Jack Zduriencik became the general manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2009. Here's the team on-base percentage each season and its rank in the American League:
2009: .314 (14th)
2010: .298 (14th)
2011: .292 (14th)
2012: .296 (14th)
2013: .306 (13th)
2014: .300 (15th)
2015: .298 (14th)
In 2013, the Mariners actually finished second in the AL in home runs. They didn't have many runners on base, however, and still finished 12th in the league in runs scored. This season, they're fourth in home runs but are tied with the White Sox for last in the league at 3.62 runs per game after Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Yankees. That makes this year's offense no different from what Mariners fans have seen for more than a decade: In nine of the past 12 seasons, the Mariners have ranked last or next-to-last in the AL in runs.
The problem is they don't have hitters, they don't have enough guys who can get on base, they haven't developed hitting prospects. So that led to Wednesday's trade, with the Mariners acquiring Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Welington Castillo, Dominic Leone and minor leaguers Gabriel Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer.
Trumbo is hitting .259 with a .299 on-base percentage. He has a career .298 on-base percentage. This is not a solution.
Zduriencik has always loved power. When he was the scouting director for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2000-08, he made his mark by drafting Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun with early first-round picks. The Fielder pick was gutsy. Who selects a short, fat high school first baseman in the first round? Weeks was a power-hitting second baseman from a small college drafted second overall when second basemen rarely go in the first round. Braun? Another power hitter.
As Mariners GM, he has continued his power philosophy. His past three first-round picks: Mike Zunino, a power-hitting college catcher; D.J. Peterson, a power-hitting college third baseman projected to move to first; Alex Jackson, a power-hitting high school catcher the Mariners moved to the outfield. Zunino certainly has power and has proved to be an elite defender, but he can't hit and has a .242 OBP. Peterson is hitting .211 with a .289 OBP and two home runs in Double-A; Jackson was recently sent back to extended spring training after hitting .157 at Class A Clinton with six walks and 35 strikeouts. It's certainly too early to write off those two and there were reports Jackson has a shoulder problem. Still, six walks and 35 strikeouts.
At the major league level, I wonder if Zduriencik has always felt burned by what happened his second season as GM. In his first year, the Mariners improved 24 games and finished 85-77. It was basically a stone-cold fluke; they were outscored by 52 runs. Believing themselves contenders, the Mariners traded for Cliff Lee and signed Chone Figgins and were going to try to win with pitching and defense. They lost 101 games.
Ever since, Zduriencik has thirsted for power. Look at some of guys he's brought in: Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales (twice), Mike Morse, Jesus Montero, Corey Hart, Jack Cust, Jason Bay, Wily Mo Pena. Bet you forgot about that one. They waited forever for Justin Smoak's power to develop. So far, the Nelson Cruz signing has worked out, but how many designated hitters can one team acquire through the years? It's an amazing run of ineptitude, this desire to acquire home runs instead of baseball players.
Look, I don't know who you blame for the franchise's 15-year inability to develop hitters. But you can certainly blame Zduriencik for not understanding that you score runs by getting guys on base and not making outs. It's about OBP. Just look at that list above.
Trumbo isn't useless. He's actually a pretty good defensive first baseman, forced into the outfield in Arizona with the presence of Paul Goldschmidt. He can give you 30 home runs. But he probably won't play much first base as the Mariners already have Logan Morrison. More likely, he'll spend most of his time in a corner outfield, with Dustin Ackley and his .185 average pushed to the bench and Cruz, thankfully, serving more time as the DH. In theory, Trumbo will provide more offense than Ackley has provided but it's not a big upgrade.
More or less, it's a desperate move for a team that was expected to contend for the playoffs but is fading fast. They're 24-29 and that's with the great starts from Cruz and Felix Hernandez. But with desperation is how this team often operates. Just a few weeks ago, they had decided Brad Miller wasn't their everyday shortstop and called up Chris Taylor, with Miller becoming a Ben Zobrist-type utility guy. They gave Taylor 68 plate appearances, he hit .159, and they decided, no, that's not the answer and put Miller back at shortstop. If you don't know your own talent, how are you supposed to build a successful organization?
Anyways, the Mariners also picked up Nuno for rotation or bullpen depth. He's nothing special but has had success at times in the majors. Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart said he didn't want to trade Trumbo -- I'm not exactly sure why he wouldn't want to trade him -- but they needed a catcher with Tuffy Gosewisch out for the year, so Castillo fits there. Leone was a reliever, good last year, bad this year and probably something in-between.
Gabriel Guerrero is the interesting name here. He's a 21-year-old outfielder in Double-A, Vlad's nephew, and he looks like Vlad. Unfortunately, he also swings at everything like Vlad, but lacks the same freakish bat-to-ball ability. Like all Mariners prospects he has a terrible strikeout-to-walk ratio (48-12) and he's hitting .215/.262/.305 with two home runs. He did hit .307 with 18 home runs last year in the California League. That's nothing all that special in that league but he is young and has tools scouts like. I have my doubts he'll ever make it but sometimes you win a lottery ticket and its a worthwhile gamble for Stewart. Reinheimer is a Double-A infielder with some potential, no power, maybe a utility infielder type.
The Mariners aren't dead. But if they don't turn things around soon, you have to wonder if ownership will finally employ their own power play and find a new GM for 2016.