The Mariners Get Morse (Change One Letter and it’s “Worse”)

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Anyone else see the irony of the Mariners and their GM Jack Zduriencik having traded Mike Morse in 2009 while Zduriencik was in the midst of an overachieving first season at the helm and being called a genius, and has reacquired Morse four years later when he’s possibly a losing first half away from being fired?

Or that he traded Morse for the essentially useless Ryan Langerhans and has now traded John Jaso to get Morse back when, with or without Morse, the Mariners are only staying out of last place because the Astros are in the AL West?

The deal, on its surface, isn’t a bad one for the Mariners. All they surrendered was Jaso, but considering their likely finish in 2013, why bother? Why bother doing anything the Mariners have done since the 2012 season ended from moving in the fences at Safeco Field to making trades/signings for bats on the final year of their contracts or final years of their careers?

This is not a logical progression of being ready to win and making the requisite fill-in veteran acquisitions. It’s desperation on the part of Zduriencik—a worse desperation than Royals GM Dayton Moore was accused of when he acquired two big league starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis, both of whom are under team control, in exchange for a large package of prospects. It was said that Moore is trying to save his job. Zduriencik? Where’s the criticism from the stat people who held him up as their totem before reality rendered them silent? On Fangraphs a few years ago the Mariners were labeled as the sixth best organization in baseball, thereby setting themselves and the Mariners up for endless ridicule with the Twitter hashtag #6org. Has there been an update or viable explanation? Or clinging in the hopes that it’ll all end up as the math having been “right”?

Let’s put this into simple terms. Over the four-plus years Zduriencik has been running the team, they rebuilt the farm system based on pitching and brought in players whose forte is defense. In year five of the rebuild, they’ve brought in the fences at Safeco Field, signed or traded for players for whom defense is a necessary evil, and changed the strategy on the fly not because it’s a natural evolution combined with intelligent design, but because what they were doing before didn’t work and now they’re doing something totally different.

If that’s the case, how are they moving forward with the same GM?

A team that had an eye on pitching and defense now has imported the weak defenders Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Morse and the mediocre Kendrys Morales. In addition, they traded away Jaso, let Miguel Olivo leave as a free agent and are intent on replacing them behind the plate with Jesus Montero, for whom defense is the main weak point of his game and will have to handle a pitching staff who will already be compromised due to the new dimensions of their home park.

There’s no question that the Mariners needed offense and their offense will be better with the players they’ve acquired as well as Dustin Ackley and Montero, but how much worse will the pitching be with the new dimensions of Safeco Field?

In the past three seasons, their pitchers have posted the following OPS numbers home and away:

2010: .663 home, .768 road

2011: .667 home, .728 road

2012: .676 home, .777 road

In addition, the Mariners’ offense hasn’t just been bad in those same three seasons, it’s been historically bad. Since the 162 game schedule was implemented in 1961 (and bear in mind the numbers are slightly skewed by the strike shortened seasons of 1972, 1981 and 1994), the Mariners of 2010 and 2011 were in the top 100 of the lowest scoring clubs in baseball. That’s out of 1356 teams.

Will Morse, Ibanez, and Morales, plus a full sophomore season from Montero help the Mariners’ scoring improve? Yes. Will the defensive limitations of these players, that they’re in the lineup at the expense of stronger defensive players, plus the new dimensions of the Mariners’ home field hurt them? Absolutely.

This is while the Mariners are playing in a division with the high-priced Angels; the still very good Rangers; and the Athletics who won the division last season. The only beacon of hope the Mariners have is that the Astros are basically a Triple A team, keeping them from looking too terrible in comparison.

The Royals and Moore were savaged for the trade they made with the Rays. But they’re in a weaker division, have enough young talent to at least justify going for a marked improvement with established pitchers who’ve been on playoff teams, and will have those pitchers for a longer time than the Mariners will have the hitters they’ve brought in.

Where are the vitriolic attacks against what Zduriencik has built? Is his credibility based on his work or because he runs his club the way analysts who base their beliefs on stats would run their clubs? Is he being protected in a manner that Moore isn’t because he’s using “objectivity” while crafting a team that is, by all standards, horrific and is now worse than it was when he arrived?

There’s no room for personalities, biases, factionalism, bloodlines, and tribalism in purported objective analysis. Because Moore is the antithesis of what stat people want in a GM, he’s a punching bag whenever it suits them; but Zduriencik exemplifies that which Moore was accused of when he traded Wil Myers: desperation and trying to keep his job.

The Mariners are a weird, toxic amalgam with no definition or plan and Zduriencik’s genius, like the classic sitcom Seinfeld, is about nothing. It worked in TV comedy and in glowing write-ups for Zduriencik before the fact. It’s not working so much at the ballpark and in practice. Nor is it going to for the Mariners in 2013.

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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