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December 28, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Jack Zduriencik significantly upping timeframe for Mariners success

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Hope you all had some good holidays in preparation for this short week ahead of the New Year. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik probably needed a few days to recharge in Pittsburgh, where he spent Christmas with his family. Zduriencik has engaged in a flurry of deals the past few weeks, the result of which has unmistakably given 2010 more of a “win now” feel.
Zduriencik keeps insisting he is only trying to make his team better. Which is true, because he has made it better.
But he is not done yet. He can’t be. At present, his team appears to be solid enough to at least match the 85 wins of last season, which is a good thing because that 2009 squad likely overachieved just a bit.
Still, more improvement is needed if this team is to seriously contend. The offense was the second worst in the AL last season and has lost Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre. Replacing them are Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley. Even if you assume a sawoff — a rather large assumption — you’re still looking at one of the worst offenses in the AL once again.
So, yes, another bat or two seems to be in order.
And Zduriencik will have to get it done because, as we’ve said, his timeframe for winning has moved up.

The biggest indicator of this was his willingness to trade for Cliff Lee. Whether or not he makes the team better — and he most certainly does — you can’t ignore the fact he is only around for one guaranteed year. And Lee was very close to inking a long-term pact with the Phillies. At least, he thought he was. So, you’d have to assume he’ll be looking for a monster pact here. As will Felix Hernandez.
And it’s entirely possible neither will be around in 12 months.
If talks with Hernandez continue to drift along without any real progress, the Mariners would certainly have to look at dealing him come July 31, unless they are contending. If they do contend, then the M’s would have to wait until next off-season and try to pull off some prosepcts for him the way Alex Anthopoulos just did with Roy Halladay in Toronto. What you can’t do is hold on to Hernandez for 2011 and watch any returns diminish.
Theoretically, the M’s could turn around and give Hernandez type money to Lee if they see their ace wants to go elsewhere. But there’s no guarantee Lee would take it. Maybe he’s an East Coast guy and doesn’t want to stay here. Who knows? The M’s don’t.
So, it’s not out of the question the M’s could lose both aces after 2010.
And in that case, the best chance the M’s have of keeping one or the other, or even both, is to win something in 2010. Show Hernandez this club has a future with him fronting it. Show Lee that he and Hernandez together are a tandem that can dominate baseball. Can the club afford both? I don’t even know that they’d want to, Depends on what Lee shows them this year.
But make no mistake. Zduriencik has come as close to going “all in” for 2010 as a GM of a supposedly rebuilding team can do. An 85-win season won’t cut it. In less than two weeks, he dealt away two former No. 1 picks, a promising outfielder and a live arm from the minors to get a one-year guarantee in Lee and an apparent short-term solution in Brandon League and some minor league outfield depth that may or may not pan out into something.
Don’t forget, League is only guaranteed two years. Jack Wilson is only guaranteed two years and Ian Snell has one more affordable year before a club option comes up. Zduriencik traded another former No. 1 pick to get Wilson and Snell.
That’s a lot of potential minor league currency given up by Zduriencik for major league talent that isn’t guaranteed to be around here beyond 2010 or 2011.
Yes, a GM has to live in the present as well. You can’t only build for the future and Zduriencik has done a fine job of balancing the interests of both. But the expectations on him and this team have grown this winter and reasonably so. Anything less than serious contention in the AL West — meaning a race right down to the final weeks of the season — is going to be viewed as a disappoitnentment and I think rightly so.
It all comes down to the top-two pitchers — Hernandez and Lee. Take that pair away and no one in baseball would be mentioning the M’s as contenders for anything. By the end of this year, Zduriencik has to know that he can keep one of them in the fold moving forward. If he uses Lee to leverage Hernandez into signing, then moves ahead with only Hernandez, he’ll still have done his job.
But he has to keep at least one of the two.
And at present, winning in 2010 should help go a long way towards achieving that goal.
It helps explain why, as we told you in last week’s post, the M’s were ready to deal away Michael Saunders even though they’ve only seen him for a half-season.
That means, as I’ve said, that the team needs to bring in some more bats. Jason Bay is still out there. Adam LaRoche is still out there. Adrian Gonzalez doesn’t appear to be headed anywhere fast, but there are 28 other teams the M’s can work out a deal with. Expect the team to be busy in the weeks ahead because winning in 2010 just became a top priority.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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