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June 26, 2010 at 10:09 PM

Jack Zduriencik on Branyan trade: part of development is having young players win games

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The shocking news of this Russell Branyan deal is still settling in for a lot of us, both you and me. And much of it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Why trade a promising outfielder like Ezequiel Carrera, who won a Class AA batting title last year, and a lesser-known prospect in shortstop Juan Diaz, for a 34-year-old slugger in Russell Branyan who the team rebuffed last winter as a free-agent? Especially when you’re 14 games out?
Good questions. I put them to general manager Jack Zduriencik moments ago.
Zduriencik told me the team was always interested in Branyan last winter. But when talks stalemated, he had to move on.
Now, with his team scoring just two runs per game on many nights, he felt he had to do something to boost the offense. Not necessarily because he thinks the team can overcome a 14 game deficit to win the AL West — he won’t speculate on that one way or the other. But because winning still matters, whether a team is going for it or still developing.
“If you look at our team, as we move forward, just about every player who is here now will be here again next year,” he said. “We’re committed to the development of our players and that goal, that objective has never changed for us. But part of that development process is also winning games. We want our players to be able to experience winning games this year. And we’re trying to do what we can to give them what they need to get there.”
I’ll throw this in.
This move is largely about the front office restoring some needed credibility in the clubhouse.
The players aren’t stupid. They look around and see that they don’t have a legitimate middle-of-the-order home run bat. Mike Sweeney has played sporadically and he’s tied for the team home run lead. And they have to be wondering, to a man, if the reason they have all struggled this badly is because there is no fearsome power source in the middle of the lineup.

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Lacking one allows opposing pitchers to take liberties and be more aggressive. So what, they may think, if they give up a walk to Chone Figgins, or a single to Milton Bradley? Who is going to make them pay? Well, right now, it’s Branyan for one.
Zduriencik quickly cautioned that Branyan is only one piece that will help make the club better. He’s not an instant savior. But I’ve got to tell you, when you see Figgins, Bradley, Jose Lopez and so many others struggling to reach career norms, it makes sense to look for answers beyond shrugging and saying “Hey, just a little bad luck.”
Again, many of these players will be back in 2010.
Zduriencik believes it does them little good development-wise to go out and lose 90, or 100 games. Then, you have to start all over next year, teaching them how to win.
The other thing is depth.
Carrera wasn’t going to crack the starting lineup of the Mariners any time soon. They have Ichiro in right, Franklin Gutierrez in center and possibly Michael Saunders for left if he shows he can play every day.
If not, the team could deal for somebody or use Milton Bradley in left. Carrera was fourth outfielder material at best for at least several more years.
“Any time we do a deal, you have to consider these things,” Zduriencik said. “You don’t like to give up players, but you’ve got to weigh their inventory in your system and see where you’re at.”
How will this impact any upcoming Cliff Lee deal? Well, it shouldn’t. The only factor could be that the need to acquire a bat that will step up and be an addition this year is mitigated somewhat. Now, you can get a guy who might be ready to make his debut next spring. But the Mariners were never going to take another team’s junk in a Lee trade. Not when they can acquire two high end draft picks next year if he stays, then departs as a free agent.
That’s the less preferred route, since those picks will take years to mature as opposed to major league ready talent. But we’ll see what offers come in. This move really shouldn’t change that, other than to take some pressure off the team in the short term. If that gives them leverage with potential trade partners, then so be it.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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