The Seattle Mariners announced a multiyear extension for general manager Jack Zduriencik on Wednesday, according to Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle and other media reports.
Zduriencik’s first year at the helm in 2009 led to a 85-77 campaign, but Seattle lost at least 87 games for each of the next four years before fielding a contending squad in 2014.
After another dismal campaign in 2013, Zduriencik was firmly on the hot seat, but the Mariners gave him another shot with a one-year, do-or-die extension.
He responded with a solid offseason and strong trade deadline, leading the Mariners into playoff position deep into August for the first time in several years. A solid season that’s going to end well above .500 means that Zduriencik was all but guaranteed to return next year, but the Mariners decided to reward him with a multiyear extension.
Zduriencik’s performance as general manager has been hotly debated in Seattle over the past couple of seasons. Are the Mariners overreacting to one strong year, or has Zduriencik shown his ability to build a long-term contender?
Mariners President Kevin Mather seems to believe in the latter. He spoke highly of Zduriencik's persistence and patience, via Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times.
"Not once have you asked me about your contract,” Mather said to Zduriencik when the two shared a lunch recently. “Not once have you made a decision that made me think, ‘Hey, you’re being a short-term thinker.’ ”
While he may not have proven that he can keep the team competitive for more than one year at a time, Seattle takes no risk by signing Zduriencik to a multiyear extension, one which doesn’t guarantee his job security.
Zduriencik was going to get one or two more years based on the 2014 season alone, and he will be fired if the team slides again.
Maybe the Mariners should have waited until the end of the season, but it doesn’t change the situation much overall. Zduriencik will still have to field a consistently contending team to keep his job, and a multiyear extension prevents having a potential lame-duck general manager on another one-year deal for consecutive seasons.
Despite the results not always being there, Zduriencik’s true ability is likely better than his record indicates. He’s had a few moves and trades that were good in theory but unfortunately backfired, but he's also had a few gems.
Zduriencik’s very first move of his tenure still ranks as possibly his best, as he managed to trade spare parts for Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas (plus a few other bargaining chips). Gutierrez’s health has impacted the results since, but it’s still strong overall.
He pulled off a similar trade about a year later, sending three prospects who would never pan out to the Philadelphia Phillies for a legitimate ace in Cliff Lee. Of course, Lee would leave just a few months later, but it still ranks as a clear win for Zduriencik.
Those are the two best trades of Zduriencik’s tenure, but he’s had a number of solid moves. Zduriencik traded basically nothing of value for players like David Aardsma, Brendan Ryan and John Jaso, who all contributed positively in the majors in Seattle.
The past calendar year has been Zduriencik’s best yet. Starting with the addition of Robinson Cano, one of the few moves that truly changed the culture in Seattle, the Mariners had an impressive offseason, as Gary Hill Jr. of 710 ESPN Seattle highlights:
Zduriencik’s biggest test came at the July 31 trade deadline, as he could have easily mortgaged Seattle’s future for a team flirting with the second wild card. Instead, Zduriencik traded minor pieces for improvements in Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia, and he also swung a brilliant trade to land Austin Jackson at the cost of Nick Franklin, who was buried at Triple-A.
Recovering from the Bill Bavasi era was going to take an extensive amount of time, and it looks like Zduriencik has finally turned a corner six years later. At the very least, credit Zduriencik for drafting well and replenishing a barren farm system into respectability.
Apart from the necessary move of locking Felix Hernandez up for the long term, Zduriencik has completely overhauled what looked like a hopeless team, as Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider points out:
Of course, there have been plenty of negative moments during Zduriencik’s tenure. His success as a general manager is closely tied to the careers of Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, both of whom have failed at the major league level.
Even the trade to get Smoak was widely praised at the time. The Mariners traded half a season of Lee for Smoak, Baseball America’s No. 13 prospect in 2010, plus a potential solid starter in Blake Beavan.
It hasn’t worked out at all, but the trade made sense from Seattle’s perspective. While that particular trade may have been good process with unfortunate results, Zduriencik has also had his share of head-scratchers over the past six years.
Dealing Doug Fister, a cost-effective young starter, at the 2011 deadline made absolutely no sense at the time and looks awful in retrospect. Four years of Jaso in exchange for one year of Mike Morse prior to the 2013 season was also puzzling, particularly considering that Jaso was coming off a 2.6 WAR season while Morse was below replacement level.
There’s been a few free-agent misses as well before Cano, who is currently working to perfection. Perhaps the biggest concern is that Seattle’s player development, particularly for position players, has been lackluster over the over the past six years, but Kyle Seager has developed nicely, and Dustin Ackley may have finally tapped in to his potential.
Overall, Zduriencik ranks as a decent, but far from great, general manager. He may not be the man to build a perennial World Series contender, but his strong drafting and shrewd moves over the past year have led Seattle to a possible playoff appearance for the first time in 13 years.
For that, Zduriencik deserves one or two more years, which he was going to get regardless of the extension. The pressure is still on Zduriencik, as now he will have to avoid another slide and keep the team contending or else risk being let go.