When we last checked in with the Mariners' head honchos, they were gearing up for what looked like a very promising September. The team had just capped another month above .500 and was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the Athletics' collapse and the second wild card.
Of the 1,203 votes collected in September, 1,097 readers (an unprecedented 91%) said that they felt confident in Jack Zduriencik's and Lloyd McClendon's managerial skills. Only 79 voters remained on the fence, while 27 displayed a complete lack of trust in the pair.
Over the course of the season, Zduriencik and McClendon generated overwhelmingly positive reactions, though the numbers didn't begin to skyrocket until the halfway point of the year. In the chart below, you can see the sentiment shift in their favor following the Mariners' 27-28 record at the end of May.
Unfortunately for Seattle, September didn't play out quite as expected. Excepting a few blowouts against the Rangers, Angels, and Astros, the Mariners' offense sputtered and died with an average of 2.6 runs per game. They were shut out four times and, even worse, lost in blowouts three times -- twice at the hands of the Blue Jays. When they finally picked up some momentum, it was nearly impossible to catch the A's on the last day of the season.
Despite their inability to clinch a playoff berth, the Mariners saw a lot of positives come out of the 2014 season. Here's what their managers had to say following the conclusion of the season, as well as some expectations and goals for 2015:
"Were we disappointed at the end? We were very disappointed," Zduriencik told the media on the eve of the wild card game. "Were we satisfied with some things? Sure. But I can tell you, if anybody thinks that either the GM or the manager or anybody else in the front office walked away saying, 'Hey, we accomplished something...' No, I think you take pride in some of the things that took place but I guarantee you that the wind was out of the sails when you walked out of there."
The feeling was mutual between the GM and his skipper. "The Plan" -- Jack's strategy for building a team and farm system that could net a championship title -- was finally beginning to produce viable results, and falling short of the postseason was not acceptable. Later on in the press conference, as transcribed by Shannon Drayer, Zduriencik spoke to the fatigue exhibited by the starting rotation, citing a lack of depth as one of the main problems with the team and calling for a staff that could utilize eight or nine pitchers throughout the course of the season.
The two biggest takeaways, however, were these: payroll will increase, and the Mariners will aggressively target new hitters for the club. We've heard Zduriencik promise to explore every opportunity that comes his way, and in past winters, it seems like he has everyone's number when the Winter Meetings roll around. Still, with the progress the Mariners have made this year, not only will Seattle become a more appealing destination for big hitters, but Zduriencik will be more motivated to supplement a roster that is equipped to make a playoff run.
On Thursday, team president Kevin Mather confirmed both the holes in the Mariners' lineup and the increased budget announced by Zduriencik. Building on the precedent that was set during last year's offseason, it seems as though every part of the club is on board to add some big pieces in order to lock down a playoff spot next season. Even the owners didn't blink an eye when Mather overspent by $16 million in 2014 in order to secure Robinson Cano. "We spent $107 million on player payroll and not one owner said, 'Well, what the heck's going on here?'" Mather commented on the Brock and Salk show. (For more concerning the Mariners' increased payroll and offseason additions, check out Colin's piece here.)
"We are not satisfied with the year that we had. We're pleased with the improvements that we made. But in the end, we want to win a World Series."
McClendon echoed many of Zduriencik's statements in the press conference, including the bit above that was quoted by the Tacoma News Tribune's Bob Dutton. For Seattle's management team -- and, I'd suspect, the rest of the players and staff -- progress is good, but it's not good enough (until it takes the form of a championship ring, that is).
As Jack Z. talked numbers, McClendon honed in on a few pieces that the Mariners need to accentuate their lineup next year: among them, a right-handed clean-up hitter and rotation depth. He then stressed the improvements that need to be made by Austin Jackson, whose power evaporated when he transitioned to Seattle from Detroit, Mike Zunino, who has an astronomical strikeout rate to cut down, and Michael Saunders, who was too plagued by injuries to be a consistent presence in the lineup this year.
McClendon also hinted at the possibility of Brad Miller stepping into a utility role and allowing Chris Taylor to assume a full-time position as the Mariners' shortstop. Miller may go the route of Dustin Ackley and convert from the infield to the outfield, as the skipper noted some very promising workouts in left and right field earlier this year.
While the Mariners have a long offseason to work out their kinks, McClendon remains optimistic about their chances to contend in 2015, calling the club "built for the playoffs" and purposing to "accomplish some more intricate things in spring training" now that many of the positions that were formerly up for grabs have been locked down.
So far this offseason, this team's managers have said everything right. They acknowledged the progress made this year without considering it the endpoint, and have laid out specific goals to improve the roster by 2015. It's nothing we haven't heard before, but this time it's backed with the potential to compete for another playoff berth. Time will tell if their good intentions will yield productive results.
Your turn: Does the Mariners' failure to qualify for the wild card affect your judgment of Jack Zduriencik's and Lloyd McClendon's leadership and accomplishments in 2014? What improvements do you hope to see from the pair heading into 2015?