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Let's Talk Seattle Mariners Front Office

there's still plenty of good
there's still plenty of good
Otto Greule Jr

As avid fans of the Seattle Mariners, and as avid fans who read Lookout Landing, you probably also read USS Mariner. So you've probably seen this post by now. In case you haven't, you should go see it and consume it, because it is of some importance to us. I'll give you a minute. I'll actually give you several minutes, because the post isn't short. Read it, and maybe read it again so that the details can sink in.

The gist:

The moves the team is making are different. Why? We don't know for sure, but we do know that besides Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, the front office now is entirely different than the front office that was in place back in the first few years of the new regime. I'd guess that those two things are related.

Maybe you've noticed that Tony Blengino hasn't really shown up in articles for some time. It turns out Blengino has been reassigned, and while he's still on Mariners front-office payroll, his role has changed, and he's not so direct an advisor to Jack Zduriencik. Tangotiger, if you're familiar with his work, isn't working with the Mariners at all anymore, as he's gone to a different front office. Various other people are no longer members of the Mariners front office, having departed over time, and various other people have stepped in to take their places. I know I've noticed a distinct increase in references to Jeff Kingston. Since Jack Zduriencik took over with the Mariners, most of the front-office personnel has changed. I believe only Zduriencik and Tom McNamara have remained in place.

So that could be one explanation for why it seems like the front office now values different things than it valued years ago. It could also be unrelated -- we have but a small sample of transactions and attempted transactions, within a dynamic market -- but, a few points.

First, we've talked about this before, but a team is not led by its general manager. The general manager usually makes the final calls, and he's the guy who takes responsibility, but teams are led by front offices, and front offices include general managers and a number of assistants. It's always a group effort. The general manager, of course, usually is the guy who selects those assistants, so in that regard it all reflects on him, but things are more complicated than "Jack Zduriencik did this" or "Jack Zduriencik doesn't value that." It's always bigger than one guy.

And, in case you haven't noticed, front offices are really, spectacularly difficult to evaluate. For one thing, we're not in there getting access to all the information, so we don't know what discussions take place, or what the thought processes are. For another, front offices change, even if the general manager doesn't. They can change because they learn, or they can change because of personnel turnover. We could, if we wanted, try to evaluate the Jack Zduriencik front office, over the course of his regime. But the front office now isn't the front office of a few years ago, so it doesn't make much sense to put them together. The team thinks differently now, and we should expect them to do different things now. The front office wouldn't have turned over so much if Zduriencik wanted to keep doing things the same way.

So where do the Mariners stand? We know they've lost tangotiger, and we know Blengino isn't really involved in day-to-day matters. We don't know much about Kingston and what his role is, but he doesn't seem to be a hardcore statistical analyst. Look at the front-office roster. We know that Zduriencik is an old-school scouting guy, who made a name for himself via young-player evaluation. We know that McNamara is an excellent scouting guy. Some of the people who've come in, like Simmons, McIlvaine, Vuckovich -- these are also more old-school types. It seems like Jack Zduriencik has been surrounding himself with people who think like he does.

Not exclusively, but, gun to my head, I'd characterize the Mariners now as being more of an old-school organization. I don't know why someone would threaten me with a gun to get me to say that, but, you know, gun nuts. This is an organization that looks like it leans heavily on scouting, and less heavily on advanced analytics. Which shouldn't be a surprise, since that's how Zduriencik was billed when he was first hired. He was a guy with a hell of a scouting background, and now the organization seems to reflect that.

It's probably not a coincidence that the strength of the Mariners is the farm system and the young talent already on the major-league roster. Tom McNamara and his group have done a hell of a job, and I'm thankful for their existence. Many of the major-league moves have been more questionable, and of course the more recent moves look nothing like moves this front office would've made early on. Not that many of those early moves worked out, but Chone Figgins looked good at the time. Franklin Gutierrez was amazing until he died. Remember how awesome it was when the Mariners traded Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley? Somehow that didn't turn out actually awesome. Sports!

I don't want to sit here and say that Jack Zduriencik has changed. He probably thinks about baseball just about the same as he thought about it years ago. But the Jack Zduriencik front office has changed, because the people around Zduriencik have changed, and because all decisions are group efforts, it makes sense that different people with the organization would lead to different organizational thinking. Zduriencik is only a part of the machine. An important part, but not the only part, and he's always been a scouting type anyway.

Can the Mariners' front office, as it is, lead the team to the playoffs or to a championship? Of course it can. At no point have I asserted that this front office is bad, and recall that the Brian Sabean front office has won championships in two of the last three seasons. The Mariners have a hell of a lot of young talent, and they have the resources to supplement that young talent with older, pricier talent. A little development here, a little luck there, and everyone involved looks like a genius. I don't think the Mariners have baseball's worst front office. Even if they did, the team could still win. It's not all about management, and it's definitely not all about management embracing things like UZR or PITCHf/x or whatever. Just as new-school thinking can fail, old-school thinking can succeed.

Just, understand what the Mariners are, now. Understand what you're talking about when you're talking about the Mariners' front office. This isn't the same front office we all fell in love with immediately after the end of the Bill Bavasi era. A couple of the guys are the same, including the main guy, and I'm not saying this front office is worse. It's just different, so we shouldn't be surprised when it acts differently.