A Day After Geoff Baker’s Piece — How Bad Is It?

There’s a lot being made right now of Geoff Baker’s piece in the Seattle Times that was published online Saturday night and in print Sunday morning (which you can check out here), basically indicting Jack Zduriencik, Howard Lincoln, and Chuck Armstrong on charges of crimes against the fan with supporting quotes as evidence from recent ex-Mariners Eric Wedge and Tony Blengino. It’s certainly a change of pace to have the front office’s detractors named and on record talking about meddling management, disingenuous claims of doing the rebuild the “right way,” and the statistical and analytical acumen of the decision-makers. I can’t say how many times I saw people on Twitter Saturday night saying that the story fit their expectations of the team almost perfectly. The sentiment overall wasn’t one of surprise of the content, but that the sources who came forward did so and attached their names.

Personally speaking, I’m not sure what to make of it all. Wedge comes out and calls out Armstrong for executive meddling, and I certainly don’t have any ammunition to counter that claim, and Baker confirmed this through other sources, so I’m comfortable taking it as fact. The notion that Lincoln and Armstrong had their hands in the baseball business too much has been a fear of Mariner fans for a long, long time. There are a couple things, though, that come to mind here.

First, Mariner fans have long argued that the ownership only cares about profit and doesn’t care about winning. I think we can put that one to rest. It strikes me that the Mariners upper management is tired of losing and trying to give some direction to the coaching staff. If we take the accounts in Baker’s article to be true, they’re certainly guilty of overreacting, and if you trust Wedge, they clearly don’t know what they’re doing, but can you blame them for wanting to try?

Wedge alleges that management has not shown any patience in the plan to draft and develop, but isn’t it his job to help those players develop? While it’s too early to make any comment about Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino, the previous wave of prospects yielded more failures than successes. Consider Ackley, Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders. Of that core group, only Seager has panned out to the level you had hoped. While Saunders also improved, it’s been well documented that he went outside the organization to get assistance. If you’re Zduriencik, Armstrong, or Lincoln, I’ve got to imagine that Wedge’s calls for patience ring pretty hollow.

Then there’s Tony Blengino. In the interests of full disclosure, Tony helped me get an interview with the Mariners in the scouting department, and I had a nice conversation with him up in Everett before an Aquasox game a couple years ago when I did a season there as their game entertainment MC. Anyway, it seems pretty clear that something happened between Blengino and Zduriencik, and Blengino makes it sound like Zduriencik used it as an excuse to run him out of town.

The Baker article supports the line of thinking that Dave Cameron has been pushing over the last year that Zduriencik has become obsessed with finding home runs, and as Blengino says, “To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”

This wasn’t backed up by Lincoln, though, in his interview as the season ended with Ryan Divish. In his words, “When we hired Jack Zdriencik, we hired him primarily as a talent evaluator. He did not have any experience as a general manager, so he’s had to learn on the job.” Baker, too, argued against the notion that Zduriencik has become power-bat-only in this article from September. The General Manager also commented to the Bob & Groz show about his plan of attack for this offseason, saying, that while he would of course like to add offense and pitching, “[He’d also] like to get back to what we were originally, more of a speed team, more of a defensive club.” You can listen to that at about 19:40 through this link. While he does lament the injury to Morse, it should be noted that he also speaks to the injuries of Franklin Gutierrez in the same sentence (and did the same in other interviews).

I’m not here to say that the Mariners are fine and dandy, because it’s pretty significant that the internal moves they’ve made are beyond the pale here; ex team staffers don’t just come out of the woodwork to call out the current regime on the regular. All that being said, I don’t buy into the argument that Jack Zduriencik is incompetent in terms of his ability to scout or evaluate players. Thanks to the work done by Colin O’Keefe, we do know that the Mariners do at least employ an analytical department to look into the numbers side of the game, though we can’t say how much influence it carries. We know the Mariners just signed Robinson Cano, who should stand to be an upgrade over Ackley and Franklin at second base. If the Mariners win – and there’s reason to think that they could become at least competitive in 2014 – that should heal a lot of ills. This continues to be an offseason of the unknown. I guess we’ll see soon what Jack has up his sleeve.

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