With the Mariners headed for another losing season – the fifth during his tenure – Zduriencik was relieved of his duties Friday.
CHICAGO — With the Mariners headed for yet another losing season — the fifth during his tenure — general manager Jack Zduriencik was relieved of his duties Friday.
On Thursday night, team president Kevin Mather flew to Chicago, where the Mariners are playing this weekend, and he met with Zduriencik early Friday morning to deliver the news.
“It was obviously a difficult morning,” Mather told a small gathering of reporters on the road trip. “I said goodbye to a very loyal, hard-working baseball man who I considered a friend. I met with him this morning. He wasn’t shocked. He thanked me for coming down, and he said he would make it easy for me. He did all the right things and said all the right things.”
The 2015 season was supposed to be the culmination of Zduriencik’s now-seven-year plan to return the team to the playoffs. After the 2014 season in which the Mariners won 87 games and missed the playoffs by one game, there was a belief that the addition of Nelson Cruz and several other players in the offseason and the continued maturation of drafted and developed players would be enough to return the Mariners to the postseason for the first time since 2001. It earned him a contract extension from Mather on Aug. 26, 2014. Just over a year later, he’s unemployed.
“You have to be realistic about everything,” Zduriencik said. “You have to look at things the way they are. When things don’t work out and the performances aren’t what you hoped they would be, then things happen and there’s consequences that must be paid. When you take a job as a general manager, you take a job as a manager or you take a job as whatever, you’re accountable.
“At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, there’s no excuses. You’re the guy as the general manager that is responsible for the club, no matter what. It just didn’t work out like we hoped it would.”
Asked about giving Zduriencik the extension, Mather said his thinking had changed.
“Last year was my first year, and I thought Jack worked hard and I thought the ballclub made progress, and quite frankly I thought we made progress all the way up in the pyramid,” he said. “But 2015 at the major-league level has been a disappointment, which caused me to pause, re-examine and ask, ‘Do we have the right architect, right leader to do this?’ So that was the change.”
Mariners ownership gave Zduriencik a $130 million payroll this season — the highest in team history. It didn’t yield success. The Mariners entered Friday 10 games under .500 at 59-69 and were 12 games out of first place in the American League West. A chic pick to reach the postseason, the Mariners had the third-worst record in the AL.
After taking over for fired general manager Bill Bavasi after the 2008 season, Zduriencik produced only two winning seasons — 2009 and 2014.
Mather said the decision goes beyond the failures this season.
“First of all, 2015 has been a disappointment, but this isn’t about 2015,” he said. “It’s about what are the Mariners going to do in ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20. We are in a market with resources, and I just felt we needed a leader who can lead us long term and get the most out of this organization. Because I think we have a core base of talent that should be successful for a long time.”
And yet, Mather admitted that the failures of 2015 were the impetus.
“Realistically, we weren’t having this discussion if we were winning,” he said. “But this is really a decision about long-term growth. Long term, I want the Mariners to win at least 85-95 games a year and give me a chance to get into October, and I’ll take my chances from there. If we were winning right now, we wouldn’t be here right now. But I was probably too slow getting to this.”
Zduriencik also was hired to rebuild the organization’s minor-league system, which had been gutted by Bavasi.
But a series of high draft picks never developed into top players. Players such as Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Danny Hultzen, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino have not formed the core foundation that was expected. Of Zduriencik’s draft picks, only third baseman Kyle Seager has become a top-level major-league player, while pitchers Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Carson Smith seem on the verge.
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From a transaction standpoint, Zduriencik signed pitcher Felix Hernandez to a contract extension, lured second baseman Robinson Cano from New York with a $240 million contract — considered an overpay — and signed outfielder-DH Nelson Cruz to a four-year contract. But his decision to sign Chone Figgins to a four-year, $36 million contract was a gaffe.
Said Cruz on Friday:
“It’s tough. It’s not just me, but everyone is here because of him. I don’t think it’s his fault at all. It’s the players job to do what we are supposed to do out there. If you look at the team, we should have the pieces that we need to be in a better spot.”
Zduriencik made several regrettable trades. Those include sending pitcher Doug Fister to the Tigers and acquiring prospects Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, both of whom did not develop as expected.
The search for Zduriencik’s replacement begins immediately. Mather will handle the hiring process but will involve team CEO Howard Lincoln and chairman emeritus John Ellis in the search.
Mather is open to all candidates but has his preferences.
“I would lean toward an experienced general manager or an assistant general manager that’s had a heavy hand in the operation,” he said. “I don’t want to hire someone that’s going to learn on the job for the next two or three years. That is a candidate that I’m not interested.”
He’s hoping the process is expedited and wants a replacement in place before the World Series begins.
Assistant general manager Jeff Kingston will serve as the interim general manager for the remainder of the season.