Last Wednesday, I conducted a long interview with Mariners’ general manager Jack Zduriencik about the state of the team, resulting in this article.
To put the timing in context, the Mariners had defeated the Tigers 5-3 the night before, a nice come-from-behind victory. They would have an even nicer win that night, rallying with four runs in the eighth for a 5-4 win over Detroit. They would win their next game, too, in Anaheim, giving them their first win streak of longer than two games since winning seven of eight from April 13 through April 21.
But as we know, the Mariners have since fallen into familar patterns, losing 5-1 on Saturday on Kendry Morales’s ill-fated 10th-inning grand slam; losing 9-7 on Sunday on a blown David Aardsma save; and losing 5-4 to the Twins last night. The first two, in particular, were winnable games that could really have given the M’s some momentum, but as has been the case so often this year, they found a way to lose. The Mariners are now 19-30, on pace after 50 games for a 62-100 record. Yet Zduriencik, at the time of the interview, was not ready to give up on the season, despite the team’s massive under-achievement. Here’s the interview in its entirety:
Do you believe this division is still winnable? “Yeah. Last night, I thought, was a real good example of what we haven’t done. Here we had an opportunity in the eighth inning to get a big hit. We got it. So many times this year, we didn’t get it. There were times we had men on base, did not drive the man in, struck out, hit into a double play, whatever the case was. It was disappointing.
“Then I think if you look at the numbers, so many guys are playing below their career numbers. As I said, from the very beginning – I said this all along – I never thought this was going to be a juggernaut type of offense. Would we have liked to have had that? Of course. Everyone would. But the bottom line is, you have so many players that are playing under their level of their average, their norm.
“Again, I didn’t think anyone would come in here and be…you hope guys have good years. You hope someone has a terrific year. That carries clubs. But the biggest thing, you wish is guys are just who they are. And unfortunately we’ve had so many guys play under their level. I think that’s been a strain.
“The flip side to that, we’ve had some guys exceed what we’ve expected. Some of our pitching has been tremendous. Franklin’s start offensively was fantastic.
“I think what we saw last night – it was only one game and it was only a glimpse. But if you can do some of that stuff; and we’re better defensively than we played last night. The fact we had a good clutch hit; Figgy starting off an inning like he did. Franklin getting a big home run. Milton delivering twice. That’s what this club is.
“If we continue to get good pitching, who knows? You just hope someone gets hot, and all of a sudden it reverses some things for you.”
Some people believe it’s time to cut bait and explore trades for players like Cliff Lee. “I’m not ready to do that. What I want to do is, I want to see these guys perform better than what their performing right now. They’re disappointed. I’m not sitting here pointing fingers in any way, shape or form. If you could ask several individual players how they feel, they would be disappointed in what’s happened up to this point in time, because of the expectations which were thrust upon this club. But there have been some really good performances. And there have been some guys who have really stepped it up.
“If we can continue to …hope these guys get to what they are, then we can make it competitive, and we’ll let the pieces fall where they may. You think about the one-run ballgames. Last year, so many of the one-run ballgames went our way. This year, they haven’t. We can go back to the three games here with Texas, the three games in Chicago, several spurts here or there throughout the course of the year.
“You sit and look at those things. There have been some things that have happened to the club this year. Often times, adversity brings guys together. When you go through things, when you struggle, there’s an opportunity. There’s an opportunity for guys to look at each other and say, we really do need each other. You do have to play as a unit, and you do have to pick each other up. There’s no one guy that’s coming out here that’s going to carry this club. It just isn’t that way. But by individual players doing their part, and other guys jumping on and saying, you know what? I’ll pick you up if you’re down, that’s what they need to do.
“I think you’ve seen a little light here. Let’s hope that continues.”
In retrospect, do you wish you’d thrown more of your resources at the offense this winter? “We explored options. This is the one thing that got a little misunderstood. We did want to put a good defensive club on the field. We did take some of our investments and we put them into a Cliff Lee, signing Felix long-term. Those were commitments that we made. Bringing Chone in like we did. But, we always were looking for that extra bat. It just didn’t present itself where it was able to work
“It’s funny. You look at my career in Milwaukee. We had five guys hit 25 home runs or better. Prince hit 50 one year. Ryan Braun was rookie of the year. And Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy. We went through this whole thing where these guys were big home run hitters. Believe me, I am a huge fan of that. The difference is, those guys came through the draft. Those guys were developed through your system. I don’t think there was a point in time in Milwaukee where we went out and spent money on a big bat. The resources limited that there.
“Here, some of the big bats we had our eyes on were not going to work for us, would have limited other areas we would have been able to go in, directions we would have gone in. Your eyes are always open. You’re never satisfied. Believe me, I’m not satisfied at this moment. I have faith in these guys, and I do believe they can turn this thing around. We see glimpses here and there. The pitching has been good, and as long as you always have good pitching….We’ve had our share of injuries and other things that have caused things to happen. We don’t have Mark Lowe. Jack Wilson hasn’t been playing. Now we have Adam (Moore) go down. Then we lost Milton for quite a while.
“All of these tied into…but everyone has them. It’s not an excuse. It’s where we’re at right now. The challenge is for these guys to unite as a group, and be who they are. That’s all…I’ve said it from day one. I’m not asking anyone to come in here and do things they’re not capable of doing. All I would love to do is see these guys play to their level of ability. If they get to that level, they could be a good ballclub.
“Then again, you could have a few guys here or there that always have good years. And you hope guys don’t have really bad years. If we can get to that point, we’ll be very competitive from here on out.”
You mentioned the high expectations — were those a curse? “There were nice things that were done. You have to look back and say some of these acquisitions and signs, they were good signs. There’s no question about that. I got so many phone calls from all over the place from people excited about what happened. I always did say that the big bat in the middle of our lineup was something we were going to miss. Some of the discussions we had just weren’t able to work out. That’s just what it is. There’s nothing I can do about that. We’ll see. We’ll always have our ears open. We’ll always try to improve this ballclub, but the biggest thing, as we speak to today, is for these players to play to their level of ability. If every guy can be who they are, this will be a good ballclub from this day forward.”
Is it the starting pitching that’s contributing to that hope? “Exactly. No question. We still have a couple of pitchers that have to get on track, that have a history of pitching pretty good. At least second halves of seasons. We’re looking forward to them doing it too.
“It’s funny how this thing gets a little contagious. When all of a sudden momentum starts to go your way, everybody starts to believe. A lot can happen. You can conquer a lot. If I were this group of guys, believe me, I would not be throwing in the towel by any means. I would be looking at the positives here, saying we’re not as bad as we’ve played. We’re a better club than this. There’s certainly an upside here. All we have to do is get on a roll.”
Are you still exploring trades? “We talk. I’ve had discussions going on. I don’t want to base this club, and I don’t want anyone to sit here thinking we’re going to turn this club around because of a trade. That’s always a possibility. That can happen at any point in time. I’d rather have the players hear the message be sent that you’re better than what you’re playing. Just be who you are. Trust each other, and get back on track. Then we’ll do our end of it when we have to.”
Do you expect to be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline? “I certainly hope this club gets it turned around and we’re right back in the middle of this thing. We’re certainly looking up a hill a little bit. We’ve got some guys to catch ahead of us. When you look at so many close games we lost, and mistakes here and there that cost us…not even hitting. Just so many other little things that cost us ballgames. They’re capable of turning that around, and that not happening. When they do that, and all of a sudden you run off a few games in a row, you get a winning streak going, and win seven of eight or eight out of 10, something like that. All of a sudden everyone starts to believe, and, again, it gets contagious.
“We’ve seen that in the past. There’s a lot of clubs. You look back to what the Astros did a few years ago. You look back to what the Colorado Rockies did a couple of different times. It’s very, very possible. The fact you have such good pitching, it’s always going to keep you in ballgames.”
You take hope in teams like the Astros? “Sure. Of course. I’m not one to have false expectations. What I’m seeing is the reality of what’s happened here. We have under-achieved. And there’s no reason why we’ve under-achieved. We should be a better club. We are a better club. It’s just a matter of players playing up to their level of ability. And at this point in time, we’ve had players exceed expectations. We’ve had several players, we’re waiting for the thing to kick in for them. It hasn’t happened yet. I’m hoping that does happen.”
Has this rough start been tough on you personally? Sure. You take it personal. You really feel for it. You feel for the guys you know are better players than what’s happening out there. Their performances are below what they’re capable of doing. I feel for them. Certainly, I feel for myself, I feel for our fans. I know the expectations that have gone into this. Whether they were real or not, remains to be seen. But the fact that we do have some real good pieces here. When you think about this club, you have several players that are all-star players on this club. You have several players that rank at the top of a lot of categories, whether it be defensive categories, or pitching categories, on-base percentage or walks, all those things, things that really make clubs go.
“But again, I think you sit and realize the effort guys have put in. There’s not a harder worker on the club than a Chone Figgins. You realize there are guys that have put in a ton of work. They’re frustrated a little bit. But they have to keep the professional face on, and continue to do what you do. Let the pieces fall where they may. You can’t always control outcomes. You can control effort and you can control preparation. You can control hustle. I’m pulling for these guys and I certainly hope they get it back on track.”
Are you satisfied with the job Don Wakamatsu has done? “Oh, yeah. Wak can’t take a bat up there and hit. He can’t throw a pitch for a pitcher. He can’t field a ground ball. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about a guy performing when he’s given an opportunity to perform. When he doesn’t perform, it’s easy to sit there and say, why did he do this or why did he do that? But I think if you went and asked the person that didn’t perform, he’d tell you: I didn’t perform today. I just didn’t get the job done.
“Players want to succeed. They thrive on competition. I guarantee, when you go through the year, there’s several at-bats, or several pitches here and there, that several of our guys would say, I wish I could have it back. But they can’t. It’s out there. What counts is what we do from this day forward. ”
What has been the upshot of the Griffey napping story? “Kenny’s one of 25 guys on this club. I think when you go through the course of a season, there’s going to be things that happen with players on your ballclub. It’s just going to happen, whether it’s injuries or it’s personal. There are a lot of players that have other issues they’re going through on a personal note that they just have to be a baseball player, because that’s what they get paid to do. That’s the trade they’re in. In terms of any other player having a distraction, or any one particular player having a distraction, I just look at it like this: It’s one of 25 players that has to get through this, and at the end of the day, each player owes it to his teammates to be the best teammate they can be and perform the best they can perform.”
Was it a miscalculation for Griffey to be the primary DH for such a long period of time? “Every player is given opportunities. I don’t care who it is. We made a lot of decisions this year. We made a couple of trades. We made some position switches. Every player is given an opportunity. I don’t care who you are. Whether it’s player one or player 25 on your ballclub, all players are asked to perform. All players are given that opportunity. It’s out there and everyone sees it. We know that as a group, up to this point, we’ve under-performed. We hope we get this turned around. I’m not singling out, nor would I ever single out, any individual player. I look at this group as a team. When one player is under-performing, you need your teammate to help you. That’s the case with this ballclub right now.”
(Seattle Times staff photo)