You used to love Jack Zduriencik, then you hated him, and now you don’t really know what to think of him. This is probably how most Seattle Mariners fans feel towards the man who’s been running the team since October 2008. His tenure at the helm of the ship has been stormy at times, but Mariners ownership never wavered in their support of the GM. So maybe it’s not much of a surprise that Zduriencik was just signed to a long-term extension.
It sure feels like a shocker at first, though. “Trader Jack” burst onto the scene with a huge trade for Franklin Gutierrez and parts that seemingly catapulted the Mariners into contention. He followed that up by acquiring Cliff Lee for peanuts, and was officially some kind of legend. But then came Doug Fister for hot garbage and John Jaso for Michael Morse. Chone Figgins was sitting around watching all of this. By this time a year ago, his approval rating was surely closer to zero than fifty.
And here we are, with the Mariners sniffing at the playoffs and Jack Z putting the pen to his new multi-year contract. Want to know why Zduriencik’s been extended despite the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons? It’s 100% due to the current team’s performance. Without the Mariners in a playoff race, we’re all probably wondering why Z’s still hanging around. With the team in the hunt, it’s a no-brainer. They’re not here by accident.
It’s worth noting why the Mariners are good this year, of course. Robinson Cano‘s first year in Seattle has been MVP-caliber, and Felix Hernandez has responded to his record-breaking extension by finding a way to somehow become even better. Kyle Seager went from future utility guy on the farm to top 10 position player in MLB by WAR. And in Nick Franklin, the M’s took a hacker without a position and turned him into Austin Jackson. Add in Chris Young and the bullpen and it’s clear Z’s made some good moves lately.
The good moves, of course, don’t just erase the bad of year’s past, and one notes that this current team is still asking for an awful lot out of Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, and Kendrys Morales. Dustin Ackley still is not good. Ditto Justin Smoak, and double-ditto Jesus Montero. This year’s awesome bullpen was last year’s terrible bullpen. Young’s great, but last year Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang were in the rotation almost all season. A good amount of luck is driving this team.
In 2009, Zduriencik’s first year in charge, the Mariners had a winning record largely on the strength of good luck. The team way, way outperformed their expected record and were plentifully outscored. They used the same formula the next year – pitching and defense and high-upside roll players – and lost 101 games. Remember, there’s no way of knowing that the Mariners have built a strong foundation with their 2014 success. They could easily slip way back. We’ve seen it before.
But the big league team is good, the farm system is strong, and the future looks brighter than most could have hoped it would a year ago. The Jackson trade in particular stands out as an example of Zduriencik identifying and acquiring a high-level big league regular without gutting the farm system. In fact, he’s done a remarkable job of keeping his most valuable assets while making marginal improvements. Chris Denorfia isn’t flashy, but he’s here and he’s cheap. Maybe Jack’s learned a thing or two.
What’s important to remember is that a multi-year extension doesn’t mean Zduriencik will be here for multiple more years. Teams have a hard time getting over a sunk cost when it’s a player, but managerial contracts seemingly never play a part in deciding whether to keep a guy around or not. If the M’s give, I don’t know, Michael Morse a $50 million contract and he slugs .290 while the team limps towards 60 wins, Z will be fired. The risk in a contract like this is close to zero.
Jack Zduriencik entered the day an oft-criticized general manager with a fair amount of present job security due to his team’s major league win tally on the year. When the sun sets tonight, nothing will have substantially changed. But the extension doesn’t tell us nothing: it tells us that the M’s are serious about their belief in Zduriencik, and that last year’s hush-hush extension wasn’t without purpose. The Mariners like Jack Zduriencik, so they’re going to keep him. Easy as that.