Excuse Jack Zduriencik for not recognizing the significance. He finally can boast having a homegrown All-Star, but you can’t muster a smirk out of him, let alone an “I told you so.”
When told Tuesday afternoon that third baseman Kyle Seager is the first Mariners draft pick of the Z era to become an All-Star, the Mariners general manager replied, “Honestly, I haven’t thought of that at all. It’s a nice side note.”
He wasn’t feigning modesty. He wasn’t trying to downplay it to minimize the well-chronicled growing pains of his six-year renovation of the ballclub. It’s just that he’s managing an organization that doesn’t need a poster child to defend its youth movement anymore.
The Mariners are a winning baseball team right now, and they have a better balance of veteran and fledgling talent. Signing Robinson Cano changed them from green and helpless. So did adding closer Fernando Rodney, bringing back utility player Willie Bloomquist and reviving the career of pitcher Chris Young. The dominant story line is no longer about the frustration of watching inexperienced players learn how to be major-leaguers.
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But don’t take it too far and suggest the Mariners have abandoned Zduriencik’s original plan to rebuild from the farm system up. They’re still trying to fulfill that objective, and Seager’s All-Star nod is a significant credibility boost.
It doesn’t erase that they’ve had some struggles with supposed elite young talent (Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero). It doesn’t erase that they’ve had some bad luck with injuries (Danny Hultzen). It doesn’t erase that, as good as Seager is, you’re still left wanting more from this six-year project. But the development of Seager, a third-round pick from the 2009 draft that saw the Mariners take Ackley No. 2 overall, is a reminder that it takes more than just hitting on high first-round picks or trading for the prospect du jour to build a good team.
Yes, the current Mariners front office has made some blunders with some high-profile choices, and they must live with the public confidence that has eroded as a result. But the heavy emphasis on the failures — or, if you want to be kind, the players who are developing s-l-o-w-l-y — ignores that there have been some great success stories and that the organization is far better than it was when Zduriencik took over in late 2008.
Seager’s success helps put a spotlight on the rapid maturation of catcher Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft. It reminds us of the thrill that has been James Jones since he took over the starting job in center field in May. It allows us to focus on the progress shortstop Brad Miller has made over the past six weeks, the strong season that pitcher Roenis Elias is putting together and the dominant performance of a bullpen full of players who were either traded to the Mariners or found themselves since joining the organization.
Through all the waiting and letdowns and second-guessing, there have been some breakthroughs. And if the Mariners are to complete a playoff push, they’ll likely need major contributions from two more recent draftees — pitchers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton — to help get the job done.
“It’s hard for people to grasp sometimes, but this is the truth,” Zduriencik said. “There are those who will listen, and there are those who won’t, but this is the thing: When you get to the big leagues, most players won’t be instant successes. It takes time. That’s the hard part, and just because we’ve won a lot of games for a half a season doesn’t mean we’re satisfied, but we’re seeing some good things.”
Because this is a more complete roster, the Mariners don’t have to rush prospects to the majors anymore. In theory, when they need to reach down to the minors from now on, they’ll be bringing up a more polished player.
They also have more trade options because they don’t have gaping holes that they’re waiting for minor-leaguers to fill.
“If you would’ve traded away your assets a few years ago, what would you have had?” Zduriencik asked.
Don’t take that for meaning the Mariners are willing to make a shortsighted trade to win now, however.
“I’d like to be prudent,” Zduriencik said. “I’d like to be smart. I’d like to help our club immediately and always keep the long-term health of our organization at the forefront. We’re not in first place. We’re a second wild-card team right now. We still have a hill to climb. We want to win as bad as anybody. We want to win now. But we have to be smart and sensible.”
When Zduriencik talks about patience and prudence now, you’re not as inclined to roll your eyes. It’s still premature to say the GM has been validated, but he has made progress. Seager is an All-Star, to go with Cano and Felix Hernandez.
It’s more than a nice side note.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer