Geoff Baker, that rascal. He retires from his job as Mariners beat writer to take a new gig as The Seattle Times’ Chief Investigator, Pain In The Ass division. All that stuff he could never say about the M’s when he was an objective reporter? It shall now flow onto the interwebz like champagne in a nightclub frequented by Pacman Jones, splashing liberally onto the breasts of intrigued onlookers who soak up the spillage with smiles on their faces. This is a new era of badassery in local sports media, an era punctuated by whatever Baker shall uncover when he is not sailing the skies in hot air balloons or sampling fine cabernets in exotic locales.
As you may have read over the weekend, Baker’s inaugural foray into the world of sports business reporting (or whatever that title he’s inherited proclaims he does) was a bit of a ground-breaker, an earth-rumbling piece about the Mariners’ front office and their unique brand of dysfunction, the kind that paralyzes fans everywhere into a veritable dumbfounded/angry/terrified hybrid of a stupor. Sure, we’ve known for years that the Mariners were run by a bunch of bumbling idiots. But Baker’s piece not only highlighted the stupidity of the team’s decision-makers, it got reputable sources to speak on record about that stupidity in expansive detail.
So now we’re left with a bunch of questions. What does this all mean? Where do the Mariners go from here? Does Baker wear even nicer button-ups now that he’s presumably been given a raise? Let’s work together to try and answer some of the most pressing inquiries this weekend’s prose has given us.
1. Is Jack Zduriencik really as big of an asshole as he’s been made out to be?
If there’s one thing that’s damn near impossible to refute, it’s an attack on one’s character. If someone calls you a dick, then goes to great lengths to prove you’re a dick, it’s not easy to come back and reveal yourself as better than how you’ve publicly been portrayed. The assumption from many readers, then, is that Jack Zduriencik is empirically a dick. Evidence suggests it, first-person accounts corroborate it, and thus inference makes it so. Jack Zduriencik: dick.
To Jackie Z’s credit, he’s never shown himself to be much of a jerk in the public eye. He’s been fairly kind to the media, well-spoken in interviews, and more reminiscent of a fun, non-handsy uncle than a shrewd businessman. Were it not for his draft picks bombing, his free agent signings sucking, and his trades imploding in recent seasons, no one would really care if the guy was or was not a douchebag. In the annals of sports history, there have been countless jerks that have run franchises. The difference between anyone giving a damn about personalities or not is whether the organizations those jerks headed up actually won games. Zduriencik’s Mariners teams have been absolute duds. In turn, we really do care if he’s losing and acting like a prick behind the scenes.
The rumors about Zduriencik’s office behavior have been out there for a few years. What Baker wrote about in his column was nothing new to people with even a limited knowledge of the inner workings of the team, but quotes from former employees like Tony Blengino and Eric Wedge were eyebrow-raising to all. While many people knew Jack operated under two different guises — a warm public persona compared to a much colder private one — no one had any on-the-record details of his behavior until Baker solicited those very tidbits from two men with reason to divulge their secrets. Certainly Baker did right by his interviewees by painting them as “reluctant” (at least in Wedge’s case) mediums of potentially damning information, but no one can deny that both Blengino and Wedge had just cause to out their ex-boss as a bit of a bastard.
Perhaps that’s why one may reserve judgment until the other side is heard, or at the very least some unbiased views of Zduriencik are presented. But really, when judging character, is there such thing as an unbiased account? The evaluation is entirely subjective in and of itself, which makes it all the more difficult to refute such characterizations (or mischaracterizations, depending on one’s viewpoint) as those presented in Baker’s article.
Moral of the story: Treat people well. Do the opposite and it may come back to haunt you, as it most certainly has in Zduriencik’s case.
2. OMG. How does this alter the future of the team??!!
Frankly, this onslaught of news probably won’t change much about the way the Mariners do business. Longtime president Chuck Armstrong announced his impending retirement a couple weeks ago, and Zduriencik remains under contract through 2014. CEO and de facto team owner Howard Lincoln remains firmly entrenched atop the organization, however, and as long as he’s free to reign, the culture around the ballclub will likely continue to fester.
Lincoln has proven himself incapable of making sound baseball decisions, though not for lack of trying. His meddling ways have hurt the organization on multiple occasions and were alluded to in Baker’s exposé. Even recently, in inking free agent Robinson Cano to a deal, Lincoln and crew seem to have screwed up what could otherwise be labeled a home run. Ultimately, any success or lack thereof falls into the lap of the head man. As long as this team is a cellar-dweller, it will be Lincoln’s fault, no matter how power is distributed or who becomes the scapegoat for all the missteps. And in knowing how Lincoln operates, we can always be sure of one thing: there will be plenty of scapegoats.
3. Okay, so how do we get rid of Howard Lincoln?
Unlike his pal Armstrong, Lincoln seems determined to turn the Mariners into a winner before he calls it quits. Unfortunately, he’s either too proud or too stupid to realize that he’s the one preventing a winning environment. Lincoln’s pre-baseball life indicates he’s a fairly intelligent individual, so his blind desire to win appears to be driven entirely by ego. That creates quite the problem.
Everything with regard to the Mariners flows through Lincoln, which means even the Jack Zdurienciks of the world are dependent upon whether their borderline crazy boss still chooses to work. Because Lincoln craves the influence over his team the way he does, an asshole like Zduriencik is purely collateral, spare parts if you will. If Lincoln chooses to fire Jack at season’s end, he’ll immediately replace him with yet another yes-man who he can influence and puppet to carry out “the organization’s” desires. The few exceptions to the Lincoln gong show are men like Wedge who refuse to be manipulated by their creator, so to speak. The franchise needs shit-stirrers to keep the crap from stagnating. Maybe manager Lloyd McClendon can be that guy. Or maybe he’ll succumb to the wishes of his overlords and allow a vicious cycle to continue to play out.
In order to see the end of the Howard Lincoln regime sooner rather than later, either a) the M’s need to win now, or b) Lincoln must die. These are the only two seemingly feasible outcomes. Lincoln won’t leave while his legacy remains tarnished, no matter the reasons behind why that legacy is tarnished. In Lincoln’s mind, the only way to repair his image is to lead the organization into a winning era. Perhaps the signing of Cano will help accelerate the moving walkway along the path to success. But if it doesn’t, then we’ll be forced to wait for nature to intervene. Which is incredibly disappointing for all involved.
4. So what’s the Mariners plan for success, then?
It appears the M’s are fully committed to winning right now. Zduriencik is out to save his job and Lincoln wants to win a World Series before he perishes, one would assume. At the same time, the team has built up a decent stock of prospects in recent years (thanks, Blengino) and has plenty of cash to spend on pricey free agents, a la Cano.
However, there’s certainly no guarantee that trading for talent or investing in it on the free market will result in wins. The men pulling the strings haven’t displayed an affinity for making good decisions, which means the front office is just as likely (if not more likely) to make a bad deal than a good one.
Good deals or bad, the ballclub will need to part with some of the young talent they’ve cultivated in-house to acquire ripened veterans that can contribute immediately. Trading incumbent second baseman Nick Franklin seems like a given with the signing of Cano, and parting with a surplus of young arms in the forms of Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and even Taijuan Walker appears to be on the horizon, as well. We’ve heard about the Mariners possibly acquiring big-name All-Stars like David Price or Matt Kemp, but there are other players to be had with lesser name recognition that could significantly upgrade the roster (think Billy Butler, et al). Specifically, the Mariners need to focus on improving their outfield across all three positions, while also considering an uptick at first base, designated hitter, and in the latter part of the starting rotation. The bullpen needs attention, as well, but bullpen upgrades are easier to be had on the cheap. When dealing with a 91-loss team, the argument could be made that every single position needs work. So far, the M’s have improved in one area: second base. That still leaves everything else.
The addition of Cano immediately makes the Mariners a more attractive destination for outside players than it was previously. Whether that yields a healthy crop of free agents (and players with the ability to waive no-trade clauses) remains to be seen. No matter what, though, it will be imperative for the M’s to continue to build upon their initial success in wooing the market’s top prize and not settle for that lone signature blue chip. Robinson Cano does not single-handedly turn the Mariners into a playoff contender. With a little help, though — and in spite of the perpetually-burning dumpster fire in the team’s front office — the M’s might improbably become a force in the American League in 2014. Whodathunkit?