Ask any baseball executive, and hell tell you the amateur draft is as important a few days as a team has.
Those three days start Monday. The Mariners have the second pick. Around the web, there are plenty of mock drafts and strong opinions about who the Mariners should take. Likely it will be Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon, assuming his injury issues aren’t too severe. That will sort itself out soon enough.
Perhaps it’s time to take a longer look at the Mariners’ draft — a decade of fumbled chances. And we should take a look at how important this draft is to Seattles long-term well-being.
Its easy to make a case that the Mariners drew less out of the draft from 2000-10 than any team.
From those 11 drafts, there is one position player playing every day in the big leagues. But hes not playing for the Mariners. He was at Safeco Field this past week, however. Adam Jones, Seattles top pick in 2003, is the center fielder of the Baltimore Orioles
From the same drafts are two starting pitchers in a big-league rotation but only one, Doug Fister (seventh-round pick in 2006), is pitching for the Mariners. Brandon Morrow, Seattles top pick in 2006, is starting for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The draft is supposed to be the best way for a team to replenish itself, but the Mariners have only two players they drafted Fister and reserve outfielder Mike Wilson (second round, 2001) on the 25-man roster. They had three, but outfielder Michael Saunders (11th round, 2004) was sent down after Thursdays game.
It is to that meager record, as much as any other fact, that Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik owes his job. After going from 1997 through 2008 without any decent drafts, the club took on Zduriencik as GM specifically because he built the Milwaukee Brewers into a contender with a series of strong drafts.
One of the players Zduriencik drafted, shortstop J.J. Hardy, is playing with the Orioles. He homered off Michael Pineda Wednesday. In 2007, Hardy was one of a half-dozen or more Zduriencik draftees the Brewers put on the field at one time, among whom were first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks, third baseman Ryan Braun, outfielder Corey Hart and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo.
Compare that to Seattles production and . . . well, theres no comparison.
Tom McNamara is Zdurienciks friend and his scouting director. Its up to McNamara to do what scouting directors Frank Maddox (1998-2003) and Bob Fontaine (2004-2008) never did draft successfully.
The Mariners have made some savvy international signings in the same period Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Felix Hernandez and Pineda come quickly to mind but teams cant live on international signings alone. They need a steady influx of domestic talent.
Not every signee has to be a star. But there have to be enough competent players coming from the minors to give any team a chance to win. For more than a decade now, the Mariners havent had that.
From 1987 through 1995, the Mariners picked, among others, Ken Griffey Jr., Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek and Jose Cruz Jr. Thats decent production five players with careers of more than a decade. Cruz won a Gold Glove. Martinez and Varitek were All-Stars. Griffey and Rodriguez were among the best players of the last quarter century.
Those drafts paved the way for the first good Seattle team in 1995 and playoff teams in 1997, 2000 and 2001. But drafts started to go south after 1996. That is a huge reason that after Seattle averaged 93 wins per year from 2000-03, the Mariners have gone seven years with two winning seasons and no playoff appearances.
It takes five to six years to judge the quality of a draft. So McNamaras two previous drafts and some of the drafts preceding him are difficult to judge now.
On the other hand, the Mariners dont appear to be in any immediate danger of repopulating their roster from those recent drafts, even with the possibility that 2009s top pick, second baseman Dustin Ackley, will be in the big leagues in the next few weeks.
What the Mariners have never had in the last decade plus is much help from non-marquee draft picks. Jones and Morrow were well-known players in their draft years. They would not have lasted much further in the draft had the Mariners passed.
Seattle has not struck gold with a complete unknown, someone like Jake Peavy, a two-time All-Star drafted by the Padres in the 15th round. Or even with a relative unknown someone like Tim Hudson, a sixth-round pick of the As who has been an All-Star four times.
The Mariners not only need to hit on their first pick in this draft and future drafts but they need to hit on some of the mid-round picks, such as Jose Canseco (15th round, As) or Mike Piazza (62nd round, Dodgers) who were huge surprises, although Canseco had more than a little help from the pharmacy.
Seattle drew a high rating this spring for its player development status from Baseball America magazine, but that was due in large part to Pineda, who is already here, and Ackley, who isnt too far away. Beyond that, depth is questionable.
The remedy renews today.