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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 1, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Zduriencik extension was the right move for the Mariners

jackzhultzen.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Sorry for the infrequent posts lately. Part of it is because I’ve been covering a lot of Mariner games and manning the Mariners blog, and part has been the intrusion of real life — I was out of town attending a funeral this week. More, and much happier, real life will take me away next week when I head to Boston to attend the wedding of my oldest daughter, Jessica.

But I’m here now, and I wanted to weigh in on the extension of Mariners’ general manager Jack Zduriencik yesterday. There was a time not that long ago — during the Mariners’ 17-game losing streak, to be specific — that I began to have doubts about whether Zduriencik would weather the storm. That was such a horrific streak that I felt it was undermining all the progress that had been made under Zduriencik; or, more accurately, it was undermining the perception of whether progress had been made. And I was wondering if Zduriencik, already seemingly teetering on the brink because of last year’s disastrous season, this year’s downturn, and the Josh Lueke situation, would survive such a stark and dismal stretch of defeats.

But then the best thing that could possibly have happened for Zduriencik, and the Mariners, occurred. The team, already skewing young, went full bore into its youth movement. The losing streak ended on July 27. On July 30, Doug Fister and David Pauley were traded to Detroit for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Carlos Martinez and a player to be named, who turned out to be Chance Ruffin. The next day, Zduriencik traded Erik Bedard to the Red Sox for Trayvon Robinson and minor-league outfielder Chih Hsien Chiang

There no longer was any pretense about what was going on. Since then, five rookies — Wells, Robinson, Mike Carp, Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager — have been in the lineup most days. Three rookies — Furbush, Blake Beavan and Michael Pineda — have been in the rotation, with another, Anthony Vasquez getting two starts, but perhaps no more. In the bullpen, rookies Dan Cortes and Tom Wilhelmsen have played increasingly large roles, along with Lueke and Ruffin.

That’s 13 rookies in key roles. And since July 31, the Mariners have played respectably, going 13-15 in that time. But more importantly, the rookies have added a level of energy that has been sadly missing for much of the past two seasons. It has been possible, finally, to envision a brighter future for the Mariners, and see the road map to get there. It hasn’t all been lollipops and rainbows, of course, but I think the last month has done more to validate Zduriencik’s master plan than anything that preceded it.

As someone I know pointed out, they are the most entertaining last-place team the Mariners have had in years. For the most part, fans seem to have bought into the youth movement. This is certainly not unanimous. Zduriencik still has his detractors, and there is a portion of the fan base that will not be convinced that this organization has any clue about anything, up to the point that any progress is registered in the win-loss record — and probably not even then. Such is the cost of being beaten down by eight years of lousy play.

It may be too dramatic to say this last month saved Zduriencik’s job, but it certainly made it easier for Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong to make the decision to retain Zduriencik. To do otherwise would have been a major embarrassment for them, because it would have been a tacit admission that they blew that GM hire back in October of 2008 — after blowing the previous one in 2003. It would have meant integrating a new staff, a new point of view, and basically starting over with a new game plan, which may well have set back the organization and de-railed their rebuilding process.

Zduriencik hasn’t been perfect, but no general manager is. By and large, he has overseen a significant influx of talent into the organization. They are much closer to being competitive than they were when he took over. His misses, with the notable exception of Chone Figgins, have not hamstrung the M’s long-term.

In the long run, it may have been serendipitous that the Mariners collapsed in July, because it eliminated any need to forestall their youth movement. And that has shed light on the progress they have made under Zduriencik.

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