Jack Zduriencik Rumors

West Notes: Zduriencik, Profar, Morneau, Angels

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan takes a look at the just-ended tenure of former Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. Seattle changed course in the middle of his tenure, says Sullivan, with the organization moving from a focus on finding value and prioritizing defense to a grab for power bats. The club also failed to develop its best-regarded talent to its full potential, Sullivan notes, even if it’s hard ultimately to pin down a cause for that failure. All said, whatever the reason, Zduriencik was never able to turn the club into a regular contender.

Here are a few more notes from out west:

  • Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar could join the big league club in September, GM Jon Daniels acknowledged yesterday, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. While the former top prospect still is not ready to play the field — he’s recovering from a series of significant shoulder problems — he could hit and run. Texas is considering an Arizona Fall League placement, if Profar seems ready to begin making full-speed throws.
  • First baseman Justin Morneau could still suit up for the Rockies this year, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Manager Walt Weiss said that the situation was different than most injuries, given Morneau’s somewhat tricky neck and concussion issues. Morneau has previously indicated that he hopes to play next season, so returning to show his health and some productivity would obviously be quite a boon to his stock. While his deal includes a $9MM mutual option for next year, Colorado seems quite likely instead to pay him a $750K buyout.
  • As the Angels reportedly begin what is expected to be a quick-moving GM search, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler is one name that has been “heard frequently” by MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez (Twitter link). Eppler featured rather prominently in last year’s round of general manager hirings, though obviously he ended up staying in New York.

AL Notes: Blue Jays, Mariners, Gordon

The Blue Jays‘ offseason trade for Josh Donaldson could turn out to be an historic one if Donaldson wins the AL MVP award, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The last time a team traded a player in the offseason who turned out to be the following season’s MVP was 1984, when the Phillies traded reliever Willie Hernandez to the Tigers during Spring Training. Here’s more on the American League.

  • Mariners president Kevin Mather says he waited too long to fire GM Jack Zduriencik, Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest writes. “I’m not a baseball guy,” says Mather. “I kept waiting for them to rattle off eight out of 10, 12 out of 15, to get on a roll. I maybe dragged my feet . . . I waited too long to start asking myself tough questions about why we’re not having more success.” A year ago, Mather rewarded Zduriencik’s for the Mariners’ 71-59 record by signing him to a two-year extension. Now, Mather seems to have changed his mind entirely.
  • Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is saddened by Zduriencik’s departure, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes. “Jack was very dedicated to this organization, and it’s always tough when you lose a family member. I consider Jack a family member,” McClendon says. “It’s just been one of those years where a lot of things just have not turned out the way we thought it would.” Mather has said that he plans to recommend to Zduriencik’s successor that McClendon and his staff remain in their current jobs, although those decisions will ultimately be up to the new GM.
  • Manager Ned Yost says Royals outfielder Alex Gordon appears likely to return to the team this week, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. McCullough suggests Gordon could return on Tuesday. The star left fielder has been out since early July with a groin strain. The Royals have been just fine without him, and they’re currently 30 games above .500 and 13 games up on the second-place Twins in the AL Central, but Gordon’s return should provide them with a further boost.

Front Office Notes: Zduriencik, Dipoto, Anthopoulos

Jack Zduriencik’s tenure with the Mariners was characterized by long streams of firings, resignations and strife, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes. Those began early in Zduriencik’s time in Seattle, with Zduriencik apparently frequently blaming others for the team’s problems under his leadership. Baker prints excerpts of a rather amazing email from Zduriencik to then-manager Don Wakamatsu about the struggling 2010 team in which Zduriencik seemed to blame his staff for the failures of the players he had acquired the previous offseason. “When putting this club together throughout the winter, everyone was involved,” Zduriencik wrote. “I asked many questions about the acquired players this offseason and in all cases moved forward to acquire or refrain from acquiring a player based on received recommendations.” He also suggested that the struggles of that 101-loss 2010 team might be due to a “lack of urgency and preparation,” implying that the coaching staff was to blame. The Mariners finally fired Zduriencik this week. Here’s more on front offices.

  • Former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto looks likely to be a talked-about name as the many teams with vacant GM positions search for candidates, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi writes. Dipoto appears likely to be a candidate for both the Brewers and Mariners jobs. The Mariners have said they will prioritize experience (which, obviously, Dipoto has), and Morosi notes that Dipoto was a finalist for the Mariners GM job years ago, when the team ultimately hired Zduriencik.
  • The Blue Jays are still seeking a team president, but when they hire one, that person will endure criticism if he or she fires GM Alex Anthopoulos, Morosi says. Anthopoulos’ acquisitions of veterans like Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price have helped propel the Blue Jays to first place in the AL East. The team’s decision to keep Anthopoulos shouldn’t be a difficult one, Morosi says.


Early Notes On The Mariners’ GM Search

Earlier today, the Mariners announced that they’ve dismissed GM Jack Zduriencik. Assistant GM Jeff Kingston will serve as GM on an interim basis as the Mariners look for a new GM. Here are some takeaways from president Kevin Mather’s press conference with the Seattle media and comments/rumors on the search for a new GM…

  • Mather will begin his search immediately and hopes to have a new GM in place by early October, tweets MLB.com’s Greg Johns. He plans to spend the month of September looking at and interviewing candidates.
  • Mather’s preference is to hire an experienced general manager, tweets Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. He will handle the search personally, Divish adds, and he specifically referenced that he doesn’t want to waste the remaining prime years of Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Nelson Cruz while a new GM learns on the job for an offseason or two. Meanwhile, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets that Mather will not wait for candidates that aren’t able to interview until after the postseason; he does not want to wait that long to have a new top decision-maker in place.
  • Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN tweets that Mather spoke to manager Lloyd McClendon and expressed full confidence in him, telling his skipper, “at the end of the day, you will work for [the] new GM.” It appears (particularly in light of his later comments) that Mather meant those words as an indication that McClendon’s fate will ultimately be determined by the organization’s new hire, rather than as an assurance of job security.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the Mariners have already been quietly reaching out to potential GM candidates. Former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is one exec to whom Seattle has spoken. O’Dowd’s name has also come up in connection to the Red Sox’ GM opening.
  • ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick notes that former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, who is looking to return to a front office, first broke in with the Mariners (Twitter links). Other names that have been speculatively linked to the Mariners include Rangers AGM Thad Levine, former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, Indians AGM Mike Chernoff and Yankees AGM Billy Eppler, he adds.
  • Zduriencik’s final move as GM was to option Mike Zunino to Triple-A, tweets Drayer. Zduriencik said the demotion was in Zunino’s best interest. “Just a breather, a break,” Zduriencik explained. “We would have liked to have done it sooner.” Zunino, of course, will likely be back before too long. Rosters expand on Sept. 1, and the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate will see its regular season close on Sept. 7. In the meantime, John Hicks will be promoted and make his Major League debut.

Mariners Fire GM Jack Zduriencik

The Mariners announced today that general manager Jack Zduriencik has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Assistant GM Jeff Kingston will assume Zduriencik’s responsibilities on an interim basis through season’s end, according to the team. In a press release announcing the front office shakeup, Mariners president Kevin Mather offered the following statement:

Jack Zduriencik

“We have reached the point when change of leadership of our baseball operations is needed for the Seattle Mariners to reach our goal of winning championships. We are very disappointed with the results this season, and are not satisfied with the current operation. The search for a permanent general manager will begin immediately, and while there is no deadline, we expect to have a new GM in place as soon as practical. We have great respect for Jack and his work ethic. He was an excellent representative of the Mariners both within the game of baseball and in the community. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish him and (his wife) Debbie all the best, and thank him for all his efforts.”

Zduriencik came to the Mariners with a scouting background from his time with the Brewers, but Seattle hasn’t drafted well under his watch. The Mariners twice had the No. 2 overall pick under Zduriencik, but neither player selected — Dustin Ackley (2009) or Danny Hultzen (2011) — has contributed much, if anything, to the Mariners’ success. Seattle selection of Mike Zunino with the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 may yet prove to be a successful move, but Zunino was rushed to the Majors and has batted just .193/.252/.353 as a big leaguer. Of course, the selection of Kyle Seager in the third round back in 2009 will go down as one of the best picks made that year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker may yet prove to be prudent selections, though both have battled health issues, and neither has established himself relative to his lofty prospect status just yet.

Building a productive lineup in an environment that naturally suppresses offense has long been an issue for the Mariners, and Zduriencik was unable to solve the problem either. His offseason signing of Nelson Cruz has helped guide the Mariners to their best offensive output in Zduriencik’s seven-year tenure as GM (at least in terms of park-adjusted metrics like wRC+ and OPS+), but the Mariners still rank 24th in runs scored this season. Under Zduriencik, Seattle has never ranked better than 19th in the Majors in runs scored (the only time they ranked better than the bottom third of the league), and they’ve twice scored the fewest runs in all of Major League Baseball.

The decision to sign Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240MM was made with an eye on winning immediately, and while the Mariners came very close in 2014, they’re nowhere near contention in 2015. That contract will likely hinder the organization for years to come, even if Cano can continue his second-half rebound and perform well over the next couple of seasons, and the opportunity to capitalize on his prime seasons will wane with each non-contending year.

Zduriencik, of course, did have his successes as a general manager. Under his watch, the team signed ace Felix Hernandez to a seven-year, $175MM contract that included five years and $135.5MM of new money. That contract runs through the 2019 season and includes a conditional $1MM club option that comes into play in the event that King Felix ever spends more than 130 consecutive days on the disabled list due to elbow surgery. To this point, Hernandez has made good on his end of the deal, which will conclude after his age-33 season. Zduriencik also made one of the most shrewd pitching acquisitions in recent history when he landed righty Hisashi Iwakuma on a one-year, $1.5MM contract prior to the 2012 season. Iwakuma proved to be an excellent buy, and the two-year, $14MM extension (which included a $7MM club option for the current season) yielded one of the highest returns on investment in recent memory.

On the trade front, Zduriencik notably oversaw the acquisition of Cliff Lee from the Phillies — a move in which he acquired one of baseball’s best arms but gave up virtually nothing in the way of future value. However, Zduriencik also failed to recoup much value when eventually dealing Lee away to the division-rival Rangers, as centerpiece Justin Smoak had a middling career with Seattle. Smoak was one of several high-profile hitting prospects that didn’t pan out with the Mariners; Jesus Montero stands out as another much-ballyhooed prospect that has not developed as hoped, and Zduriencik parted with Michael Pineda in order to bring him to the Pacific Northwest. Acquisitions of Austin Jackson and Mark Trumbo, more recently, have failed to yield dividends.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: GM Turnover, Williams, Zduriencik, Prospects

Baseball has experienced intense turnover in its front offices of late, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today notes in a column today, and there could be more to come. Nightengale cites Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies, Jack Zduriencik of the Mariners, and Walt Jocketty of the Reds as candidates for dismissal. The frequency of change represents a “new state of the game,” argues Nightengale.

  • The Mariners could end up bringing in White Sox president Kenny Williams to head its front office, Nighengale reports. But Williams may also be in the running to become the new president of the Blue Jays. Reds special assistant Kevin Towers also increasingly seems to be an option for Seattle, Nightengale adds on Twitter.
  • Zduriencik says that he pays no heed to the rumor mill, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Though he’s aware that there is chatter that he could be vulnerable, the Mariners general manager explains that he can’t let that affect his work. “I’ve got eyes,” said the seven-year veteran GM. I can see what’s going on here. I know what has not worked and what should be working and isn’t. For me to focus on any outside distractions (is non-productive).” Zduriencik stressed that he still believes in the talent base he’s compiled, explaining: “I think when you start to piece it together, there are things we need to do going forward, but I do think that there are some really solid pieces there.”
  • Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs provides an overhauled, mid-season look at the game’s best prospects. He breaks down a series of different prospect classes. One of those is his list of the game’s premium pre-MLB players, which is made up of the 26 names who separated themselves from the pack. The usual suspects sit atop that list, but there are some quick-rising players as well, including shortstops Orlando Arcia (Brewers, #8), Franklin Barreto (Athletics, #14), and Trea Turner (Nationals, #15), outfielders Bradley Zimmer (Indians, #21) and Gleyber Torres (Cubs, #23), and Rays lefty Blake Snell, who shot all the way up to the 16th slot. McDaniel also lists the year’s newly-emerging prospects, the newly-professional crop of players added over the summer, and the impressive list of young players who no longer qualify as prospects.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America takes a closer look at one such swiftly-rising prospect, Nationals outfielder Victor Robles. The 18-year-old drew the attention of the organization because of his quick-twitch athleticism and high energy, and the club’s $225K bonus has paid out amply so far. It’s a lengthy piece, but well worth a read for any prospect hounds or Nats fans.

West Notes: Mariners, Gyorko, Dodgers Pen

MLBTR joins the rest of the baseball world in extending its best wishes to veteran Giants beat writer Henry Schulman, who announced yesterday that he is undergoing treatment for a serious illness. We wish Hank a speedy recovery and look forward to his return to the beat.

With a tip of the cap to one of the game’s preeminent journalists, here are some notes from out west:

  • The Mariners are beginning to assess whether to make a front office move, says Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, with the team still not decided on whether to bring back GM Jack Zduriencik. Rosenthal addresses the idea of Seattle pursuing Dave Dombrowski for a front office role, noting that many in the game see it as a likely fit, but it appears that the connection is being made on paper rather than through actual indications of specific interest.
  • Padres infielder Jedd Gyorko made his first-ever professional appearance at shortstop yesterday, and it seems there is at least an outside chance that he could be considered there in the future. While manager Pat Murphy did not give much of an indication of the club’s plans, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock tweets, neither did he dismiss it as a spot start. “We’ve got to see if our hunch is right first,” Murphy responded when asked whether Gyorko was auditioning for a new position next season.
  • The Dodgers bullpen has had its ups and downs this year, but one issue it has not struggled with much is sufficient rest, as J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group explains. With plenty of turnover and careful tracking of the work load, the team has minimized the wear and tear on its relief arms. Of course, as Hoornstra notes, it’s fair to ask whether that tack has been successful, as the pen has struggled at times (in particular, of late).

Mariners Unlikely To Add Big-Name Player In Trade

While the Mariners remain in the market for a backup catcher and perhaps a right-handed reliever, GM Jack Zduriencik makes a move for a significant name between now and the non-waiver trade deadline seem unlikely. Via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Zduriencik said the team’s acquisition of Mark Trumbo may be its most notable move:

“We did the Mark Trumbo thing. We tried to jump the market and make a deal at the time that we thought could bring in, what we considered, a pretty good power bat for our lineup, to help augment what we already have. I think anything else will probably be moves within the organization. There’s always the possibility something could happen, but you’re not really counting on it.”

The Mariners have aggressively attempted to remedy what has a perennially disappointing offense through both free agency and trades over the past two seasons, but to little avail. Both Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were signed to significant free agent contracts, while on the trade market, Zduriencik has acquired Trumbo, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith and the since-designated-for-assignment Justin Ruggiano. While Cano was excellent in his first season with Seattle and Cruz is hitting quite well in 2015, the moves, as a whole, have done little to help the Mariners overcome their run-suppressing home environment. And as Divish notes, the decision to part with Welington Castillo in the Trumbo trade is presently haunting the Mariners. Castillo’s bat looks revitalized with Arizona — .289/.366/.533 in 101 PAs — while the Mariners continue to receive little offensive production behind the plate. (Of course, Arizona’s hitter-friendly environment must be considered as well.)

Divish goes on to write that a hot start to the second half could lead Zduriencik to seek ownership approval to make further additions, though current asking prices are beyond what the Mariners have to offer in prospect collateral. Furthermore, continued struggles could lead to the sale of impending free agents such as Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and Jackson. Such a fade could also bring into question Zduriencik’s future with the club, Divish notes, as expectations entering the season were high.

One encouraging note for the Mariners and their fans should be the relative ease of their second-half schedule. As ESPN’s Buster Olney noted earlier today in ranking the strength of clubs’ remaining schedules, the Mariners are currently slated to play just 22 of their final 73 games against clubs that carried a record of .500 or better into the All-Star break. The bad news for Seattle, though, is that many of those games will come in the next two weeks. The Mariners took a tough 4-3 loss at Yankee Stadium last night, and after two more games there, they’ll head to Detroit for four games before hosting the Blue Jays for three. The only games they’ll play against a sub-.500 team prior to the trade deadline will be when they host the D-Backs from July 27-29. From there, they head to Minnesota for a four-game set.


West Notes: Kemp, Cabrera, Kendrick, Upton

With the Winter Meetings beginning in San Diego, this could be the week the Dodgers finally deal from their glut of outfielders, writes Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. The Dodgers would prefer to hang onto Matt Kemp, according to Shaikin, but Major League players are not being offered for either Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports the Mariners were close to a deal for Kemp with Seattle paying roughly half of the $107 million remaining on his salary over the next five years, but things fell apart when the Dodgers insisted on the inclusion of either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. In a second article, Dutton lists the Padres and the Orioles as the Mariners’ primary competition for Kemp, with Shaikin adding the Giants are a possibility, if they fail to sign Chase Headley. With Nelson Cruz now in Seattle, Dutton opines the Mariners’ interest in Kemp will depend on what other offers the Dodgers receive. Those other offers may not be to the Dodgers’ liking, as Shaikin notes the Braves (Justin Upton and Evan Gattis), Red Sox (Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig), and Phillies (Marlon Byrd) also have right-handed power bats available to trade.

Elsewhere in baseball’s West divisions:

  • Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman says the constant rumors that come with running a major market team are “comical,” but he doesn’t necessarily mind it, writes Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “Misinformation can be a powerful tool,” Friedman said.
  • The Mariners are reluctant to part with their young pitching to acquire an outfield bat, according to Dutton. “That’s a little bit of a dangerous road,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “You look at our pitching staff, and when you analyze it, a couple of those young starters didn’t pitch a lot of innings last year.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets the Mariners are very serious about their pursuit of Melky Cabrera. Last week, it was reported the M’s are believed to be willing to offer something similar to the four-year, $57MM deal that they used to sign Cruz.
  • In a separate tweet, Rosenthal posits the Angels are reluctant to trade second baseman Howie Kendrick because of offensive concerns including uncertainity about Josh Hamilton, an unsettled DH situation, and no clear backup catcher.
  • Sources tell ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter) the Giants and Reds are great fits for Justin Upton, but neither match up well with the Braves and may need to involve a third team to swing a deal.
  • Olney also tweets the Astros continue to pursue closer David Robertson and his most lucrative offer might come from Houston.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich tells Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post there has been interest in catcher Wilin Rosario, but Colorado “could very easily go into the season with Wilin.

Mariners’ President: Payroll Will Increase In 2015

Earlier this week, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said that he felt he would have more financial resources to work with, and today Mariners president Kevin Mather confirmed as much in an appearance on 710 ESPN’s Brock and Salk show (Brady Henderson of 710 ESPN has transcribed some of the highlights). Mather explains that the Mariners spent $16MM more than they had budgeted for in 2014 (a total payroll of $107MM), but ownership has no intention of scaling that back after seeing the team’s performance this season:

“They’re fans and they seemed extremely pleased with the competitive nature of the games and September, meaningful baseball, and not one of them has said, ‘What are we going to do to get that $16 million back?’ They were all saying, ‘What are you going to do to get us six more wins next year?'”

Fresh off the signing of Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240MM contract, the Mariners posted an 87-75 record — their best since 2007 — and cleared two million fans at Safeco Field for the first time since 2010, which Mather says will help him to acquire more resources for Zduriencik.

If you have time to listen to the audio of the full interview (it’s roughly 21 minutes long), Mather’s interview is well worth hearing in its entirety. The first-year president was insightful and candid throughout as he discussed the extension of Zduriencik, the relationship between Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon, his own role with the team and the club’s approach at the trade deadline as they weighed a run at David Price.

Mather feels that Zduriencik’s contract extension was turned into a bigger deal than he’d expected. He echoed a story told by Zduriencik shortly after the extension, stating that he simply broached the topic casually at the end of a business lunch, asking the GM, “Does your wife like it in Seattle?” Zduriencik responded that she loves it, and Mather recalls, “I said, ‘Well, your contract’s up at the end of the year. Why don’t we talk about getting that extended?'” Mather does admit that Zduriencik’s rebuilding effort took longer than it should have, but he called the decision to extend him after the club’s success an “automatic.” Asked about Zduriencik’s best ability, Mather did not hesitate to say “personnel evaluation,” referring to evaluating young players.

Beyond that, he recalled his first test as a president — asking ownership for increased funding to sign Fernando Rodney late in the offseason. Unhappy with the asking prices of remaining starting pitchers and bats, Zduriencik suggested the idea of shortening the game. “The first thing I really tried to sell to ownership was, let’s take the ninth inning off the board,” said Mather, adding that he received little resistance on that front.

The team’s biggest desire moving forward, Mather says, is to avoid going through a “dip” like the Mariners went through from 2004-14:

“We need to be 85 to 95 wins every year, which means we need to draft well, we have to get our draft picks signed, we have to be strategic with our free agent signings, but we need to be competitive year-in, year-out. And you don’t do that by signing broken-down, middle-of-the-road free agents and hoping.”

Regarding the club’s summer interest in Price, Mather emphasized that with the team looking at a Wild Card spot, it was too difficult to mortgage the future. “Will you give up — and I shouldn’t use names — but will you give up [James] Paxton, or [Taijuan] Walker, or [D.J.] Peterson for David Price?” he asked, rhetorically. “…I want to be competitive in 2015, 2016, 2017 — these are young players that we control.”

Lastly, he discusses the impact that the team’s strong performance will have on attracting free agents. While he says it’s a selling point, the biggest red flag for the Mariners in attracting free agents, in Mather’s opinion, is the team’s travel schedule. Mather says he’s been assured by new commissioner Rob Manfred that MLB will look at the travel schedule in order to avoid scenarios like the one that came up this year where the team went from California to Houston to Toronto and back to Seattle without an off-day. He’s reminded Manfred about it multiple times, though he acknowledges that it may take a year or two in order to truly alleviate that pain for West Coast teams.