If Mariners are to contend in 2014, Trader Jack must return

Otto Greule Jr

I'll be honest, I wasn't much of a Mariners fan before 2010. It feels weird to say, and maybe it isn't the same for everyone—but for me, fandom comes in waves.

I moved out to Seattle from Wisconsin in the fall of 1999, and I fell in love with the early-00s success—that "you know what, we don't need you" roll following Griffey's departure, and then A-Rod's. But those were different times. I was younger and, by the time I headed off to college, the Mariners had fallen into a rut and my childhood team, the Cubs, had looked like they were on the cusp of ending a century of futility.

I was from Seattle, and I had passionately cheered for the Mariners before, but I wasn't the fan I once was, or the fan I am now.

That changed in the winter of 2009. It changed when we got Cliff Lee.

On Wednesday, December 16th, the Mariners traded for the one of the best pitchers in the game and signaled to the fan base that it was going to try to make a run. Whether we should've believed them at the time is a different matter, but I did—and so did my family. When Christmas day came, my dad printed out some promo from Mariners.com for a half-season's worth of tickets and put it under the tree.

After a life of scalping and proudly taking the cheap route to get in—normally, my dad grabbing one of my younger brothers, and me walking around with the other as we shouted "anybody got one extra ticket?!" on either side of Safeco—we were officially believing big.

And oh man have I seen a lot of bad baseball since then.

It's funny to look back on 2010's Opening Day roster and think we had hoped for legitimate contention, maybe even this franchise's first appearance in a World Series. Sure it's missing Cliff Lee and a rebounding Erik Bedard, yes, but that lineup—yeesh.

Though the squad before the 2010 version was considerably better than the 2013 incarnation, the Mariners will benefit more now if Zduriencik is able to pull off a move on-par with those that once gave him that "Trader Jack" nickname. In addition, the organization must learn from that offseason. One big move isn't enough, especially with this team.

Considering Zduriencik's recent off-seasons—the Michael Pineda deal and then the failed Juston Upton trade—combined with the organization's high level of interest in trading for Troy Tulowitzki this fall, I'd be shocked if Jack isn't trying to architect a similarly-bold move play as we head into the new year.

And while we all wait on panic moves, specifically the long-rumored Walker-for-Price gamble, remember that this isn't how the organization normally operates. I believe I've referenced this before, but M's fan Daniel Carroll has developed a theory I've come to ascribe to with regards to the Mariners and trades: if you hear a rumored trade, start a 30-minute clock—if it expires, it probably isn't happening.

Now, a David Price deal may still happen—and if it does, it behooves Zduriencik to wait them out—but don't limit your thinking to what's already out there. I say this as I try to limit my own thinking, period. Someone asked me today about where a surprise deal might come from, and I struggled to even take a gander. Maybe it is Price, or Matt Kemp, or Carlos Gomez.

But it could be someone else, and it's probably someone else. If I were to chose between the names the Mariners have been linked to and "the field," I'd take the field.

But again, as we all worry that the Mariners will sacrifice too much, and that Zduriencik will do something short-sighted to put a winner on the field as soon as possible—just remember that he's done this before. When you look up and down the long list of trades made by Zduriencik, it's hard not to notice that he does better when he's buying than when he's selling.

Maybe the parameters of the argument make it biased, but when you look at the times Zduriencik has added talent to compete—Lee, Guti/Vargas, John Jaso coming in, Morales, even Montero—the trades have been strong and demonstrated good process. The same isn't true when it comes to selling assets for future value, but maybe that's a different ballgame.

People can rail against the rumored Upton trade, which I won't do because it never happened and no one's revealed the package on the record. And then there's the Michael Morse deal, which I think was a lotto ticket during what was almost sure to be a lost season.

The biggest argument against the "he's done it before, he can do it again" rationale is that things have changed. Key members of the organization have departed, and everything good that happened was because of them, whereas all all the bad decisions were totally and completely Zduriencik's fault—or so it goes.

Though the sample is small, and the Morse deal seems to outweigh others, remember that trades since this supposed organizational overhaul have brought back guys like Ty Kelly, Abraham Almonte and Danny Farquar. There are no stars here, and likely just one regular contributor, but if you look at the type of player acquired, you'll see that it isn't a bunch of Rubén Amaros running things down at the corner of Edgar and Dave.

I understand I'm pigeonholing myself a bit as the optimist, or "the guy who always defers to authority" for those who hate the rationalization, but have some faith that things aren't done, and the roster isn't set.

If there's anything that will hinder Zduriencik, it's that the roster and farm system he's built has too much good, contributing young talent. Teams are bound to ask for an organization's best guy, or one of their best 3 guys, without enough consideration for the fact that our package of second-tier prospects may be better than another organization's top-level assets.

But again, Zduriencik has worked his magic before—and that "Trader Jack" persona is back there somewhere, or maybe it never left. If Z can pull off one more big move, if he can tactfully negotiate using better assets than he's ever had before—while continuing to add in free agency—we may finally see the season were expecting to see four seasons ago.

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