The Mariners had a need, and it was addressed. It was as simple as that, and at the same time—it really wasn't. It wasn’t simple in its undertaking, and it wasn’t simple in what it signals.
Cleveland is a place that’s never been kind to the Seattle Mariners. It was the landing spot for Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera, and possibly even a doomed season or two. Then, of course, what would’ve counted as one of 117 wins was left there on Jacobs Field on a warm August night almost exactly 13 years ago.
I made this comment Wednesday on Twitter, that it felt more than a little ominous the Mariners were Cleveland during a 72-hour period that would define the Jack Zduriencik era as much as any stretch in memory.
A follower, Ethan Novak, had the perfect response.
"Or is it the perfect place," he wrote, "for some kind of rebirth?"
Rebirth? I don’t know if we’re there quite yet, but hell, yesterday felt great.
While residing in the same city from which he once plucked a prototypical in-his-prime center fielder, Jack Zduriencik did it again, grabbing Austin Jackson from the Tigers in a creative "Uh, ahem, excuse me—can I get in on this?" deal that felt like the old days.
It is highly unlikely Jackson has a six-win season in him, and he isn't near the stud defender Franklin Gutierrez was (who is?), but this move is as much about the front office as it is the player—well, players.
The Mariners were in a precarious position. They would be even if they led the race for the second wild card, and weren’t chasing from three games back. On the one side, the play-in game is a coin flip, as everyone’s said—and even if you make a few spectacular moves, there’s no guaranteeing the Mariners even make it there in the first place. On the other, this is a city that hasn’t seen meaningful September baseball in a long time, and the actual playoffs even longer. Yeah, the wild card game is a coin flip—but then, what’s going all-in to win three consecutive short series in a baseball tournament? Sometimes, you make moves to get in, and then just let it roll.
Zduriencik walked the tightrope flawlessly. As Dave Cameron writes on Fangraphs today, "no one improved their chances of reaching the postseason more than Seattle" and that "the Mariners made the kinds of moves that a bubble second Wild Card team should make."
In speaking with Shannon Drayer before yesterday’s game, Zduriencik spoke with calm and confident language you rarely hear from the GM: "We’re going to be here a long time, and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with."
The second part of Zduriencik's bold quip will be in question, as it is for every team, until it isn't. But on the first part, that's long been an issue, and a statement assumed to be flat wrong. For the past couple of years, Jack Zduriencik’s regime might as well have had a terminal illness with all that was said about it—well, maybe some kind of illness caused by moral misdeeds, because no one felt sorry for him. It wasn't a question of if Jack Zduriencik would see this rebuild through to completion, but when the higher-ups would pull the plug and start over. Now, not so much.
I don't want to get into the merits of Jack Zduriencik, General Manager, because those things tend to go very, very sideways—but Jack Z certainly isn't acting or sounding like a man whose job is even remotely at risk. "The plan" has seen much derision, but it's something Howard Lincoln, Kevin Mathers and the ownership seem very much still committed to.
And that's the second part of this. Immediately following his "we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with" proclamation, Zduriencik effusively praised the ownership group for giving the front office the freedom to pick up a few players. Now, this isn't a massive influx of cash, but after noting this organization's propensity for avoiding mid-level contracts, I feel obligated to note Austin Jackson will make about $8 million in 2015. And that isn't to say anything of the $3 million flyer for Kendrys Morales and small sum for Chris Denorfia—who, don't look now, was an above average hitter the three years preceding this one, and a four-win player in 2013.
Things may yet go sideways, as they seem to do in life and baseball. But as we look back on this trade in years to come, let's all remember we loved the process. This isn't rare for Jack Zduriencik acquisitions. There have been some clunkers, most certainly, and it is Zduriencik's job to be smarter than the crowd—but if he hits gets the full payout on any one of Chone Figgins, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero or Franklin Gutierrez, maybe we see this whole thing differently.
I really don't know, but it's something to think about. We talk a lot here about small sample sizes and bad luck. Maybe Zduriencik is due to have one of his hard-hit liners find a gap. If it does, wonderful, but if it doesn't—let's remember how we felt yesterday, and how we feel today.
In making his radio rounds this morning and yesterday afternoon, Zduriencik talked at length about how well-positioned this franchise currently is. And he's not wrong. It was well-positioned before the season began, and it's well-positioned now.
There's no guarantee this rebuild will reach its ultimate destination, that we'll see the sustained year-over-year winning we've been promised for a long time.
But it's hard not to feel a lot better about it now than we did this time yesterday.