Seattle Mariners

Head-scratching trades, poor drafts put Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik on hot seat

he News Tribune

Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik watches batting practice before a baseball game between the Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, July 10, 2015, in Seattle.
Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik watches batting practice before a baseball game between the Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, July 10, 2015, in Seattle. AP

Seven years before Jack Zduriencik assembled a baseball team that has trouble hitting baseballs, he introduced Don Wakamatsu as the Mariners’ manager. Some days at Safeco Field go better than others, and Nov. 19, 2008, struck me as a particularly joyous occasion.

Wakamatsu, a former catcher who’d stayed in shape, carried himself with a presence that was understated but self-assured. You could tell Wakamatsu knew he was an ideal fit for the job, and you could tell Zduriencik knew Wakamatsu knew he was an ideal fit for the job.

A few hours later, a friend asked me what I thought the hire meant for the Mariners.

“I’m not sure they’re gonna win the World Series any time soon,” I said. “But they’ll be successful, they’ll have fun and they’ll remind fans why there’s nothing more exciting in sports than the daily ebb and flow of a pennant race. These guys are a breath of fresh air.”

Wakamatsu was fired before he had a chance to complete his second season, replaced by interim manager Daren Brown. Eric Wedge took the job in 2011, then Lloyd McClendon took it in 2014 following Wedge’s resignation. How long McClendon stays around is anybody’s guess — the Mariners went into the All-Star break with a league-low 41 victories — but if he’s let go, Seattle will be searching for its fifth manager since Zduriencik succeeded Bill Bavasi.

Zduriencik was touted as a superior talent scout whose first priority would be overhauling a burnt-crop farm system. The seven-year overhaul has yielded one solid position player — third baseman Kyle Seager — and several variously flawed prospects.

The baseball draft is the most uncertain of all drafts, and it wouldn’t be fair to blame Zduriencik for making the position-challenged Dustin Ackley the second overall choice of a 2009 draft that produced Mike Trout later in the first round, or for failing to foresee catcher Mike Zunino, the No.3 overall pick in 2012, as a swing-and-whiff out.

But trades and free agent acquisitions are fair game for criticism, and Zduriencik’s record on both counts is sketchy. His deadline deal with the Tigers in July of 2011, which sent starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Tigers, remains Exhibit A of why the best trades are often the trades never made.

Fister was 27, under club control with a relatively modest contract, and he had the talent to serve as middle-of-the-rotation starter for years. Zduriencik evidently put more emphasis on Fister’s 3-12 record at the time than his 3.33 ERA.

Fister went on to win American League pitcher of the month honors that September, and Mariners fans went on to wonder why Zduriencik arranged a trade primarily predicated on the dubious potential of journeyman outfielder Casper Wells.

A more recent trade underscores Zduriencik’s baffling inability to build a roster with Safeco Field in mind. In exchange for Welington Castillo, a veteran catcher with a big-league bat, Zduriencik acquired Mark Trumbo, a power hitter whose long swing puts lots of balls over the fence during batting practice.

Negating Trumbo’s batting-practice power is the fact he doesn’t run well, throw well or field well, and his strike-zone recognition can best be summed up as oblivious.

There are 15 teams in the league, and the Mariners rank between 13th and 15th in just about every offensive statistic but home runs. (They are No. 7 in long balls, which adds to the exasperation because the team plays 81 games in a park famously unfavorable to long balls.) And yet Zduriencik pulled the trigger on a trade for a long-ball hitter who is all but useless in Safeco Field.

Here’s what I don’t understand: Zduriencik’s first trade — a three-team blockbuster involving 10 players — suggested he could identify what kind of athlete might prosper in a spacious park where the ball doesn’t carry. That athlete was Franklin Gutierrez, a center fielder with exceptional range and adequate power.

You know how this turned out: Gutierrez has been hampered by one ailment or another every season since 2010. Gutierrez’s bad-luck run has been cruel and frustrating, but it’s a bad-luck run, not a reason to change a philosophy on how to put together a baseball team.

The essential components of outscoring the opposition at Safeco Field are getting on base, advancing the runner and driving the runner in. The Mariners are proficient at none of these tasks, which explains why they are 20-27 at home and 21-21 on the road.

Zduriencik has been given 61/2 years to figure out that on-base percentage is a much more salient statistic for his team than home runs, and he either doesn’t get it, or he gets it and has decided, phooey, these advanced stats guys act as if they invented baseball and I’ll show ’em who’s boss.

After 61/2 years, the Mariners’ winning percentage under Zduriencik is .459. Their winning percentage in 2015 is .461.

That’s right, this most disappointing of seasons has found the Mariners winning at a slightly higher percentage than they have since Jack Zduriencik introduced Don Wakamatsu on Nov. 19, 2008, the afternoon I was convinced happy days were here again.

Four managers ago.

LONGEST-TENURED GENERAL MANAGERS

The Mariners hired Jack Zduriencik on Oct. 22, 2008 as the eighth full-time general manager in franchise history. Nine current GMs have been in their posts longer:

Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants, Sept. 30, 1996

Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics, Nov. 17, 1997

Brian Cashman, New York Yankees, Feb. 3, 1998

Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, April 8, 2002

Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers, Sept. 25, 2002

Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers, Oct. 4, 2005

Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals, May 31, 2006

John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals, Oct. 31, 2007

Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati Reds, April 23, 2008

Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners, Oct. 22, 2008

AL WEST RECORDS

How AL West teams have fared since 2009:

Los Angeles Angels: 576-484 (.543), two playoff appearances

Texas Rangers: 566-495 (.528), three playoff appearances

Oakland Athletics: 549-514 (.516), three playoff appearances

Seattle Mariners: 487-574 (.459), no playoff appearances

Houston Astros: 431-628 (.407), no playoff appearances

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST DRAFT REPORT CARD

First-round and first-round supplemental picks since 2009 with the career WAR (wins above replacement) value. Number in parentheses is the player’s overall selection in draft. N/A indicates player has not reached the majors.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

13 players; 39.2 cumulative WAR

Year

Player (overall draft pick)

WAR

2009

OF Randal Grichuk (24)

2.0

2009

OF Mike Trout (25)

34.5

2009

LHP Tyler Skaggs (40)

-0.4

2009

RHP Garrett Richards (42)

4.5

2009

LHP Tyler Kehrer (48)

N/A

2010

RHP Kaleb Cowart (18)

N/A

2010

RHP Cam Bedrosian (29)

-0.9

2010

OF Chevy Clarke (30)

N/A

2010

SS Taylor Lindsey (37)

N/A

2010

OF Ryan Bolden (40)

N/A

2011

C C.J. Cron (17)

-0.4

2014

LHP Sean Newcomb (15)

N/A

2015

C Taylor Ward (26)

N/A

SEATTLE MARINERS

Eight players; 11.9 cumulative WAR

Year

Player (overall draft pick)

WAR

2009

OF Dustin Ackley (2)

8.6

2009

SS Nick Franklin (27)

1.1

2009

C Steve Baron (33)

N/A

2010

RHP Taijuan Walker (43)

1.0

2011

LHP Danny Hultzen (2)

N/A

2012

C Mike Zunino (3)

1.2

2013

3B D.J. Peterson (12)

N/A

2014

OF Alex Jackson (6)

N/A

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Nine players; 7.5 cumulative WAR

Year

Player (overall draft pick)

WAR

2009

SS Grant Green (13)

-0.6

2010

OF Michael Choice (10)

-2.0

2011

RHP Sonny Gray (18)

8.9

2012

SS Addison Russell (11)

1.2

2012

SS Daniel Robertson (34)

N/A

2012

1B Matt Olson (47)

N/A

2013

OF Billy McKinney (24)

N/A

2014

3B Matt Chapman (25)

N/A

2015

SS Richie Martin (20)

N/A

HOUSTON ASTROS

13 players; 8.1 cumulative WAR

Year

Player (overall draft pick)

WAR

2009

SS Jiovanni Mier (21)

N/A

2010

OF Delino DeShields (8)

1.2

2010

RHP Mike Foltynewicz (19)

-0.8

2010

C Mike Kvasnicka (33)

N/A

2011

OF George Springer (11)

4.5

2012

SS Carlos Correa (1)

1.6

2012

RHP Lance McCullers (41)

1.6

2013

RHP Mark Appel (1)

N/A

2014

LHP Brady Aiken (1)

N/A

2014

OF Derek Fisher (37)

N/A

2015

SS Alex Bregman (2)

N/A

2015

OF Kyle Tucker (5)

N/A

2015

OF Daz Cameron (37)

N/A

TEXAS RANGERS

15 players; 2.4 cumulative WAR

Year

Player (overall draft pick)

WAR

2009

LHP Matt Purke (14)

N/A

2009

RHP Tanner Scheppers (44)

1.7

2010

OF Jake Skole (15)

N/A

2010

C Kellin Deglan (22)

N/A

2010

RHP Luke Jackson (45)

N/A

2010

3B Mike Olt (49)

-0.8

2011

LHP Kevin Matthews (33)

N/A

2011

OF Zack Cone (37)

N/A

2012

OF Lewis Brinson (29)

N/A

2012

3B Joey Gallo (39)

0.5

2012

RHP Collin Wiles (53)

N/A

2013

RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (23)

1.0

2013

SS Travis Demeritte (30)

N/A

2014

RHP Luis Ortiz (30)

N/A

2015

RHP Dillon Tate (4)

N/A

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