There is something that I have noticed about Mariners' General Manager Jack Zdurencik's trades. A pattern that can distinguish what future trade he makes will likely be a good one or a bad one. Many people think Jack Z should be fired because, among many other reasons, he hasn't capitalized on many good trade opportunities. The Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak and others trade has been a disaster thus far, as has the Doug Fister to Detroit trade, just to name a couple of examples.
So, what makes a bad Jack Z trade? Let's list a few of the trades Jack Z has made during his tenure with the Seattle Mariners (in no particular order of chronology or awfulness):
1. Cliff Lee to Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak (great first base prospect at the time who was compared to Mark Teixeira but who has not panned out thusfar, although he might be turning a corner this year), Blake Beavan (slightly below-average starting pitcher), Matt Lawson (traded pretty quickly for Aaron Laffey, who was then claimed off waivers by the Yankees without pitching much for the M's), and Josh Lueke (decent relief pitcher who was traded for John Jaso, who was awesome until he was traded for Michael Morse, who is good if you love power).
2. Doug Fister to Detroit Tigers for Casper Wells (average outfielder during his time here, but was DFA'ed and claimed off waivers by Toronto), Charlie Furbush (pitcher who wasn't good enough to start, and is now an OK to good reliever), Chance Ruffin (pitcher who wasn't good enough to relieve, and is now a AA starter trying to revive his career), and Francisco Martinez (third base/outfield prospect who was DFA'ed and released, now back with Detroit).
3. Brandon Morrow to Toronto Blue Jays for Brandon League (good relief pitcher, was the closer for some not-good Mariner teams until he was traded), and Johermyn Chavez (decent outfield prospect who was released before he made it to AAA).
4. Yuniesky Betancourt to Kansas City Royals for Dan Cortes (decent relief pitcher who only played in Seattle for a couple months before getting released), and Derrick Saito (Single-A relief prospect, released before he made it higher than that).
5. Jarrod Washburn to Detroit Tigers for Luke French (fringe major league starter, released), and Mauricio Robles (minor league pitcher who was DFA'ed and released before ever debuting for the Mariners).
6. Erik Bedard to Boston Red Sox for Trayvon Robinson (not very good outfielder who was then traded for Robert Andino, who played as backup infielder before being demoted and then DFA'ed), and Chih-Hsien Chiang (traded back to the Red Sox before he made it to the majors).
7. Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to New York Yankees for Jesus Montero ("Catcher" with "power" who became not a catcher with power that he couldn't often tap into, is now in AAA to work on not-catching and is injured and might be suspended soon. It's a little early to make a call on this and call it a "bad" trade, but it's looking pretty bad so far), and Hector Noesi (starting/relieving pitcher who doesn't understand that you can't throw fastballs down the middle in an 0-2 count).
OK, some of those trades probably had to be made at the time. Washburn and Bedard pretty much had to be traded, I get it. We had nothing to lose by trying to trade them, we just happened to strike out in terms of the returns they fetched. The only thing is, Jack Z seems to strike out on every trade in which he trades a major league player for minor league prospects. He's terrible at trading for prospects and finding ones that actually will succeed. We have yet to salvage ANYTHING from any of these trades of true value. Smoak, Beavan, Furbush, Ruffin ,and Montero are the only players listed above who are even still in the organization. Smoak probably won't be for long. Beavan might be, but he's not that impressive. Furbush is hot and cold, and who really knows what he can do? It probably won't be better than Fister. Ditto for Ruffin. Montero is still young and there's still hope for him depending on who you ask, so I guess we can't make a call on that one. But judging from all the other trade outcomes, we can only assume he's not going to pan out. Some may argue that Danny Farquhar has proven to be a successful "selling" trade made by Jack Z, but when Farquhar was acquired for Ichiro, he wasn't seen as being much of a prospect. Plus, it's a little too early to call him a "successful" acquisition by the front office. Also, D.J. Mitchell, the other player acquired in that trade, is not in the organization anymore either.
OK, now here's the good news. Let's look at some good Jack Z trades (in no particular order of chronology or goodness):
1. Mariners acquire Jack Wilson and Ian Snell from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jeff Clement (first-round draft pick who didn't pan out, now is trying to catch on in the Twins organization), Ronny Cedeno (semi-OK shortstop who is now with the Astros), Nate Adcock (pitcher who has since been through 3 organizations and is now in the Diamondbacks organization), Brett Lorin (Also now in the Diamondbacks organization doing who knows what), and Aaron Pribanic (still in AA in Pittsburgh).
2. Mariners acquire Cliff Lee from Philadelphia Phillies for Phillippe Aumont (currently a below-average reliever in Philly), Tyson Gillies (has apparently endured so many hamstring injuries that his nickname is literally "hamster"), and J.C. Ramirez (DFA'ed after pitching in 11 games with Phillies to the tune of a 7.43 ERA).
5. Mariners acquire Endy Chavez, Aaron Heilman, Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, and Maikel Cleto from the Mets and Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians for J.J. Putz (was a bad reliever for the Mets, then became good with the White Sox and Diamondbacks), Sean Green (didn't catch on in New York, hasn't pitched since 2011), Jeremy Reed (also didn't catch on in New York, also hasn't played since 2011), and Luis Valbuena (sucked in Cleveland, now sucks in Chicago).
OK, maybe the acquiring Ryan trade was pushing it, but that was still a trade in which the M's gave away basically nothing in order to help the club's infield depth in the short term. He's served as an excellent defensive shortstop until this year though, and has produced 3.6 WAR in 3 seasons with the M's. You recognize the pattern in this list of trades? These are trades in which the Mariners traded away minor league prospects in order to acquire major league players. Jack Z has been awesome so far at making the most out of prospect packages and most of the time, the prospects he has traded have flamed out wherever they went.
Because of this, it's evident that Jack Z is excellent at scouting his own organization but not as good at scouting the organizations of other clubs. Therefore, if there is a trade in which the Mariners trade away prospects for major league talent, chances are better that that will end up as a good trade in the end than if the Mariners trade a major league player or players for prospects.
Unfortunately, Jack Z seems to be against trading minor league prospects for established major leaguers, otherwise known as "buying", considering the fact that it's been a while since he's made such a trade. Besides the Justin Upton trade which didn't end up actually happening, the most recent of the trades above was the Brendan Ryan trade, which was prior to the 2011 season. Jack Z has a strength that he isn't using. Because of this, if Jack Z really wants to save his job, maybe he should start "buying", something he's been reluctant to do up until now.