After the Josh Lueke affair in 2010, in which he failed to notice the newly acquired pitcher had a conviction for sexual assault, Jack Zduriencik’s time as Mariners general manager could have been dead career walking.
He works for a franchise more sensitive about its community image than its won-loss record. Failing to even do a Google search before hiring an evil-doer could have been a fireable offense. Then keeping the player, in the face of some public outcry, helped seal the deal for 2010 as the worst season in the history of a club that has bad down good.
But he also works for a franchise that has never made the World Series in an era of competitive parity, hasn’t been to the playoffs in a decade and has broken its bond with many longtime fans by introducing an air of hopelessness, thanks to a couple of 101-loss seasons.
Contributing to the malaise is a hierarchy that has foolishly churned GMs, managers and players in pursuit of short-term goals, in part to please an owner who never bothered to see the team play in person.
Now, perhaps, even CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong understand that stability with a man who knows baseball talent — someone they, in fact, chose, in a miracle that is nearly as unlikely as landing a disabled jet in the Hudson River — is worth breaking a bad habit.
So the Mariners announced Wednesday that Zduriencik, despite another bleak season and before the final year of his contract expired, is a keeper, worthy of a multi-year extension, terms undisclosed.
Part of his raise should be invested in a splendid postseason dinner that includes Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, Casper Wells, Mike Carp, Blake Beavan and nearly a dozen other young players that Zduriencik shoved into a major league uniform for the first time this season.
All GMs whiff. It’s the ability to recover that distinguishes the survivors. Zduriencik was saddled with a misshapen roster that budgeted more than 20 percent of its payroll to a singles hitter. An All-Star singles hitter, to be sure, but the club never characterized Ichiro’s salary as a special dispensation from ownership, and never filled around it to a more competitive level.
Clubhouse politics always play a role in personnel decisions, but the Ichiro/Griffey business has made Mariners life uncommonly complicated. Manager Eric Wedge had to have been warned by baseball insiders that it is weird in Seattle. But he won the job partly on his commitment to avoid blaming the higher-ups when things go wrong.
Things couldn’t have gone more wrong than a 17-game losing streak, a feat that not even the woebegone Mariners of the expansion 1970s duplicated. But instead of complaining publicly or privately, Wedge and the man who hired him, Zduriencik, went to the well. A series of trades and call-ups have provided an uncommon collection of young talent that has flashed serious major league chops.
Since the 17-game streak ended July 26, the Mariners were 14-17 entering Wednesday’s game against the Angels. Considering that 14 players became major leaguers for the first time this season in Seattle, the roster scramble produced some quality results.
No one knows, of course, about the long term. But at least Zduriencik has some security to see at least some good things through. And after three seasons and some proven success at finding talent, he’s earned the right to have something few, if any, of his predecessors had — the final say on all player personnel matters.
Any ownership has the right to set a payroll budget, and some standards. None should have the gall to step where they know not. If Zduriencik made that a bargaining chip, and won, the club is on a new course.