they” would do. “They” means the majority of commenters on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and charter members of the Nate Silver fan club. Very quickly, as both Zduriencik’s moves and his reputation fell below ground, they dropped him like he was radioactive. Whereas the Mariners were referred to as the sixth best organization in baseball early in Zduriencik’s tenure, the shady tendencies he displayed in double-dealing with the Yankees and Rangers when trading Cliff Lee, then the controversy that surrounded the franchise with their decision to take Josh Lueke from the Rangers as part of the Lee trade, turned Zduriencik into persona non grata.
Which is accurate?
Neither and both.
He had experience in scouting and finding young players from his earlier work with the Mets and Brewers, but that’s not the same thing as being a GM. He was aggressive in making trades, but not all of the trades made sense. He made disastrous signings like Chone Figgins. He was lucky in 2009 and appeared to take that luck and the accolades accompanying them too literally.
In truth, the Mariners have some prospects that should have been better than they were in Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Justin Smoak and Casper Wells. They had a true ace to build around in Felix Hernandez and never put together an offense to bolster it. He was good at building cheap bullpens.
As for his managers, the idea of the stat guy GM that Zduriencik was supposed to treat the manager as if he’s a functionary went both ways. They unfairly fired Don Wakamatsu one-third into the 2010 season after came in fourth in the Manager of the Year voting in 2009. For 2011, he hired respected veteran manager Eric Wedge. It was more of the same on the field with little noticeable improvement.
Wedge had a stroke at mid-season 2013 and missed a chunk of the season. When he returned, his status was as shaky as Zduriencik’s. Shakier in fact, because he was at the whim of a GM whose job was in jeopardy. Zduriencik is going to get another year as Mariners’ GM and stated his intention to give Wedge another year on his deal. Wedge had other ideas when he essentially fired the Mariners. The disarray and uncertainty got to be too much for a manager who is unlikely to get another managerial job immediately. This speaks volumes for the state of the Mariners under Zduriencik.
The team was supposed to be a powerhouse by now, built by a GM who “got it.” Instead, they’re a disaster and they’re looking for a new manager. It can be said that the Mariners and Zduriencik would have been better off had they shown slight improvement in 2009 and won perhaps 70 games. No one was expecting any more than that and it would’ve been chalked up to the first year of a rebuild. But they didn’t. It’s five years in and they’re pretty much back where they started from. And they need a new manager because the one they had – and intended to keep – told them to take a hike.