The executives atop the food chain, principally CEO Howard Lincoln and presiden Kevin Mather, are sufficiently enthralled with the performance of the Mariners with a month remaining that they announced Tuesday a contract extension with GM Jack Zduriencik. Since the Mariners have yet to achieve anything beyond the possibility of a wild card spot — and that’s still magnum iffy — the decision to commit to Zduriencik for multiple years is strangely premature.
Can-do men that they are, Lincoln and Mather, by this announcement, are anointing the 2014 season a success, even though it not only isn’t — yet — and still can end in baseball calamity.
Contrary to ours, the Mariners have an odd definition of success. Ours is strong playoff contention five out of every 10 years and playoff appearances at least three out of 10. Theirs, apparently, is one feel-good season through August every decade or so.
When the Mariners concluded the 2013 season with a record of 71-91, a major disappointment even by the franchise’s own declared expectations, Zduriencik came perilously close to losing a job he had held for five years. In those five, the Mariners succeeded only in stretching their conspicuous absence from the postseason from eight years to 12.
Perhaps because they had no other alternative, or perhaps because they are one of the most conservative business operations in the major leagues, the Mariners granted Zduriencik another year, the implication being that if the ball club didn’t perform in 2014, Zduriencik would swing — even though Lincoln’s stewardship of the franchise over many more seasons than Zduriencik has logged is the primary reason for eons of boobery and inertia.
My thought, as the winter free agency period moved into spring training, was that if the Mariners fizzled again, Zduriencik would be ousted. A lot of Mariner watchers also held that view. But if the Mariners made the playoffs, Zduriencik would be retained.
A third scenario: If the Mariners remained in playoff contention for a majority of the season, but couldn’t quite seal the postseason deal, Lincoln and Mather would have a tough call to make — totally understandable. But whether the Mariners retained Zduriencik or not, a mostly positive 2014 would result in a cranking up of the team’s marketing machine, hyping “expected improvement,” a favorite Mariners phrase, for 2015.
But Lincoln and Mather made the call Tuesday on Zduriencik with nothing really settled, determining that this year is a success regardless of what happens in the final five weeks — odd, because it’s the final five weeks that matter.
With a noose encircling his neck, Zduriencik made bold moves last offseason, signing 31-year-old Robinson Cano for $240 million over 10 years, and hiring Lloyd McClendon as manager. Both deals were criticized for reasons already well documented, so we won’t address those here.
Nothing Cano has done has surprised, but McClendon’s performance is shockingly first rate. He’s the best, as well as the most intriguing, manager the Mariners have employed since Lou Piniella, even though, unlike Piniella, “hello” constitutes a McClendon speech.
Zduriencik’s acquisition of Logan Morrison, now completing the best August of his major league career, worked, although his simultaneous acquisition of Corey Hart was a dud. Zduriencik’s purloin of CF Austin Jackson at the trading deadline worked, as did his recent callup of Chris Taylor. Other moves, foregoing already published detail, haven’t. But, generally, the team Zduriencik assembled this year has performed at least to expectation, maybe beyond, and not only relative to past editions of the ball club.
Unlikely as it seems, the Mariners can still win the AL West. They can also snatch a postseason berth, even it’s only a one-game playoff. That’s a major leap forward for this doddering franchise, and Mather tried to spin the development in the best possible light.
“Since Jack took over after the 2008 season, we have been building toward our ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series,” Mather said Tuesday. “We believe, with the efforts of Jack and his staff, we are now well-positioned as an organization to be a contender for many years to come.”
The Mariners are not even especially well-positioned, with Felix Hernandez moved back a day, to sweep last-place Texas this week. In fact, the Mariners are only in position to be a playoff contender — with zero guarantees.
What if they do what they did in 2007? That year, under Mike Hargrove and John McLaren, the Mariners were 20 games above .500 (73-53) on Aug. 24 and lost 13 of 14, splatting out of the race.
Same thing could happen this season. But what if it doesn’t? Say the Mariners are in it until the end and reach the postseason. That would be both great and fun and warrant a Zduriencik extension. But no extension is warranted now without season-long results. It won’t look good, in fact it will look terrible, if the Mariners, having made a major commitment to Zdruiencik, suck the gas pipe in September.
But the Mariners Tuesday said otherwise. They pronounced 2014 a success and declared they are in a position to contend, as Mather stated, “for many years to come.”
For Mariners fans’ sake, hope that’s true. But it seems that the Mariners have already called this election with a month’s worth of hanging chads still to be counted.