Public opinion of the 2011-12 offseason has pretty much been divided along one pretty sturdy line: Do you want Prince Fielder or not? That’s not really a fair assessment though, as almost all of everyone in the world (including 86 percent of our poll voters for our Poll of the Month) would like to have Fielder in some capacity, with some hoping the team will work to acquire Fielder at all costs (41 percent) and some hope that the Mariners have some sort of cap on what they are willing to spend on the 27-year-old slugger (46 percent).
When the Mariners made some sort of “offer” to Fielder we polled our readers again and 35 of 38 people who responded would pay Prince Fielder $20 million or more per season over the course a six-year deal.
And for many fans who felt that the Mariners must acquire Fielder to make this offseason successful, much of the blame for the plus-sized slugger not yet donning a Mariner uniform has fallen on Jack Zduriencik.
With that said, I’d like to dispel a couple of myths that have been associated with the Mariners General Manager.
You want me to trade this fucking guy? This fucking guy? C'mon!
Myth No. 1: “Jack Zduriencik doesn’t want to spend the money needed to sign Fielder.”
The truth is Zduriencik has no control over his budget. Think about your job. Wouldn’t it be easier if you had two extra people to do it? Wouldn’t it get done faster? But your company must decide if it is worthwhile financially to add additional personnel, or in this case, additional financial resources, in order to remain profitable.
We’d like to think of our baseball ownership and general managers the same as our players, as gladiators who enter battle with no concept of failure, only putting forth every ounce of effort until the last pitch is thrown, without regard for injury.
But injury in the realm of general managers is sitting on a player with a contract that significantly effects payroll, and a player who is significantly underperforming that contract.
The reality is that Zduriencik has a limited budget, and ownership must be able to put forth money for a payroll and all other operating costs every year. They must be able to keep ticket prices at a level that will make fans still come to the park, and must ensure that by limiting the risk associated with signing expensive players.
Furthermore, even having a huge budget doesn’t guarantee a winning team. It just allows for teams to absorb more mistakes (See New York Mets).
Myth No. 2: “Jack Zduriencik has had a $90 million payroll to work with each season he’s been in Seattle”
This is only true if you completely remove any context, and ignore any verbs in that sentence. The Mariners have had a payroll over $90 million in each of the three seasons Zduriencik has been here, but upon arrival he was charged with dealing with the contracts of Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista, and Kenji Johjima. Those players alone accounted for $71.5 million in payroll costs, and according to Fangraphs WAR value system, they were worth less than $43 million.
While many of those players are gone, players like Franklin Gutierrez and Felix Hernandez are no longer as inexpensive as they were in 2009, and Zduriencik has been asked to replace three-fifths of his starting rotation, his starting third baseman, and his catcher while his payroll decreased, and obligations to once-pre-arbitration players increased.
So while the team may have had a $90 million payroll, Zduriencik’s financial flexibility has been pretty limited.
Myth No. 3: “Jack Zduriencik is a poor judge of Major League talent”
When you factor in the budget constraints that Zduriencik has had, and think about the talent he’s brought in at low cost, it’s hard to argue this on any level.
Let’s not forget that Russell Branyan was a career journeyman who Zduriencik had scouted in Milwaukee, and who came to Seattle for $1.4 million and tied Ichiro as the team’s best hitter with a wRC+ of 126.
Or Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp, all acquired in the trade that sent three major leaguers: JJ Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed. Not to mention the rest of that haul for whom Zduriencik traded for Brendan Ryan, Ronny Cedeno, and the return of Russell Branyan also.
Then think about David Aardsma. He was basically a journeyman when the Mariners traded for him, having played for four different teams in the previous four seasons, and he wasn’t yet eligible for free agency. Were it not for an elbow injury last year, Aardsma could be one of the more attractive closers in this year’s free agency.
Then look at his first draft class. Three players drafted by Zduriencik in 2009 have already made major league appearances, and Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager will probably break camp with the big club.
Zduriencik has found a lot of very good big league talent using avenues that aren’t apparent to even the best baseball minds. With the budget he’s given, he can’t afford to just overpay to bring every top free agent to Seattle. Zduriencik is a great scout, and that is an advantage I’d much rather see exercised when it comes to player acquisition than the simplistic “keep spending” approach.
The reality is that Zduriencik was handed an empty cupboard and an unenviable circumstance. Winning 85 games in 2009 probably accelerated people’s expectations, and has made the last two years awfully difficult to swallow. However, let’s not forget where the team was, especially the farm system, when Zduriencik took the job.