One year ago this week, the Mariners were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. Felix Hernandez had just thrown his perfect game and the fans came out in droves to fete him during a Supreme Court Night in which Safeco Field was turned in to a sea of yellow.
So, a snapshot, if you will, of the Mariners then and now:
123-game mark 2012: 59-64 (.480) record, 13 games behind division leader
123-game mark 2013: 57-66 (.463) record, 13 1/2 games behind division leader
Runs scored/allowed after 123 games:
2012: 483/483 (diff: 0)
2013: 493/579 (diff: -86)
Now, I realize that win-loss records don’t always tell the whole story. And that runs-scored versus runs allowed can take a drastic turn for the worse when you start breaking in young players by the busload. But when it comes to qualifying how much “better” or “worse” a team is getting, it helps to have some numbers to back it up. And nothing cuts to the heart of what’s going on with a team more than how many runs they are scoring versus how many they are preventing. And in the end, the only thing a baseball teams gets truly judged on is how many games it wins versus how many it loses.
In coming weeks, we should see Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and/or president Chuck Armstrong step back into the public sphere and announce what they plan to do with general manager Jack Zduriencik and his contract, which is up after this season. And when they do so, hopefully there will be some rational explanation for the course they have chosen to take.
If they choose not to keep Zduriencik, then the numbers above will easily explain that decision.
But if the duo in charge of the Mariners decides to extend Zduriencik beyond this season, they will hopefully provide an explanation of their rationale for doing so despite the numbers that currently suggest the team has shown little-to-no improvement from 12 months ago. An explanation that goes beyond the “birth certificate” argument that it bodes well for a team’s future when you merely flood it with a new crop of untested 20-something players, to replace the old crop of younguns’ that couldn’t get the job done when it mattered from April-through-June.
Lincoln and Armstrong have resisted “changing horses midstream” before, much to their detriment. They got it wrong back in the winter of 2007-2008, when they held on to GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren despite the 2007 team’s historic collapse from a wild-card spot in late August and early September. In the end, they fired Bavasi a few months into his fifth season in 2008.
If Zduriencik comes back, it will be for a sixth season.
There are arguments to be made for bringing Zduriencik back, the biggest being that Lincoln and Armstrong truly believe he is the best man suited to take the Mariners to the next level. I’ll let Lincoln and Armstrong make that case themselves, since it’s their job to so and such an argument is not necessarily a given, even if you truly believe Zduriencik has built a young core of players capable of challenging for a playoff spot somewhere down the road.
After all, Bavasi largely built the young core that formed the base of the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won a World Series. But it was a new GM, Bill Stoneman, who was brought in and pushed the Angels over the top. If a young core truly is good enough to win something that matters, most new GMs will be smart enough to hang on to the really talented pieces as they seek to fill the holes their predecessors could not.
But anyway, it’s possible that Lincoln and Armstrong may not believe they need their own version of Stoneman. They may feel Zduriencik can handle things all on his own. And hopefully, they have some quantitative reasoning they can support that with. Stuff that goes beyond the whole “this team is more interesting” subjective stuff that was popular a few weeks back when the team was on an eight-game winning streak.
Heck, it was popular a year ago when the Mariners were on an eight-game winning streak as well.
We see now, one year later, what that August winning streak in 2012 meant to the 2013 Mariners. It meant absolutely nothing.
The Mariners, at present, are worse in overall record and far worse in run differential than the team a year ago. They crashed and burned when they had a chance to win games that still meant something in the standings back in April, May and June.
So, whatever decision Lincoln and Armstrong make this time, let’s hope they can come up with some reasoning worthy of the executive positions they hold. Something that runs a little deeper than the type of subjective hyperbole found on your average fan board when things are going well. A logic that extends beyond the mere “trust us” and “stay the course” stuff they’ve peddled in this town stretching back to the end of the Bavasi era.
If they truly feel this franchise is headed in the right direction, which they were wrong about in late 2007, let them explain how. Let them explain why the base numbers are lying. And above all, regardless of the numbers or their eventual vote on Zduriencik’s fate, let them actually get it right this time.
Because if they are forced to abort again midway through 2014, this ownership had better find somebody to run this team who can do something other than make a buck year after year. It’s not that tough for sports teams to make money with cable TV and all the public handouts they get nowadays. It’s a lot tougher to make a buck with a franchise that can actually win more than it loses. That latter part involves taking a risk now and then. It involves actually trying to win something by doing the unexpected. And, above all, it involves getting it right once in a while. Lincoln and Armstrong have been getting it wrong on the field for a long, long time.
This winter, they need to get it right. Or this franchise will remain stuck in neutral when it comes to anything but making money off the field.
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