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June 24, 2011 at 5:00 AM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik needs to get a move done this time

Right up until this last series the Mariners did their part to show they can compete with the game’s best. And now, they need their front office to do the same.
We are halfway (well, almost halfway) through the 162-game schedule. The “small sample size” excuses are pretty much done. The Mariners are what they are. And what they are is a team that needs some help.
It’s one thing to wait until you can pull off a really good deal. We’ve seen GM Jack Zduriencik do that in the off-season. But the in-season game is a different animal. Teams don’t always have time on their side. They sometimes have to overpay slightly — or more than slightly — to get what they need. And they sometimes need to make that deal long before July 31, or they risk falling out of a race before they pull the trigger.
Right now, there are in-house and outside moves that can be explored and executed rather quickly.
The Mariners have been getting away with a lot of things up to this point. But now, something has got to give. Some tough decisions need to be made. Otherwise, everything we’ve seen to this point will be scored under the “moral victory” column and that’s it.

OK, I’l admit it. I just plagarized myself. Everything you just read in italics above was lifted from a post to this blog done by me on July 5, 2009.
The Mariners had just finished taking two out of three in Boston and were in the thick of the division and wild-card races. They had received standout starting pitching and bullpen work but were woefully short on offense.
That season, the M’s did not make any mid-July moves to bolster the offense. There were rumors they were close on Adrian Gonzalez. But you know what they say about being close, horseshoes and hand grenades.
Doesn’t matter. Didn’t matter then. The M’s did not get a move done.
They entered the second half, got blown out by Cleveland at home and fell more than a half-dozen games out of the race. That’s when they made moves for the future, trading Jarrod Washburn, Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedneo and others for Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Luke French and Mauricio Robles.
That was two years ago.
Now, we’re back in the same situation. The Mariners find themselves contending “ahead of schedule” and I write that in quotes because there is no schedule for contending. There is nothing carved in stone that says “2013: Seattle Mariners will contend this year.”
Sure, teams can try to forecast stuff. I’ve had plenty of picnics planned here in Seattle, though, that, unfortunately, don’t always go according to plan because somebody’s forecast was off.
This is major league baseball. You take what you get sometimes. And right now, for the second time in three seasons, the M’s have been given a chance to contend ahead of “schedule”. Also, for the second time in three years, they have an offense that often can’t connect with the side of a condemed building if they were swinging a wrecking ball.
Sorry. I gave this offense the benefit of the doubt all through May and the first part of this month. There are times when it shows the ability to put sustained pressure on an opponent and deliver hits when it matters. It is gradually learning to recognize the right pitches and attack the ball aggressively rather than being passive and looking for walks. And when it works, those are the times when this team wins.
But when it doesn’t work, this team loses. Doesn’t matter how good the pitching is.
I’ve written this before and will repeat it again: this team has a chance to win games because of its fabulous pitching.
But this team wins games when the offense shows up.
Not the other way around. That’s it. That’s all. The three Mariners starters this series gave up one earned run or fewer and the M’s lost all three games. Yes, they scored five in the opener, but also tripped all over themselves instead of adding to an early lead and paid later on. They scored one run the final 21 innings of the series. They’ve scored 13 runs the last six games and 40 runs in the past 15 contests.
That won’t get it done.
Stick to the current roster without upgrades and this team will fall short, as gutsy as it can be at times. It just doesn’t have an entire season for everybody to adapt to this more aggressive hitting approach. It needs to score at least four runs per game more often than it has for the past few weeks. It can’t keep taking two-or-three-week layoffs from producing offensively.
You can’t keep depending on the Texas Rangers to fall apart. You can’t keep depending on Adam Kennedy to deliver a 25-year-old’s performance in a 35-year-old body geared to play four days a week. Can’t hope for Dustin Ackley to be your savior. Or Mike Carp. Or Greg Halman. All have parts to play, but they aren’t going to be enough.
Zduriencik can’t repeat the storyline of two years ago. He has to get a move done to bring in some bats — sooner, rather than later.

Hey, it’s great that Zduriencik surprised us all and proved me and some others wrong by building a team good enough to hang in the race this long. But if proving beat writers and columnists (and fans) wrong was the ticket to being a good GM, then all 30 of the present-day execs would be headed for Cooperstown.
Zduriencik’s job is not to prove others wrong. Especially not on something so miniscule as “Hey, we’re not a 100-loss team!”
That’s great. But if it’s a sub-.500, third-place team, with pitching this good? Not sure what the celebration would be about. Ask the folks in Boston, New York and Philadelphia what they think about moral victories.
The goal of every GM is to win. It is to build a winning baseball product and to make money for the franchise that hired him by keeping it strong. And Zduriencik has the chance to win right now with perhaps the best starting rotation he will ever have as a GM.
Nobody knows where Erik Bedard will be next year. Or whether Michael Pineda will fall victim to a sophomore jinx. Maybe Felix Hernandez — heaven forbid — blows out his arm. Doug Fister maybe turns into what you thought he was a year ago. You just never know what the future holds.
Back in 2009, nobody ever dreamed that another 101-loss season was right around the corner. Back in 2007, few imagined we’d be having this discussion four years later with nobody left from that team other than Felix Hernandez and Ichiro.
Trying to predict the future is fun. But it’s more of a crapshoot than we really give it credit for.
Right now, today, in June of 2011, this M’s starting five can go toe-to-toe with any rotation in baseball.
And it’s being wasted by an offense that can’t seem to get off the ground despite several repeated tries.
This offense is a better one than last year’s. It has more power potential and better guys up top in the order. But it needs help. It needs a Ryan Ludwick, or a Casey Blake, or a Luke Scott or a Hunter Pence or a Vlad Guerrero, or anything better than the .600-range OPS numbers we’ve seen from far-too-many hitters already. The M’s need somebody who can make this team better in left field, at third base and at DH.
Adam Kennedy, great as he’s been, is a very good backup infielder on a championship team at this stage of his career. Maybe a guy who comes up big in the playoffs like he did nine years ago. But he’s not the guy you rely on to get you there day-in and day-out.
We keep hearing that Zduriencik is working the phones trying to drum up a deal. I have no doubt he is working the phones. But he needs to do more than that this year. He needs to get a deal done. I know it’s not easy. But that’s why he’s running the team and not all of us who run blogs and write for newspapers.
This is a GM’s job. To put teams over the top. It’s not all about the farm system. It’s about knowing when to part with pieces of your future to give yourself a chance in the present when that rare opportunity jumps out and grabs you. You don’t take a starting five like these Mariners have and punt on a season in a division as mediocre as the AL West because you’re “building for the future.”
And if the M’s don’t get a deal done — for whatever reason — they will be punting.
Want to build a baseball future in Seattle? Win something in 2011.
Some will argue that Zduriencik is doing all he can to secure more bats. I certainly hope so. In the end, all we have to judge are the results.
But we never know for sure, do we? This is a franchise that has clung tight to its budget the last couple of years. I’m sure that the team planned to trade a bunch of veterans once it fell out of contention this year and now — with this surprise contention into June thing — those plans have to be altered.
That can present a problem for teams if they’re really not sure they can last the duration. It can be a real gut-churning dilemna.
I’m sure there’s a part of the M’s brass that would be enormously frustrated to not be able to reap the fruits of a Bedard trade for prospects and risk losing him for nothing this winter. Being a baseball GM is not an easy job. Nor is running a baseball team.
But we’d all hope that, given a shot at contending, the Mariners would do everything they could to secure more bats. Not simply wait until the team falls out of it in order to move ahead with Plan A. Yeah, other teams will try to hold them up for ransom. Other teams know that the longer the M’s go without upgrading their offense, the bigger the risk they’ll fall out of the race.
They are now 2 1/2 games out of first place. The Angels are right on them as well.
But there are times when a GM has to get it done. This is one of those.
And I’d have to believe Zduriencik really will do all he can. He knows how rare these opportunities are. He knows you can plan and plan and that sometimes, life just laughs at you. For all the good young players Zduriencik brought to Milwaukee, that team has been to one quick playoff appearance the past decade.
Sometimes you have to grab the moment and not let go.
Zduriencik has been around too long not to recognize how rare it is to have five starters clicking like this group of pitchers has.
The good news is, the pitching is so on right now, that these M’s could very well play .600 ball the rest of the season once they find an offense capable of scoring four runs per game. Maybe even better than .600 ball. The Oakland A’s, when they had the Big Three nine years ago, went 83-29 from May 23 onward and overcame a huge deficit to win the division.
That’s what great pitching does when you have at least a competent offense.
So, the M’s do have time. But they don’t have forever. And they don’t have an excuse this time.
I could understand people being a little gun-shy in 2009, figuring Washburn would not hold up and that the rest of the division would improve. Could understand the reluctance to “go for it” in 2007 when the M’s desperately needed more bullpen arms to salvage a team running out of gas and relying on smoke and mirrors to a large extent.
But not this time. Five good starting pitchers is not smoke and mirrors. Not all of them are all-stars, sure, and one or two have gotten lucky at times, but heck, all five of them have been pretty darned good.
And pitching and defense — minus the injury-factor, of course — doesn’t tend to come in streaks. If it’s good, it stays good.
Meaning, if you’re the GM, and you have a chance to win with that team, you’ve got to get a move done to help it out.
No matter how tough.
Zduriencik is being put to the test here. His team has made him look real good to this point. Now, he has to return the favor and get them some help.
Photo Credit: AP



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