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April 25, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Thoughts on whether a sub-.500 season should be good enough for the Mariners

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Glancing around the blogosphere last night and this morning, it seems like folks are in a firing mood when it comes to Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge.

And as I wrote for the paper this morning in a story about Franklin Gutierrez and the ripple effect of his health woes, there are indeed jobs at stake when a season goes off the rails. Both Zduriencik and Wedge know this all too well; Wedge because he’s been down this road before in Cleveland and Zduriencik because he fired his previous hand-picked manager during a 101-loss campaign three years ago.

The story about Gutierrez¬†highlights how the team’s decision to stick with him as their everyday center fielder — rather than trade him and sign a free agent replacement — is coming back to haunt the ballclub.

Look, I do not want to pin this all on Gutierrez. He’s hurt and it’s not his fault. He doesn’t want to be that way. His teammates have to pick it up in any event because the level of their overall play has deteriorated well below their collective talent level. They can’t blame an entire season on Gutierrez going down, or Michael Saunders getting hurt. Neither can the guys in charge of the team. They all have to do a better job of getting the job done.

But that’s what I want to discuss further this morning. That talent level and where it’s headed. For me, as I wrote last night, this has always seemed like a team that should at least finish .500, especially with 19 games against the Houston Astros. Believe me, the Astros didn’t just become a championship squad. They have been getting pounded by every team other than the Mariners.

So, a .500 team at minimum with the ability to do more. That’s my minimal expectation for this team and still is, despite the 8-15 start. No, I won’t be throwing them any parades for it. Like I said, finish 81-81 and they will have met my minimal expectations.

But if we’re going to talk firings and stuff, let’s lay down some parameters.

I had a conversation with somebody the other day about whether finishing a game or two below .500 should be enough to warrant some changes taking place. I said yes and he said no.

I’ll tell you, it’s a tough call. But I’ll stick with my first instinct. I don’t think a season of 78-80 wins is good enough for this franchise to keep on trucking ahead. Not five years into a rebuilding effort.

Put up a season like that when given the chance to pad your record against a team like Houston so often, and that’s more like a 70-75 win campaign.

And if that’s all we’ve gotten out of five rebuilding years, then this plan is taking much too long. So, no, for me, anything less than 81 wins and the folks running this team should be looking over their shoulders.

Anyone who thinks the rebuild depends on Mike Zunino, the so-called Big 3, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Stefen Romero, you’d better be ready to wait until about 2016 or 2017 for it to start bearing fruit. Those guys aren’t even in the majors yet. The current young core — the ones who were championed locally starting back in 2009 and 2010 — have been here for several seasons in some cases and are nowhere close to leading this team to a title just yet.

I’ve believed all along this franchise wasn’t realistically planning to win anything until 2014 or, more likely, 2015 and have always felt that was an awfully long time to ask fans to be patient. But the odds of vaulting there overnight are still pretty slim, despite what happened with Oakland and Baltimore last year. It’s been my belief that a .500 season would be needed before a serious shot at the playoffs would occur.

Last year’s 75-win record, padded in the second half against some really struggling clubs, doesn’t count as .500. Winning 78-80 this year? That’s close to .500, but factor in the Astros and is it really any better than last season? Might even be worse.

So, no. I’m sticking to my guns here. This team must play at least .500 or all bets are off. And what I mean by that is, nobody in this organization should feel that winning 80 games is sufficient enough to automatically assume they’ll be moving forward.

There are all kinds of shades of gray here, naturally, since the team could be on track to win 85 all year, then lose the final five in a row for myriad reasons. They could also be on a 76-win pace all year, then beat up on some club playing Class AAA guys the final week and get to 81 wins.

Obviously, some discretion is needed. I think by early-to-mid September, everybody should have a pretty good gauge of what this team really was. Heck the way they’re playing now, we could have it by June 1. But seriously, there are always caveats when it comes to talking about people’s livelihoods. I’m not going to peg Zduriencik’s future to whether his team wins or loses one final matchup to either reach or fall short of 81 wins.

I think most of you are intelligent enough to get where I’m going with this. We’ll know by Sept. 10, or 15, or 20 whether this team really did provide at least a .500 type of season for Seattle. Yeah, I know that sounds pretty tough as far as expectations go when we’re discussing the future of people running a team. But I actually don’t think it is. I think it’s pretty lenient.

Again, because of the Astros being in the division.

Because it will have taken five years to get there.

Because if this young core really isn’t good enough to help this team play .500 ball at this point — which would have amounted to 75-80 wins any other season — where is the evidence that better things are in store in 2014 or 2015?

Bill Bavasi got five years.

The argument that Zduriencik built up a better farm system only applies if the fruits of that farm system actually help the team win in the majors. Having a farm of top-rated prospects that bottom out as mediocre performers in the majors doesn’t help anybody except the publications that make a living out of rating these prospects.

It doesn’t help the team. And it doesn’t help the fans who have waited patiently.

Might help the owners of a team who don’t have to pay young players all that much while they collect yearly profits and build franchise value.

But enough is enough.

This rebuilding plan has never had a real end target in sight that anyody has spelled out. And those of you who work on projects in the professional world know: there always has to be a goal and a timetable. It can be vague at first, but eventually, results are needed and they are hard to get without setting some type of restrictions on how long you can take.

So, since the Mariners themsleves won’t spell out when this plan is supposed to actually win something, this is my effort to help the process along by establishing some goals along the way.

This year, it’s .500 or bust.

And if that target isn’t reached, I would expect this team to take serious steps to examine whether this is a worthy plan and whether those running it should be allowed to continue. That is, if they indeed are serious about actually winning something on the field to go along with all that monetary value they keep building away from it no matter what the team does.

 

 

Comments | More in front office | Topics: franklin gutierrez; michael saunders; eric wedge; jack zduriencik

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