The Seattle Mariners were certainly patient enough with general manager Jack Zduriencik. Hired before the 2009 season, Zduriencik took over a 101-loss team and became an immediate hero in Seattle when the Mariners won 85 games that first year of his tenure. The next six seasons ... not so good.
Zduriencik managed just one more winning season, never made the playoffs and the Mariners, predicted by many to win the AL West, have cratered to a disappointing 59-69 record. In retrospect, the potential flaws were obvious: A lack of depth in the rotation that already was counting on inexperienced Taijuan Walker and James Paxton; another season simply hoping Dustin Ackley would learn to hit; no backup plan for a catcher who hit .199 in 2014; a first baseman who wasn't good. Even with free agent Nelson Cruz putting up MVP-type offensive numbers, the offense has once again been one of the worst in the league, and the bullpen fell apart after leading the majors in ERA in 2014.
Signed to a multi-year contract extension just last August, a year later Zduriencik is now gone. Since he took over as GM, the Mariners are one of eight teams never to make the playoffs, although the Blue Jays, Astros, Mets and Cubs should make it this season. Only the Rockies, Cubs, Marlins and Astros have won fewer games. It was time for a regime change, and the Mariners made a wise decision not to let last summer's contract extension get in the way.
Zduriencik came over from the Milwaukee Brewers, where he made his mark as a talent evaluator, drafting Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks in the first round. His drafting and player development in Seattle, however, have been a disaster. If the farm system were in better shape, maybe Zduriencik's leash would have been extended another year, but the system is a mess. Alex Jackson and D.J. Peterson, the team's past two first-round picks and top prospects entering 2015, have suffered horrible seasons, Jackson hitting .209 in the low minors with 88 strikeouts in 69 games, and Peterson hitting .223 with just seven home runs in Double-A. Both already are looking like potential busts. Minor league win-loss records aren't everything, of course, but they do speak to the talent base. Check out the records of Seattle's affiliates: Tacoma 63-70, Jackson 47-80, Bakersfield 54-76, Clinton 41-87. Ugh.
As evidenced by these Brewers picks, Zduriencik has always loved bat-first players with limited defensive skills. That philosophy helped destroy his tenure in Seattle. When he traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers, his return was first baseman Justin Smoak, who never hit enough for a first baseman. He traded Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero, a player with no defensive value. To make things worse, Montero never hit either. Jackson and Peterson are guys who have to hit to make the majors. A couple of years ago the Mariners tried an outfield with Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse. Zduriencik actually made a nice little trade early this season to pick up catcher Welington Castillo from the Cubs, but quickly traded Castillo for Mark Trumbo, yet another low-OBP slugger with limited defensive value. His major offseason acquisitions this year were Cruz and Seth Smith. How many DHs can one team have? The Mariners tested that theory this season.
Then there was the report by Geoff Baker in the Seattle Times in December 2013 that painted a picture of a GM in over his head. Former manager Eric Wedge described an organization with "total dysfunction and a lack of leadership." Former assistant Tony Blengino said he authored the application back when Zduriencik was hired that portrayed him as a candidate who would merge traditional scouting with stats analysis.
"Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that's what he needed to get the job," Blengino told Baker. "But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door."
(Disclosure: Wedge is a current ESPN analyst and Blengino contributes columns to ESPN Insider.)
Zduriencik had one year left on his contract so the Mariners kept him around for 2014. When Seattle surprisingly challenged for a playoff spot -- thanks to allowing the fewest runs in the league -- he received that contract extension.
What's in Seattle's future? The new GM will have a tough challenge. Realistically, the lack of talent and depth on the big league roster and in the minors suggests an Astros/Cubs teardown and rebuild might be the way to go. Will ownership have that kind of patience, especially with Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Cruz already signed to expensive, long-term deals that make them difficult to trade? Will they simply hope Walker and Paxton improve and stay healthy, re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma and find a new bullpen?
The sad thing is it began as a season of such optimism. Mariners fans responded by returning to the park -- they've had the third-highest per-game attendance increase in the majors. It's ending in despair. At least the Seahawks' season is about to begin.