The firing of manager Don Wakamatsu by Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
The season is already lost. Indeed, it can be argued that the season was lost when the Mariners reported to spring training with an offense that wouldn’t compete well in the 21st century bereft of power, walks and hits, all the things that make scoreboard workers earn their pay.
It seems that Zduriencik’s move is more designed to cover up organizational failings, many of which are more in Zduriencik’s sphere of influence.
For example, it was Zduriencik who put together a roster without appreciable power. To be sure, he had no way of knowing that Ken Griffey Jr. would go from 19 homers last year to none this year and retirement, but he knew he’d lost power threats at the corners in Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre, and he didn’t do much to replace them.
It was Zduriencik who had the power to suspend second baseman Chone Figgins after he snapped at Wakamatsu during a game in July. He did nothing beyond trying to broker a peace by talking with the men, individually and together.
And it was Zduriencik who decided over Wakamatsu’s objection to trade left-handed ace Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers. Forget for a moment that none of the four players acquired in the deal are in the big leagues now.
Zduriencik didn’t even broach the possibility of a deal with his coaching staff. Pitching coach Rick Adair, who worked with the Rangers and who know both of the pitchers the Mariners wound up getting, wasn’t consulted. The Seattle coaching staff wound up learning of the trade from TV.
For as good as things looked last year when Zduriencik and Wakamatsu were new to the organization and turned around a 101-game loser into an 85-game winner, things look bleak again.
There have been five managers in Seattle in the past three-plus years; seven since the 2002 season. Winning baseball is based on continuity. The Mariners have none.
Zduriencik repeatedly said the organization has made progress. But it’s not evident at the big league level. While he’s correct that the minor league organization has a good top-to-bottom winning percentage, that’s not how prove the strength of your organization. Do they have quality prospects? Perhaps as many as they think.
Even though the GM has not “gone back to square zero,” some of his players would beg to disagree.
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, the team’s most recognizable face, asked if the team is back to square one, said simply “that’s the only way we can look at it.”
When it seemed that Zduriencik in conjunction with Wakamatsu had a workable plan to get the team back to contention, Ichiro was on board. He didn’t seem to be on board Monday.
Although he spoke about the firing for almost half an hour, Zduriencik couldn’t, or more likely wouldn’t, give a specific reason for the firing other than he’s lost confidence in Wakamatsu, Van Burkleo and Adair being the right men for the Mariners.
It wasn’t any one thing, Zduriencik said. It wasn’t the fallout over Ken Griffey Jr. quitting mid-season. It wasn’t the fallout over Figgins getting into it in the dugout with Wakamatsu.
Asked if he thought some of his players quit on Wakamatsu, Zduriencik said “I didn’t say that.” Asked if Wakamatsu lost control of the clubhouse, Zduriencik said “That’s not a fair question.” Asked if Wakamatsu had lost the team, Zduriencik said “I didn’t use that phrase.”
Player reaction suggested that they had all the confidence in the world in Wakamatsu. When closer David Aardsma was asked about suggestions that Wakamatsu had lost control of the team, he got an incredulous look on his face.
“I wonder where that comes from,” Aardsma said. “What did he lose? That really surprises me. I sit here trying to figure out what he did wrong. We are the ones not doing our jobs. And he’s the one who pays the price.
“We wanted him to stay. But we would have had to play better for that to happen. Honestly. we have not played well, because if we had, he’d still be our manager.”
The trouble with the Mariners this year was the absurdly high expectations put on the team after last year’s 85 wins with the additions of Figgins and Lee. The expectations were crazy because the Mariners had no power, not much in terms of on-base percentage, and a mediocre attack.
Seattle is on pace to score fewer runs than the Mariners did in 1994. And that was a strike year, when the Mariners only played 112 games. In 112 games this year they’ve scored 364 runs, or 3.16 runs per game. That’s not the manager. That’s the roster. And the roster is the purview of the general manager.
“We entered this season with high expectations,” Zduriencik said “I thought we had the opportunity to be very competitive. But I had my doubts. Things needed to go our way.
“I accept full responsibility for our major league team’s poor performance this season, and I am determined to make the changes that are necessary as we move forward.”
If he accepted full responsibility, one way to show it would have been to stick by his manager. He chose otherwise.
John Hickey is a National Baseball Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)