Former Brewers manager Ned Yost was asked last year about Matt LaPorta, the outfielder selected by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2007...
Former Brewers manager Ned Yost was asked last year about Matt LaPorta, the outfielder selected by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2007 draft.
“I’m confident in Jack Zduriencik,” Yost replied. “If Jack drafted Pee Wee Herman, I’d be feeling pretty good about it.”
It is just such faith that Zduriencik earned for his talent evaluations that led the Mariners on Wednesday to name him their eighth general manager.
Zduriencik, 57, was the last of eight candidates interviewed in the first round, and beat out finalists Kim Ng (Dodgers), Jerry DiPoto (Diamondbacks) and Tony LaCava (Blue Jays).
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Reached in Milwaukee, Zduriencik politely deferred comment until Friday’s news conference, a stance apparently requested by the Mariners. Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who once said that retaining Zduriencik as scouting director was the best decision he made, also declined to comment until Friday.
The Mariners, who reached contract agreement with Zduriencik on Wednesday morning, needed special permission from commissioner Bud Selig to announce the hire, as well as to hold his introductory news conference Friday during a World Series off-day.
Zduriencik was inundated with congratulatory phone calls and e-mails from around the major leagues.
“He’s very deserving of the opportunity,” said Kansas City Royals assistant GM Dean Taylor, who as GM of the Brewers hired Zduriencik to be Milwaukee’s director of scouting after the 1999 season. “He’s well-prepared, and well-respected throughout the industry. I believe he’ll do a wonderful job for the Mariners. His record speaks for itself.”
Zduriencik (pronounced zur-EN-sik) oversaw drafts that allowed the Brewers in 2005 to end a streak of 12 straight losing seasons, followed this past year by their first playoff berth since 1982. The Mariners are coming off a 101-loss season, their fourth last-place finish in the past five years.
Among the players he drafted — Pee Wee Herman not included — were Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks (first round), Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy and Tony Gwynn Jr. (second round), Bill Hall (sixth round), Corey Hart (11th round) and Manny Parra (26th round).
LaPorta, the seventh overall pick in ’07, was used as the prime trade chip to acquire Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia, who sparked the Brewers’ playoff run. Oakland left-hander Dana Eveland was a 16th-round pick by Milwaukee in 2002.
The Brewers’ scouting department is so well regarded that two of his assistants have become scouting directors in recent years — Bobby Heck with Houston and Tom Allison with Arizona. Heck celebrated Zduriencik’s hiring by the Mariners.
“We [scouts] are all out here in the field, nameless and faceless over time,” Heck said via phone. “In the game, the score is kept; the people out scouting feel the scoreboard was looked at this time.
“There’s more to this job than picking amateur players in the draft. With Jack’s leadership ability, people skills and track record for gathering information to make good decisions, the people in Seattle will see the fruits of his labor over time.”
The Brewers’ farm system was ranked 30th by Baseball America in 2000 and 2001. By 2004, as Zduriencik’s draft picks took hold, they had made an unprecedented jump to No. 1. After the 2007 season, he was named the publication’s Executive of the Year, the first non-GM so honored.
“It was a terrific hire,” said Jim Callis, Baseball America’s executive editor. “The Mariners are obviously in a rebuilding mode, and Jack is a master of that. He’s more responsible than anyone for the turnaround of the Brewers with the draft, and the staff he put together. And it’s not quite like the Rays. He wasn’t always picking high. He hit on other, lower picks.”
The other finalists said there were no hard feelings. The interviews were conducted by team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln.
“The Mariners were great through the process,” LaCava said. “Jack is a very good choice. He is well-respected and deserves the opportunity. I wish him all the best.”
Ng, who would have been the first female GM in baseball history, believes she got a legitimate look from the Mariners.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Making it to the second round was great for me. I’d like to think Chuck and Howard saw something they like as well. It was a privilege to speak to the Mariners. They’re a first-class organization, committed to winning, and I wish them well.”
Said DiPoto: “The Mariners obviously made the choice they felt most comfortable with. They treated me with nothing but respect. It was a great experience, and I wish them nothing but success moving forward.”
Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, now a special assistant to Mets GM Omar Minaya, said the selection of Zduriencik should be well-received by front offices throughout the game. While such things may seem unimportant, a solid reputation can help a new GM when it comes to how quickly other teams take their calls and are willing to negotiate trades.
“I think the hiring of Jack Zduriencik is going to be looked upon very favorably by a huge percentage of the baseball community,” said Krivsky, one of a handful of former GMs once rumored high on Seattle’s list had the club opted to expand its search beyond the four finalists. “Here’s a guy who’s paid his dues, done it the right way.
“The job that’s been done in Milwaukee, the scouting and player development, much of this has to be attributed to Jack.”
Mariners officials were also deferring comment until Friday, but they lauded Zduriencik in a news release.
“Jack is extremely well-respected throughout baseball,” Lincoln said. “His track record in recognizing and developing young talent in Milwaukee was instrumental in the Brewers’ steady improvement over the past several seasons. I am very excited about the passion and leadership he will bring to our organization.”
“We have spent the past several months looking at a very complete list of potential candidates to become our new general manager,” Armstrong said. “The individuals we interviewed for the position were excellent. We believe Jack is the best person to provide a new approach and to lead our baseball operations. He has a proven track record of recognizing talent, both on and off the field and in the front office.”
Zduriencik said in the release: “I am very excited by this opportunity. Seattle is an outstanding organization with great fans, a great ballpark and an ownership group committed to the goal of bringing a World Series to the Northwest. I believe that working together, we can make the Mariners a model franchise. I am looking forward to getting to work immediately and developing a plan to reach our goal.”