The Mariners have 73 games remaining in the 2015 season, the 7th of the Jack Zduriencik Regime. Fangraphs projected them at ~89 wins before the season started, the most in the American League. They currently have 41 wins in 89 games. In order to meet that projection they will have to go 48-25, winning nearly two-thirds of their games for almost half a season. If the 2015 Mariners are going to be the team they were supposed to be they will have to play better baseball for longer than any Mariner team in well over a decade. That is a period of time that outlasts the adulthood, baseball cognizance, and sheer fandom of a large percentage of their fanbase. Most Mariner fans cannot conceive of the prospect of a Mariner team playing that well.
How did the favorite for the American League Pennant fall so hard and so fast? Equal portions bad planning and bad luck. Every baseball team has a list of things that cannot go wrong in order for them to have the season they hope. The Mariners have methodically, diligently, ticked off almost all of them:
- The starting rotation will be among the best and deepest in the American League - Hisashi Iwakuma has been bad/hurt, James Paxton has been meh/hurt, Taijuan Walker was realllllllly bad before he got reallllllllllly good, J.A. Happ has been J.A. Happ and Felix Hernandez is going through his most mortal season since 2008. Even with Mike Montgomery's magic act and back to back shutouts Mariner starting pitchers in the 1st half had a 3.96 FIP, 14th in baseball. Not good enough for a team designed to be carried by pitching.
- The Mariners returned almost the entirety of one of 2014's best bullpens - Ohohohohohohoho. Yes. Yes they did. /deeeeeeep breath:
The devil called in the note on Fernando Rodney's soul, Dominic Leone's slider went the way of the Dodo, Tom Wilhelmsen was the worst version of himself, Danny Farquhar started pitching like what the Yankees thought Danny Farquhar was in the first place, Yoervis Medina was bad and traded, and Joe Beimel was taken out of moth balls and forced into action. Only Charlie Furbush has resembled the lockdown LOOGY he was designed to be at the beginning of the year.
The team has churned through depth to in an attempt to find a workable bullpen solution. Dave Rollins, Mayckol Guaipe, and Tyler Olsen have all at points in the 1st half made their major league debuts, to varying success. The only classic Jack Zduriencik bullpen find of the year is not a young player but rather a very old one. Mark Lower has rejuvenated his fastball and his career.
It is at this time we look Southron and pay thanks to the state of Texas for Carson Smith; he who sits astride the pale horse and distributes hell from his right arm as a fire hose does water.
- The Mariners had assembled not one but two effective platoons at the corner outfield positions - Justin Ruggiano learned the inner furnishings of Lloyd McClendon's dog house prior to being DFA'd, Rickie Weeks was around longer than Justin Ruggiano and, well....
(Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The team has spent the majority of the season with either Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo galumping around right field. Dustin Ackley has a wRC+ of 85.
- The Mariner offense would be a balanced, well rounded attack devoid of the catastrophic blackholes that have plagued it so often in the past - Ohohohohohoho. Again.
The Mariners offense was built upon the assumption that the veterans would stave off decline and the young talent would continue to develop and mature. Instead Robinson Cano has spent 89 games hitting like Felix Fermin, Dustin Ackley has hit like Brian Hunter and Mike Zunino has, well, he has not hit. No not even a little bit. No I know the defense is good. He hasn't hit. The team tried to shore up the offense by adding Mark Trumbo. Mark Trumbo's Mariner wRC+ is 57; right around, yep, Mike Zunino.
It's important to remember that number. This is Jack Zduriencik's 7th year as the general manager of the Mariners. He is a year and a half past the time given to Bill Bavasi. In that time he has achieved the same number of 90+ win seasons (0), the same number of playoff appearances (0), and one more 80+ win season (2) than his much derided predecessor.
Zduriencik's tenure was marked by a sudden, startling, clap of genius at the very beginning. The off-loading of JJ Putz and jetsam for Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas is one of the great fleecings the Mariners have ever achieved. He dug up David Aardsma for almost nothing, oversaw the final stages of Michael Pineda's development, and acquired Russell Branyan (the first time). Seemingly overnight the Mariners front office had the insight and know how to find the mortar to plug the gaps that time and neglect had worn on the franchise.
But through a combination of bad luck (Gutierrez' failing health) and lack of flexibility (acquiring Russell Branyan the 2nd time, acquiring Kendrys Morales the 2nd time, etc, bringing Ken Griffey Jr. back in 2010) Zduriencik has often times appeared and in fact has been overmatched by the demands of a major league general manager. The grace afforded him by way of his inexperience, barren farm system and aged and bad major league roster does not exist in the 7th year. After time you are what your record says you are. Jack, like so many of his prized acquisitions, appears simply to be not very good.
The Zduriencik front office can no longer point to the future or blame the sins of the past to obscure the reality of the present. The 2015 Mariners are built to win now in a way no team in franchise history has been. The majority of their best and most expensive, longterm talent is nosing downward. The farm system is one giant shrug emoji. The failures to account for outfield defense, bullpen attrition and this very en vogue concept called On Base Percentage have conspired to torpedo the first 55% of this season.
Little is known about the nature of the extension Zduriencik received as reward for 2014's surprise run and near miss at contention. It is certainly possible given the franchise's patience with him thus far that as long as the team does not completely collapse to the point of utter humiliation that Zduriencik will not be removed from the general manager position. That outcome however will only further cement many people's worst and most cynical thoughts about this franchise; that as long as the cable money flows and Safeco Field spits out money change will be slow.
This hypothetical is, bluntly, unacceptable. In reality the Mariners have 2 1/2 months to prove to the fanbase and this website that the door is in fact forced ever so slightly open for a few years and that we are not simply slamming ourselves into a shiny and expensive rock wall with a very ornate painting of a door on it. If that doesn't happen we will go on record stating that the opinion of this blog is Jack Zduriencik and his regime should be removed and a search for new leadership undertaken. We are painfully, acutely aware of the human cost should this come to pass and do not take this recommendation lightly. However, it is time for winning.
0 +1, +2, +3....
It is unfair, as well as incorrect, to label Jack Zduriencik's time as general manager a total failure. In addition to the early highlights already mentioned the organization has developed Kyle Seager, Roenis Elias, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller and others. Extending Felix Hernandez was a vital and key service in retaining a generational talent and beloved star. The courtship and eventual signing of Robinson Cano is the kind of deal that most thought the Mariners were not willing or capable of making.
No it is not that Zduriencik has been bad. This is no Bavasi or Amaro Jr. situation. Rather the issue is that in an age of constant change and increasing focus on analytics and forward thought the front office has simply not been good enough. Could another 2-3 years of Zduriencik produce the same seconds-from-midnight turnaround as Dayton Moore's Kansas City Royals? Anything is possible. But to further stay the course, to plan on that last second miracle would say to many that no playoff berths in 7 years is an acceptable job performance. For a franchise with only 4 poststeason appearances in almost 4 decades perhaps it is, although it certainly shouldn't be.
The 2009-2014 Mariners were Jack Zduriencik's countdown and 2015 his zero mark. At zero the expectation, nay the demand should have been to have arrived at legitimate pennant contention. Rather the team finds itself, again, needing a miracle to simply make September worth watching. The front office is living on borrowed time and the slow, ponderous movements of corporate thinkology. Every game from now until Game 162 is ticking further and further away from the moment when this team's success was supposed to be a reality.
73 games and 2 1/2 months to justify 6 1/2 years. Time has run out. Good luck, Jack.