The Seattle Mariners are not making progress, and Jack Zduriencik’s time may be running out. This team was supposed to contend at some point, but the “some point” keeps getting pushed back. There were a few signs of hope in 2013, but overall it is hard to argue that the team moved forward.
Going into 2014, there remain a number of questions that do not have satisfactory answers. Even the most optimistic fan is going to have a hard time saying “wait until next year” with a straight face.
Can Jack Z do anything to save his job? If so, what decisions would he have to make going into the 2014 season? Here are a few steps that Mr. Zduriencik may have to take.
Sign some names
The fans are sick of seeing youngsters on the field. Sure, it is more pure and honorable when you can build a quality team with your own minor league talent. Unfortunately, there are too many hitters who are batting .230 year after year.
Therefore, Jack Z may need to go out and spend some money, assuming that he will be given some big-boy checks. Unfortunately, the free-agent market is not good.
There are a few names that have been thrown out, such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Tim Lincecum. Whether any of these players would come to Seattle remains to be seen. Ellsbury seems to be the one player who is actually being discussed. As noted by Emerald City Swagger, Ken Rosenthal believes the Mariners will sign the speedy center fielder of the Boston Red Sox to a pricey deal.
The problem with the free-agent class is that many of the players are older and have questions when it comes to historical health. Ellsbury in particular had great years in 2009 and 2011, but played 18 games in 2010 and 74 in 2012.
This has all the makings of a deal that is similar to Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson or the package that was reportedly offered to Josh Hamilton. Seattle may scratch out a big check only to find an aging Ellsbury spend too much time on the DL.
Unfortunately, Zduriencik may not have a choice. He could find himself having to overpay in order to get a free agent or two into Safeco Field. Kendrys Morales will apparently be turning down the Mariners after they made him a qualifying offer. If Zduriencik wants to make the fans happy, he may need to make some offers that cannot be refused.
Put Walker and Paxton in the rotation
For several years, fans have been hearing about these hot, young prospects down on the farm. Specifically, there has been extensive talk about the “big three” pitchers, which includes Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen.
The 2014 season may be when the fans finally get to see whether all the hype has been justified. There is wisdom in being cautious with your arms, particularly when Taijuan Walker is regarded as a potential ace but is only 21 years old.
Unfortunately for Jack Z, time may be running out on a promotion strategy. If Zduriencik wants to show progress, he may need to put these guys in the rotation. Granted, they will have to earn spots in spring training, but at this point they may actually be ready to go in 2014.
Walker had a brief appearance in 2013. He was solid, but unspectacular. Paxton actually had the best season of the three pitchers, as the 24-year-old lefty went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Unfortunately, Hultzen recently submitted to shoulder surgery and his future is uncertain.
If Zduriencik has any “hot” prospects to play, he may need to lay them on the table in 2014. Otherwise, this may be his last hand.
Hope beyond hope
Truthfully, there may be little that Zduriencik can do at this point besides hope that his master blueprint actually turns into a masterpiece. Again, his plan all along has been fundamentally sound. The Mariners are not the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers. They cannot load up with expensive free agent talent and take advantage of baseball’s lack of competitive balance.
Therefore, Jack Z has stockpiled quality arms, emphasized defense and developed young hitters from within the organization who can theoretically keep the payroll at a manageable level. Good plan. It just hasn’t worked.
This may be the final year for Zduriencik. He can certainly go shopping and promote his hot young pitchers, but ultimately he needs his young hitters to mature. Zduriencik needs Kyle Seager to be as good as he was in 2013. He also needs Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley to have productive years.
We’re talking about hitting .270, not the typical .230-.240 that is so common in Seattle.
If Walker and Paxton are as good as advertised, key free agents provide a spark, and youngsters come of age, Zduriencik may be able to sit back and channel John “Hannibal” Smith from The A-Team:
If the Mariners do not make noticeable progress in 2014, Jack Zduriencik may be looking for a new job. That probably wasn't his plan.