The Mariners seem to be working on the principle that if trying to be good at defense didn’t work they should try to be bad at it.
As the team is well on its way to losing another series to the atrocious Astros (the Mariners will, shortly, be responsible for over half the Astros wins so far this season), this move can fairly be characterized as “pressing the panic button,” something the organization has been doing regularly since October. The decision to start Andino over Ryan isn’t the most significant one in the world, but it’s exemplary of what’s gone wrong with the Mariner’s decision-making process. Ryan is a terrible hitter and a great defender, Andino is terrible at both. There’s nothing in his track record to suggest he’s a better hitter at all, let alone enough of a better hitter to make up for the defensive gap between the players. It’s fair to say Zduriencik’s regime focused on defense for the first several years, and it’s also accurate to say that the Mariners have not produced winning rosters during those years. This off-season, deciding that if focusing on defense isn’t working, then the sensible course is to open the season with two first basemen and 4 DH’s* on the roster, while sending away the team’s best hitter by a country mile last year to a division rival because the moron of a manager you hired doesn’t like him.
When Jack Zduriencik is fired later this year, the post-mortems for his M’s tenure and its ignominious end will probably focus a great deal on three high-profile busted prospects he acquired: Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley.** Zduriencik certainly deserves to be fired at this point, but I don’t think these prospects’ failures would be a good justification for it. He’s got a long track record, dating back to Milwaukee, as a strong talent evaluator, and his recent drafts have given the Mariners one of the top farm systems in the league (And Seager’s looking like a great 3rd round find). And it’s not as if he was alone in evaluating these players highly; they were all highly regarded prospects across the board. There might be a flaw in development here, there’s no way to know about that, but I’m willing to believe this was really just bad luck. What he richly deserves to be fired for is the way he dealt with adversity by hitting the panic button and constructing a roster seemingly based on the principles of Veteran Grit ™ and dingers over defense and OBP–views that the 2008-2012 version of Zduriencik seemed to understand were deeply flawed. It’s difficult to overstate the kind of bad process and bad assumptions necessary to produce the decision to release Casper Wells. Wells is nothing special; with his strikeout rate he’d probably be a slightly below average everyday player. But a decent RH bat with good outfield defense, on a team that has the most brittle player in the league in Center and at least one ironglove starting in the outfield every day, is exactly what you need on a roster with the M’s starting outfield. Wells has more value to the M’s than just about any other team. They released him to make room on the active roster for Jason Bay. This isn’t the kind of decision that sinks a team on its own, but it’s exactly the kind of decision that reveals how broken the decision-making process has become. The M’s GM position should be an attractive one; the system has a lot of talent, a bunch of Money is coming off the books, and the purchase of Root Sports should provide the next GM with something to work with. Some smart organization should look to pick up Zduriencik for a leadership position in scouting or player development. He may end up being a good GM someday, if he manages to learn from what went wrong with his tenure with the Mariners, but I wouldn’t bet on it now.
* This is a rather charitable description of the Mariners roster, as it implies that three of the four DH’s, Ibanez, Bay, and Montero (and 1B Smoak) are likely to actually H.
** Not quite fair to call Ackley a bust. He’s got a good approach at the plate, and his defense at 2nd is strong enough that he doesn’t have to become a great hitter to be a useful player. He’s likely never going to live up to the hype, but he’ll probably be useful. Smoak is a bust; the power isn’t there and he doesn’t have much else. Montero is too young to give up on as a bat, but let’s call the C experiment over. His ceiling is looking more and more like ‘adequate DH’ and I’m not optimistic he’ll ever get there.