On Friday, Jack Zduriencik was fired as general manager of the Seattle Mariners. It was not an unexpected move as he was leading one of Major League Baseball’s biggest disappointments of 2015. The M’s were 10 games under .500 at 59-69 and 12 games out of first place after showing renewed promise by winning 87 games last season.
Since, the club had added proven hitters in Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo, yet manager Lloyd McClendon’s club is only four games out of last place – just ahead of another surprisingly poor performing team in Oakland.
In Zduriencik’s seven years at the helm of the American League West organization, the Mariners managed just one other winning year, way back in his first season of 2009.
Managers who preceded McClendon included Don Wakamatsu and Eric Wedge – both having departed under very tumultuous circumstances. The former essentially faced a player revolt and was fired while the latter walked out because of the trying organizational working environment.
Back near the very beginning – in 2009 - is when my long-held uncomfortable feelings about Jack Z began – more than anything because of what others were saying about the then-still unproven GM.
Still, there seemed no doubt that Zduriencik had earned his shot at the big chair. His success leading Milwaukee’s scouting operations had brought the Brewers an impressive nucleus that included Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy and others. In fact, in 2007, he had been the first non-GM to be named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year.
He came into Seattle with a reputation as being an ideal meld of old-school scouting and new-wave analytics.
After a huge turnaround in 2009 during which the Mariners improved by 24 games over the year before, the “Jack Z is a genius” movement gained significant momentum, apparently fueled by special love from the saber community.
In March 2010, a Fangraphs article anointed Seattle as baseball’s sixth-best organization. One of the many reasons cited was the organization’s hiring of well-known sabermetrics analyst Tom Tango. The closing: “After years of being a joke, the Mariners have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history.”
That same month, Sports Illustrated ranked Zduriencik, with barely a year on the job, as the #5 GM in all of MLB. Author Tim Marchman stopped just short of genius worship, calling Jack Z. “one of baseball's most highly regarded minds.”
Reality was far harsher. That season, the Mariners went on to win 61 games and lose 101, the team’s worst record since way back in 1983. So much for pronouncements.
It didn’t get much better over time, with the team taking until 2014 just to get back to .500.
Perhaps the most damning criticism of Jack Z’s reign was included in a December 2013 Seattle Times report, “Dysfunction at the top: Eric Wedge, others point to trouble in Mariners’ front office.” The article included charges made by former special assistant Tony Blengino.
Blengino, who had worked for Zduriencik for the Brewers and Mariners, had been fired earlier that year. As such, one might question his motives. Yet, Blengino minced no words. He asserted that he wrote "virtually the entire job application package Zduriencik gave the Mariners in 2008, depicting a dual-threat candidate melding traditional scouting with advanced statistical analysis.”
“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis…”
The Seattle Times article went on to assert that “Numerous unhappy scouts and executives have quit or been fired by the Zduriencik regime.”
"‘They’ve humiliated people they’ve let go,’ a then-current scout told the Times. ‘And the ones still here hate it. They hate the way they’re treated.’"
Speaking of scouting, his supposed strength, Zduriencik has stumbled, rightfully taking heat for his three fruitless top-five picks. They include Dustin Ackley (second overall in 2009) and Danny Hultzen (second overall in 2011). It is too early to call Mike Zunino (third overall in 2012) a bust, but the catcher has clearly disappointed. In fact, just one player Zduriencik drafted in his years in Seattle has become an All-Star - third baseman Kyle Seager.
Zduriencik’s free agent acquisitions (starting with Chone Figgins through Robinson Cano), and trades (for Cliff Lee and sending away Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero among others) also did not make his clubs a regular contender. Instead, each year extended Seattle’s second-longest playoff drought in MLB, stretching back to 2001.
And ultimately, that continued futility is what led to Zduriencik’s firing. Whether he is a genius or more likely something less, the teams he assembled simply did not win.
Here’s hoping his successor is given a chance to truly chart his own path before any unreasonable labels – whether positive or negative - are placed on him.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.