Jazk Zduriencik Throws Michael Saunders Under The Bus


The Seattle Mariners just wrapped up a season that was, by most any measure, their most successful in years. Fans showed up in droves to watch a talented team compete down to the wire, and things are looking up for the future long-term. Shortly after the season ended, general manager Jack Zduriencik and field manager Lloyd McClendon sat down for a season wrap-up press conference with members of the local media. That much is not unusual. What was unusual was a particular line of comments regarding Michael Saunders.

Saunders has long been a frustrating player. After a couple of years as the number one overall prospect in an admittedly thin Mariners farm system, Saunders got a series of big league chances. He played in 100 games in 2010, posting an unimpressive 87 wRC+. He hardly played in 2011 due to injuries and general terribleness, but seemed to break through in 2012 with 19 home runs and a 108 wRC+ in 139 games. He provided value as a league average bat last year, then hit to the tune of a 126 wRC+ over 263 plate appearances this year. Over the last three years, Saunders has been a legit big league player.

Except those plate appearance totals. Injuries are part of the game, and they’ve been a part of Michael Saunders’ career thus far. You wouldn’t think it’d have been a big enough deal to warrant the things Zduriencik said during that press conference, given that Saunders was coming off a season where he was the same offensive player as Kyle Seager when he was on the field. This season gave us reason to believe Saunders, when healthy, was arguably the third-best position player on the team. Yet this season ended with the GM throwing him under the bus.

“I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.” That’s Jack Zduriencik, speaking at the wrap-up press conference. Note that this is the first time that Saunders’ preparation and conditioning has been called into question, and note the public nature of the accusations. Note, as does Ryan Divish in his fantastic piece on the incident, that none of this is simple.

Zduriencik has a good point: Saunders should want to prepare himself as best as possible to play every day over a 162-game season. But he makes a bad point later when clarifying his comments by telling Divish that “the message was to Michael and every one of our other players – be ready to go and be in position to play as many games as possible.” Anyone would agree with that, so why make these comments about Saunders specifically? Why say that he needs to “prepare himself a little better?”

There are two ways to see this. One, Jack is overtly blunt and accidentally created a situation out of thin air by referring to a certain player in specific while discussing the nature of conditioning in general. The other is that Jack is pissed at Saunders and thought there was some merit to calling him out in public without having previously aired his grievances to his face. Obviously, there are problems no matter how you interpret the situation.

Such as, why is the GM, a huge public face of the team, carelessly trashing one of his best players? The Mariners, for all their gains this year, still are fairly short on productive hitters. They’ve got one in Michael Saunders, and now they’ve let the world know they’re less than thrilled with him. And the GM is the one saying these things, without having said a word to the player first?

Or, if you think there was some intent in the call-out, then why would the GM think that the public forum is the best place to say these things? Publicity exacerbates conflict. This is something most socialized human beings learn by the time they’re through with grade school. Jack Zduriencik, given his job and stature, should absolutely know this. He doesn’t, it seems.

This whole situation is stupid. GMZ should never have made these comments because either a) there’s no issue, or b) the issue would be better dealt with privately and respectfully. But now we have an instance of a conflict seemingly conjured out of thin air. Which, you know, is a pretty Mariners thing to do.

Michael Saunders should be back with the 2015 Mariners, and his role should be a prominent one. He’s a slick corner defender with power and patience at the plate. He’s had injury issues that he’ll have to work hard to overcome, but that just makes him like everybody else. Maybe this last year we should have seen more of him, but his own lack of preparation got in the way. If so, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed going forward. But Zduriencik told Divish that “Michael is a good worker. He’s always been a good worker.” So then there’s no problem, right? Except there is.

The Mariners have fractured important relationships before. They don’t always make things easy on themselves, and this is just another illustration of that. In theory, it should be easy for the team to talk to the player. In actuality, we have this current situation. Let’s hope this doesn’t get any messier.