So that’s it. The Mariners cap the season off with a win, and everyone goes home to take a break or play in Arizona or the Latin leagues, or a little bit of all of that. Yesterday’s game was bittersweet , as it is every year. I got to say hi to some folks I know from Lookout Landing (they had organized something there that I happened to wind up in the middle of, but Tom and I only stuck around for a bit because we were hungry), we had a nice brunch in the Hit It Here Café, and had some nice seats in row 9 of section 120, and I even remembered to bring my glove, though I didn’t have any occasion to use it (I’m going to be thankful for that). Chatter with the fans around us and a lack of rain topped off everything, and Tom wound up inadvertently catching a child’s Felix Hernandez cape that one of the players threw literally right at him as we were trying to leave, surrounded by fans attempting to get the shirts, baseballs, and other things being tossed at them by the players after the game.
So now what?
Well, we have a new general manager who is going to have to prove himself to everyone and seems to be happy about doing the job. I have nothing against Jerry Dipoto, as I have no experience with him. But I feel the hype around him is indicative of the short memories of sports fans. News articles I’ve been seeing lately and fan comments on Twitter are leaving me with a very distinct feeling of déjà vu. Yes. We have been here before.
When Jack Zduriencik came on board, I very distinctly remember everyone talking about him in much the same way people are talking about Dipoto now; he used statistics, he wasn’t like Bill Bavasi, he had a different approach to scouting, he was the guy we needed to turn everything around. We were really excited about it. I sat in the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library with about 200+ other people, for a Lookout Landing/USS Mariner-sponsored event. No press allowed, no information leaves the room. It was the first of several I would attend in such a group, and I even ran my post about it by Jeff Sullivan prior to posting, just to make sure I didn’t do too much talking about things I wasn’t supposed to talk about. We were there for almost over 4 hours. I could have easily done 6, had they given me a pillow to sit on and a cocktail (if you’ve never been in that room, the seats in it are horrible for someone with a bad back. Or a back). Zduriencik responded to some excellent questions, and he responded honestly and candidly, and gave us information that the papers did, could, or would not. He seemed like the right guy. He seemed like a baseball guy with an edge, and everyone was very excited.
And the 2008 season happened. It was disappointing , but we were assured that it was just the death throes of the Bavasi era, and that we just needed some more time to clean house, make some trades, and succeed. And 2009 was a fun year. The Ichiro and Ken Griffey Junior bromance gave the team character, as did John Wetteland and the gladiator bullpen. We were the little team that could. And we did; a winning season, coming out over .500. A triumphant march around the field after the last game culminated in Ichiro being picked up by Griffey, and so much smiling it was ridiculous. We were going to make it next year.
And we so were. Zduriencik pulled the Cliff Lee trade out of almost literally nowhere, and people were elated. But Griffey stayed, and there were murmurs of ‘maybe this isn’t the best idea’. We had Russell Branyan, Eric Byrnes, and Chone Figgins, who was signed to a questionable contract. Don’t even get me started on Milton Bradley’s presence. I wanted him to succeed because he was ours. I had no idea at the time that he was as terrible a human being as he is. Toxicity ran rampant in the clubhouse. Griffey left suddenly, simply packing up a trailer and starting off driving cross-country to Florida. Eric Byrnes left the team on a bicycle, riding from the locker room, through the access halls and out on his merry way to go play beer league ball with friends, and after a few years, obtaining a job as an on-air MLB analyst. Chone Figgins attacked Don Wakamatsu – still my favorite manager – in the dugout during a game over some difference of opinion that I can’t even remember now, the two having to be separated by Branyan, and a while after that, on Japanese-American heritage night, the only Japanese American major league manager was let go unceremoniously. John Wetteland was replaced after 2010 by Eric Wedge, who also left the team in 2013, after suffering a stroke. Wedge and Zduriencik also had differences of opinion on certain things, and it became clear after he left that things in the higher ranks of the Mariners organization were not as great as we initially thought they were.
Blogger meetups became more public, and press was allowed in. Questions were either avoided, or given the same answer anyone could read in the papers. Transparency vanished. By the end of 2013, the blogosphere seemed pretty much cut off from any dealings with the front office, and I think the last time I remember thinking “this is all over” was this one time we were all sat up in the 300 level watching batting practice and having a lot of questions avoided by Tom McNamara; Carmen Fusco had been gone a few years at this point, as had many other scouts and coaches.
And now of course we have had another lousy season, Jack Zduriencik has been let go, and while there is talk in the press of a future for Lloyd McClendon, I have the feeling that it will be a short future, and it would not surprise me if McClendon is let go and someone else is brought in, as is the usual drill when a new GM is hired.
Do I think any of the past few years were Zduriencik’s fault? I find some of the trades he made were not the best of ideas. Getting rid of John Jaso and Doug Fister were probably not the best moves at all. I still don’t know if I can forgive him for sending Jason Vargas away. We’ve had some successes and failures; I mean, this year could have been a lot worse, but it also could have been a lot better, and the pieces were in place for it to be. Regression aside, we tanked hard. How do you go from the best bullpen in the AL to what we wound up with in 2015? We increased our hitting capacity with the additions of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, yet having runners in scoring position was literally the worst thing that could have happened to the Mariners this year. For every Iwakuma no-hitter or Felix win record or Logan Morrison dinger, it seemed like there were ten times bad baserunning, no baserunning, no plate patience, no power (seriously, there were at least four or five hits at yesterday’s game that should have gone over the wall and weren’t hit far enough), and ultimately, another loss. It’s not an easy explanation, and I don’t feel like it was Zduriencik’s fault entirely, but it’s going to get more difficult for the Mariners to make good trades if we keep fielding bad teams; and it’s already difficult enough, without us throwing money at players to get them here. So something needs to happen.
And maybe a fresh face/new rules situation will help that, I don’t know. As many people have said, Mr Dipoto has been successful in other cities with other teams, and has an appreciation for stats and Moneyball-style scouting. I think that my opinion of what he can do will have to depend entirely on what he does in the next few months. I want to look forward to the winter meetings again, without worrying that we’re going to do nothing and then wind up with another Rickie Weeks or Casey Kotchman or, yeah, I’ll say it even though I still love him, Willie Bloomquist. Or a scramble pick before or during Spring Training that hampers the development of another player or eliminates entirely a player I might like to have seen develop or play here. Am I taking the easy way out here? You’re damn right I am. I have placed too much confidence in so many members of this organization, I have to take it on a wait and see basis, maybe for the rest of my baseball fandom. So now I wait to see what my opinion is of Mr Jerry Dipoto, and whether or not firing Jack Zduriencik, the guy who was supposed to save us, was the right thing to do.