The Mariners just reached the halfway point of their season. After 81 games, though, the Mariners are overachieving compared to historic trends, and are a much improved ballclub compared to 2008.
When the team hired Jack Zduriencik this offseason, they clearly believed he’d give the team the best chance for long-term success, but little did they know how fast he could turn Bill Bavasi’s mess into trade value and a team in contention.
It appears, at least for now, that everything Zduriencik puts his hands on turns to gold—from failed starters, jettisoned relievers, situational journeymen to defensive specialists. He’s gotten immediate returns on most of his offseason acquisition, all while perpetuating the team’s new personality:patience.
Zduriencik has effectively replaced broken parts on last year’s team with low-cost replacements, but replacements who fit the team’s new mold.
In Russell Branyan, he saw an everyday bat—Branyan is perhaps the most notable non-All-Star Mariner.
In Franklin Gutierrez he saw a fourth outfielder—relegated to right field in Cleveland where center is roamed by Grady Sizemore—as a starting center fielder, and one who has power and walk potential.
He brought in a committee of power arms to compete for the closer job. Though Brandon Morrow initially took the role, David Aardsma separated himself from the pack.
All of Aardsma’s success comes on the heels of the team trading former injury-plagued closer J.J. Putz Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed to New York; and Luis Valbuena to Cleveland for Gutierrez, Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, Jason Vargas and a few prospects.
The Mariners let Raul Ibanez sign with the Phillies. However, because he was a Type A free agent, the Mariners received two draft picks as compensation.
With those picks they passed on prospects with higher ceilings or college resumes for high schoolers who, though less experienced, have complete skillsets and low bust potential.
He brought in Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr., both of whom may not fit the team’s view for the future, but who have brought valuable veteran leadership to the team this year—all at relatively inexpensive price tags.
Most of the signings were made to facilitate future success. But those trades and signings, even when compared to the established veterans the Mariners let go, have outperformed last year’s production from those players.
While the hitter production appears to be less, the departed Mariners numbers are heavily aided by Raul Ibanez’s amazing year.
Of the present Mariners acquired this year to receive 100 or more plate appearances, only Ronny Cedeno has a lower OPS than anybody not on the list of departed Mariners apart from Ibanez.
Ryan Langerhans, who the Mariners acquired for Mike Morse has a career .718 OPS—which, if he reproduced, would also put him second on the list.
But the most notable departure this offseason, at least as it appeared before this season, was Putz.
Putz was sent to New York, where the Mets expected him to handle the eighth inning and set the table for single-season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez. Injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued the already injury-prone Putz’s 2009 season, and he’s struggled to return to his 2007 form.
Also sent in that trade was Jeremy Reed, seemingly a logical choice to replace the injured Carlos Beltran. But Reed has bounced around the outfield and played four games at first base to find time in the lineup for the injury beleaguered Mets.
Win-Loss record isn’t a great measure of relievers.
But Zduriencik essentially acquired two members of the team’s starting rotation, a starting left fielder and center fielder, a solid contributing reliever, and the team’s present shortstop—in the wake of Yuniesky Betancourt’s pulled hamstring.
All of this was gained for an oft-injured closer, a soft-hitting infield prospect, an unfulfilled talent in the outfield, and a solid young reliever in Green.
It has been quite some time since I’ve personally felt trust—better phrased as faith—in a general manager, but Zduriencik has instilled that faith in even myself the harshest of critics.
I’ve offered opinions as to whether the Mariners should trade Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, Adrian Beltre and several other players on the team. While those opinions won’t change, Zduriencik’s track record, albeit short, is a great one to this point.
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