Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Mariners Start to Right the Ship

It won’t get the front page publicity of Jake Peavy’s emergence on the trade market, the Mark Teixeira free agent sweepstakes, or even the photos depicting the final stages of the new Yankee Stadium’s construction, but the Mariners’ hiring last week of Jack Zduriencik (pronounced Zur-en-sik) will prove to be one of this off-season’s most important developments. And rightly so.

The 57-year-old Zduriencik had most recently worked as the Brewers’ scouting director and, after C.C. Sabathia, was the individual most responsible for the team’s first playoff birth since 1982. As Milwaukee’s scouting director since 2000, Zduriencik was the man who brought all of the team’s young core into the fold. This includes not just early-round draft picks, such as J.J. Hardy (2nd round, 2001), Prince Fielder (1st round, 2002), Yovani Gallardo (2nd round, 2004), and Ryan Braun (1st round, 2005), but also second-day selections like Corey Hart (11th round, 2000) and Manny Parra (26th round, 2001). Of the 25 players on its NLDS roster, Milwaukee boasted twelve who were home-grown – the second most among the eight teams that advanced to the post-season (the Angels had 17). This, more than any other piece of data, is indicative of the outstanding work done by Zduriencik and his staff over the past eight years.

The importance of Zduriencik’s arrival in Seattle cannot be overstated. With a 61-101 record in 2008 and one of baseball’s worst farm systems (infielder Carlos Triunfel and pitcher Phillippe Aumont will be the only Mariners unanimously included on this winter’s Top 100 Prospects lists), the organization is light years from contending. By bringing in Zduriencik, the organization has thumbed its nose at a mere patch-up job and instead displayed its commitment to a full-out rebuilding process that, if done the right way, should eventually transform the team into a perennial contender in the American League West. Though it remains to be seen how adept Zduriencik will be at procuring talent via trades with other organizations, negotiating with player agents, dealing with the media, and performing the numerous other functions associated with his new job title, it’s plainly evident that he’s a superb scout and first-rate amateur talent evaluator. And that’s exactly what the downtrodden Mariners need right now.

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