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As M's fall apart, heat on manager is misplaced

Jun 11, 2010, 1:14 AM EDT

zduriencik-100610.jpgThe Seattle Mariners were blown out by the Texas Rangers again on Thursday, this time 12-3 in a game in which the Mariners allowed an astounding eight unearned runs.

Seattle dropped a season-worst 14 games below .500 and has been outscored 31-6 in its last three games, all losses to the AL West-leading Rangers.

Seattle has spent most of the season performing below expectations, though anyone who took a realistic look at their offense might have predicted it. The Mariners’ recent run, however, speaks to problems that run deeper than the talent level of the roster, as otherwise sound players are making mistakes in the field and showing a lack of focus.

In fact, there are rumblings that manager Don Wakamatsu is losing control of the clubhouse, in part over the way the beloved Ken Griffey Jr. headed off (or was pushed?) into retirement.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes that Griffey’s departure led to ill-feelings in the clubhouse over how the end of Griffey’s career was handled.

Wakamatsu and Griffey had stopped talking to each other the final 10 days or so before the latter’s abrupt resignation. Griffey was upset over a lack of playing time. His demeanor and relations between him and Wakamatsu quickly deteriorated in the days and weeks after publication of a story that Griffey had been napping in the clubhouse late in a game when he may have been needed in a pinch-hitting role.

Now, with the Mariners having lost six of its last seven games, Wakamatsu and his staff are trying get this season righted again and avoid another 90-loss — or even 100-loss campaign like the one two years ago.

In addition to the Griffey mess, Wakamatsu has rankled Chone Figgins by bumping him to the No. 9 spot in the order, and irritated pitcher Ian Snell for critical comments (though the way Snell has pitched he should be grateful Wakamatsu remembers his name).

But while it’s tempting to pour the heat onto the manager, general manager Jack Zduriencik should share it, or even carry the bulk of it. As golden as his touch was in his first year on the job, Zduriencik got very little right heading into this season.

Sure, Cliff Lee has been great since he got healthy, but the rest of it has been an utter train wreck:

  • Figgins is hitting .225.
  • Casey Kotchman, brought in to be the regular first baseman, is hitting .194.
  • Reliever Brandon League has been good at times, awful at others.
  • The decision to carry Mike Sweeney and Griffey as co-DHs was a disaster, as Griffey can no longer hit, and Sweeney is, at this point in his career, little better than a league-average player who can’t stay healthy.
  • And Milton Bradley? Well, we don’t have time to get into all of that right now.

So JZ, the pressure should be on you. Your first step might be to find some suitors for Lee, because there’s no way he’s going to want to stick around for the rebuilding project that lies ahead.

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  1. Chip - Jun 11, 2010 at 5:00 AM

    Bob, great article, and agree with points about Zduriencik having to take some of the blame, especially off Wakamatsu (I’m trying to find other articles that say that Wak’s job is in trouble, but I can’t, which makes all this talk of him on the hot seat seem so odd). However, I do have a few counterpoints.
    I agree that a lot of the moves made by Zduriencik this offseason haven’t paid off. But by the way you’ve written your bullet points you make it seem as if Zduriencik should have known all of this was going to come to pass. I hope I’m just reading it wrong, but if I’m not, I have to say that’s not the case at all.
    Figgins, obviously, started off very, VERY slowly. But, in bringing up his .225 average, it should be noted that he raised his average from ~.190 once Alonzo Powell took over as hitting coach, and in the month of June he’s hitting .334. The last time he hit anywhere near .225 for a full season was in ’06 when he hit .267. While he’s only hit over .300 once in his career, there was no way Zduriencik could have predicted or seen this kind of regression coming.
    You’re right about League being up-and-down a lot this year, but the same can be said for the man he was traded for…Brandon Morrow, who’s right now sporting a 5.48 ERA. From the Mariners side, it was really a case of they had gone as far as they could with Morrow (certainly switching from reliever to starter back to reliever, etc. multiple times and with multiple regimes hindered him greatly) and were ready to move on. I don’t think it’s worked out exactly as either the Mariners or Blue Jays planned it.
    Along those same lines of going as far as a team could with one player, we come to Milton Bradley. Yes, he’s had a lot of problems this year, but all it took to get him was a pitcher who, to that point, had gone 4-15 w/ 6.46 ERA and 1-3 w/ 8.60 ERA the previous two years in Carlos Silva (the second year playing in front of a stellar defensive team). There was nothing in the last two years to suggest that Silva was capable of going at the rate he is now. It was a simple case of headache for headache, and has worked out better for one than the other.
    The only really inexcusable moves were keeping both Griffey and Sweeney (and then really not playing one or the other for long stretches at a time) when neither could play the field, and then waiting for one of the players himself to remedy the situation; and relying on a traditionally slap hitter in Kotchman to replace a 30 home run guy at first base in Branyan. And, on top of that, when it was apparent to everyone that Kotchman wasn’t going to get out of his funk, they gave him three more weeks than they should have. It’s easy to go back and look at the offseason and say the Mariners really could have had Branyan back at one year instead of the two he wanted, but, as was pointed out by USS Mariner at the time, the only way the Indians got him for as cheap as they did was thanks to the Mariners took themselves out of the running by going after Kotchman.
    I’m very tired, and I think I’m rambling, so I’ll keep the last part short. Back when Zduriencik traded for Lee, my friends and I wondered aloud at what the worst case scenario would be, and now, we’re there. The M’s are out of the playoffs and with most likely no shot at resigning Lee. And yet, even in the worst case scenario, Zduriencik still made off like a thief. Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez were guys stuck in the middle of the organization, with no real shot at making the team (or, if they did, at not starting much if at all). Now, however, Zduriencik can go get a package made up of guys to fill much more pressing holes at other positions, like catcher and shortstop, guys who can contribute to the team for years. If that’s the worst case scenario that deal looks even better.
    Like I said, good article, you raise some good points, and I agree that Zduriencik has made mistakes (both in the offseason and now [why is Tuiasosopo still up with the Mariners?]) he needs to atone for. But to just throw up numbers and situations without context just comes off as a one-sided argument meant to make Zduriencik look worse than he already has. Sorry.

  2. willmose - Jun 11, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    How can this be? This winter Jack was making all the right moves according to every baseball blogger/sportswriter. Their collective wisdom (?) as we know is NEVER wrong. I’m guessing that the bloggers/sportswriters were under the influence of happy juice or smoke when writting about the Marniers great GM. The proof is in the pudding, but didn’t SI rank Jack as the 5th best GM in MLB. I guess that SI is watching a different game.

  3. mrmironov - Jun 11, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    Jack Z. was over-lauded during the last year but he can’t be too faulted for this season. He inherited a mess and the process was pretty good. The Griffey/Sweeney mess may in part (the Griffey part) have been more about public relations with respect to a local hero.
    Tough to blame him for dealing Silva for Bradley with the albatross swap. However, folks shouldn’t forget that Silva, never awe-inspiring, had some above league average years not all that long ago. League never seems to pitch up to his peripherals. For a groundballer he is homer prone. Maybe he is just unlucky, but if you think he is just having bad luck with his home run to flyball rate, note that his hr/fb rate is in the mid to high teens year after year.
    Jack Z. is better than Bavasi by far, but people that made like he was validation for all things saber (which certainly doesn’t need validation) went overboard. He got a little lucky with Aardsma and with Branyan staying healthy last year. The team had a decent season. Still, it is hard to fault him that the team didn’t really have the hitting talent to compete. You really wouldn’t expect Figgins to hit like this, or Bradley, or even Kotchman.

  4. Dan W - Jun 11, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    I don’t think you can blast the Milton trade. The M’s had to get rid of Silva and they got something back, that while risky, was worth the shot.
    Milton had a more reasonable expectation of being a contributor to the M’s then Silva was. Nobody expected Silva to remember how to pitch again in the friendly confines, people did expect Milton to hit a decent amount and provide some pop to an otherwise punchless lineup.
    Hindsight is 20 / 20 – but I don’t think of the Jack’s moves were egregious…maybe the Sweeny / Griffy thing though…

  5. Joey B - Jun 11, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    1-Silva was being cut loose no matter what happened. Whether you DFA him or trade him for someone else’s problem, you cannot win.
    2-While Griffey hasn’t hit at all, he had at least some modest success in 2009. If he wasn’t ‘Griffey’, he’d have been gone, but it’s difficult to cut loose your all-time franchise player. Unless Griffey did the right thing and retired after 2009, Z was in another lose-lose proposition.
    3-Kotchman and Figgins should not be this bad.
    Having said that, Z should’ve known that this was going to be a team with no offense. They finished last in offense in 2009, and replacing Beltre and Branyan with Figgins and Kotchman was certainly not going to help that. You can’t finish last in either offense or pitching and expect to finish well.
    IRT Waka, he’s invited some of this himself. Kotchman has not hit lefties at all. Never has. He really should’ve considered asking Sweeney to take some reps at 1st against lefties.
    And he should’ve talked to Griffey before it ever became an issue. People on my softball team aren’t allowed to fall asleep, and most of us don’t earn millions. I have never witnessed anyone that has falling asleep during a game I was involved in. No one, repeat, no one on any of my teams would tolerate that.
    And moving Figgins down the lineup, AFTER HE STARTED HITTING, was just plain nuts. It was like they discussed it a week earlier, decided it was a good idea, and went with the decision even after circumstances had changed.

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