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August 21, 2013 at 5:41 PM

Coast is now clear for Mariners to announce Zduriencik extension

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong (left) and CEO Howard Lincoln (right) are expected to announce shortly that general manager Jack Zduriencik (center) is back for 2014. Zduriencik was quietly given the extension last winter, but team has been waiting for right moment to announce it. Photo Credit: AP

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong (left) and CEO Howard Lincoln (right) are expected to announce shortly that general manager Jack Zduriencik (center) is back for 2014. Zduriencik was quietly given the extension last winter, but team has been waiting for right moment to announce it. Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners are apparently going to make public before they play another game what they have known since a few months after last season ended.

That general manager Jack Zduriencik is actually under contract through 2014, and not 2013 as had been thought. It seems the team gave Zduriencik an extra year on his deal shortly after the 87-loss campaign in 2012 came to an end.

Why keep it a secret? Well, there could be several reasons.

One, they were too embarrassed to admit they had extended their GM after another losing season and were waiting for a more positive moment to tell fans. They may have assumed they’d get ample opportunity in 2013. But given how this season has actually gone, those “windows” of positivity have usually slammed shut before anybody could crawl through them.

Two, they actually wanted to judge Zduriencik’s performance this year before announcing he was staying, giving them the option of eating the final contract year and seeking help elsewhere if he failed to meet their expectations.

Three, they were worried manager Eric Wedge would be viewed as a lame duck and in trouble, since he doesn’t have an extension and Zduriencik does.

Four, there have been rumors in New York that GM Brian Cashman might want out of his Yankees deal before it expires — coincidentally, also after 2014. The Mariners tried unsuccessfully to interview Cashman five years ago before they hired Zduriencik. If he was to become available a year early — and he’s now denying that will happen — it would look awkward if the Mariners suddenly dumped Zduriencik this winter, having already announced him as their guy for 2014.

Perhaps, a combination of all four factors is at-play.

But even if so, now is still the perfect time for the Mariners to confirm Zduriencik will be back in 2014, if that indeed is their desire. It won’t get any better than now, not after the Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 5-3 here today to finish this tough, nine-game trip with a winning record. Seattle just beat two AL West contenders on the road. Looking ahead, life might never be this sweet again for a team still eight games under .500. If the Mariners were seeking another window of positivity — making a Zduriencik extension an easier “sell” for skeptical fans and media — this one just cracked open.

As for the other possible holdups, the timing might never be better than now to deal with them head-on.

Zduriencik’s performance as a GM has been a decidedly mixed bag, leaning more towards the negative side with all the losing seasons at the big league level. His brightest moments have been the development of some prospects like Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak. But there are still undecideds like Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley, while young infielders Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino are too raw to make any definitive call on. Franklin Gutierrez, the onetime gem of Zduriencik’s young core, has flamed out due to repeated injury and illness. Tom Wilhelmsen took a major step backwards this year. The so-called “Big Three” hasn’t made the majors yet. As for trades and free agent signings, there have been a few bright spots — including Kendrys Morales — but also a multitude of failures.

Again, by extending Zduriencik just the one year, the Mariners could wait to see how his reputed biggest strength — talent evaluation — plays out next year with all the young players. And whether he can sign Morales to a contract extension and get the missing pieces he whiffed on last winter. Zduriencik has broken in a number of young players this year and many can serve as more valuable trade bait than they would have been had they been limited to AAA action.

As for the third factor, Wedge, the fact he is coming back from his stroke after just one month shows that he is confident he can manage again. If he’s healthy, it’s doubful the Mariners would fire him right away after all that’s happened this year, especially since the team would be extending the GM who gave him all the players that have been losing. Tough to extend the GM and not the guy forced to manage that GM’s picks. Making Zduriencik and Wedge a package deal for next year — contingent on Wedge being healthy enough to manage – -shouldn’t be that tough for the M’s to work out. If they could roll it all up and package it with one big happy ribbon and bow Friday during Wedge’s return to the dugout, all the better. But even dropping hints that they’re looking into keeping Wedge for next year would be more than enough to keep things nice and cheery for everybody. This one’s really no biggie.

The fourth thing? Well, that’s more complicated. But Cashman indicating to people he’s not going to leave New York ahead of his deal running out should be the green light the Mariners need to announce Zduriencik for 2014. There really isn’t any GM candidate on the open market right now who won’t be there a year from now. And a year from now, Cashman could be out there as well. Cashman has proven he can win with a big payroll, something not every GM can do, even those with pumped-up reputations (see Alex Anthopoulos) and those who’ve avoided the chance to work in a market where the team spends big (see Billy Beane).

Zduriencik has yet to show he can spend even a modest payroll and win. And with the Mariners now having spent five years trimming their bottom line, boosting franchise value and building themselves a regional sports network, they will be in a golden position to start spending some big cash soon to try and get their team out of the losing level they and their reduced payrolls have been stuck at.

None of this really has anything to do with Zduriencik “earning” another year at the helm. He was given this extension long before this season began, with his bosses clearly expecting this team to take a step forward. It’s doubtful that anything that’s happened since has matched even the minimal expectations the Mariners usually set for themselves.

But since Cashman won’t be available and the Mariners probably aren’t going to seriously contend for much before 2015 in any event, giving Zduriencik and Wedge one more shot to show they can win more than they lose probably won’t kill the franchise. The Mariners don’t like making tough calls, as we saw with Bill Bavasi after the 2007 season. This way they can erase any lingering doubts they have about whether Zduriencik is actually the guy to make this thing work by giving him one more “put up or shut up” season, without having to lose sleep over firing him, or go through the grind of a GM search with no established big-payroll guy out there and available.

Again, things could be vastly different on that front a year from now. But right now, this really is the easiest move for Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong to make as they await the end of a fourth consecutive losing season.

Right now, the Mariners just had a winning road trip. They’ve won two in a row and Wedge is coming back. The coast is now clear to announce that months-old Zduriencik extension. Clear as it’s probably ever going to be this season.

0 Comments | More in front office | Topics: jack zduriencik; howard lincoln; chuck armstrong; extension

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