Are The Mariners Really ‘Dysfunctional’?

On Saturday night, news broke that Geoff Baker, of the Seattle Times, had just dropped some, well umm, news on us.  Baker has recently moved off of the Seattle Mariners beat and into a columnist/investigative role.  His first story was this one.  As far as reporting goes, this was a bomb.  The story was about problems in the Mariners front office, and reflected especially poorly on Jack Z, Howard and Chuck.  Baker interviewed a few former employees and that is what the story was based on.  It was a very well-written piece and Baker was simply doing his job, and doing it well.

With all this being said, I think there are some problems with the way this article is being received.  Seattle media and fans have a way of really eating any information up and reacting to it in the most negative way possible.  That’s what happened here.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge Geoff Baker fan.  I’m not going to go into why, but I do think he’s an extremely talented writer and reporter.

I’m writing this post, not as an attack on Baker, but because I think the story needs to be questioned in the way of who the quotes came from and the relevancy of today’s team.  I will be going straight through the article, paragraph by paragraph, and talking about some problems I have with it.

Before I begin with that, I think the timing of this article is noteworthy.  Ryan Divish did say that this article has been in the works for over a month and I have no reason to believe him.  But, the story came out 2 days after the Mariners finalized the deal with Robinson Cano and people were feeling optimistic about Seattle for the first time in years.  The Mariners were a hot topic and this story came out about 36 hours after the big news.  Coincidence?  Possibly.  Great for Seattle Times subscriptions?  Definitely.

Let’s move on to the story.  If you haven’t read it, please do that before you read the rest of my post.  I don’t want to use many quotes of the story in here because Baker should get the views for his work, so the rest of this post won’t make much sense if you don’t read that.  (Here’s a link to the article)

The article begins by telling a story of former manager, Eric Wedge, getting yelled at by Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln after the 2012 season had ended.  Apparently, the meeting got heated as Wedge fought back.  In short, Wedge didn’t like getting yelled at, as the team had improved, and he didn’t like that Z didn’t warn him it was going to happen.

If what Eric Wedge said is true in this part of the story, that really is too bad.  The team did improve and Wedge couldn’t have done a ton more with the players he had.  But, this is professional baseball.  Eric Wedge made a lot of money and his team finished 12 games under .500.  Employees have been yelled at by their bosses for a lot of worse things.  Also, Wedge was probably angry at this point in time and may have overdramatized what was said in his mind.  Probably not, but that is something that should be taken into account.  

Also, Eric Wedge is a former employee that left the organization on bad terms.  I’ll talk more about this in a bit but, is it a surprise that former employees really want to bad mouth people who essentially fired them?  I don’t think so.

The story moves on to talking about the current state of the M’s saying,  “They are trying — rather desperately, some have suggested — to counter a wave of negative public perception after years of losing, turnover, turmoil and reluctance to raise their payroll beyond the $100 million mark of previous seasons.”  In a negative piece, it’s important to use negative language.  Baker does this turning the Cano signing into a ‘desperate’ move to change public perception.  Frankly, it’s good writing by Baker.  But, making a big signing and trying to change the public perception is a great thing.  The writing also points to Wedge fleeing the organization because of problems in the front office.  Wedge left because he didn’t get an extension before the 2013 season ended.  It’s really that simple and Wedge essentially admits that in a quote later in the story.  This theme goes on throughout the piece.

The next few paragraphs go back to Wedge, and others, knocking the organizations higher-ups.  They say that the team won’t function without major changes at the top.

This is another problem I have.  The story is about Z, Armstrong and Lincoln being problems that need fixing.  Armstrong is retiring.  That’s a big problem, if you believe what the story is saying, being fixed.  There are a few sentences addressing this but nothing more.  From this point alone, the story doesn’t feel all that relevant.

The next little nugget we really find is that Jack Zduriencik didn’t prepare his own application package.  It was done by Tony Blengino, once a special assistant to Z but has since been released from the organization.

I don’t really see much wrong with this.  Did Blengino put his own accomplishments down in the application instead of Zduriencik’s?  I would bet not.  So Zduriencik essentially had a guy he trusted help him fill out an application that would affect both of them?  It’s not the best thing to do but it’s not quite the crime the story makes it.

This gets us to the Blengino part of the story.  This part of the story wins over part of the saber crowd (which I usually put myself under) because Blengino is known for his use in advanced statistics.

While Wedge seemed angry in the story, Blengino seemed downright bitter through his quotes.

Blengino essentially says that Zduriencik tried to bill himself as a scouting guy who really understood the new-age advanced statistics but that simply wasn’t true.  The really damaging quote is, “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA.”

That’s simply not true.  I’ve personally heard Jack talk in length about advanced statistics.  He understands them.  While he may not subscribe to them, he understands them.

Baker tells the story of Blengino, how things started out well in making these moves.  Blengino was said to advise Z on moves, and I’m sure he did.  The big move that off-season, trading J.J. Putz and others for Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp (and others), contributed to the Mariners improving and winning 85 games that season.  That was good.  After that season the Mariners seemed to really buy in to the ‘Saber’ approach.  They made several moves that were loved by the blogosphere.

After the off-season where people seemed to love every move Z and Blengino made, the Mariners lost 101 games.  Zduriencik is termed as a ‘finger-pointer’ at this point in the story.  Having guys who take the fall for a failure isn’t a Mariners problem, it’s a world problem.

Blengino was essentially demoted after this season.  He’s very upset about that, as evidenced by his quotes.  My question is, can you really blame Zduriencik for changing his approach after losing 101 games?  Isn’t that what good GM’s should do?  If something fails, try something else.  I do believe that Z went too far the other way with his approach, but he did need to change.  Blengino is more than a stats guy, sure.  But, that is what he’s known for.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that he was demoted after a horrendous season.  For as good as the Guti trade was, there was no mention of the Mariners adding Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Milton Bradley during this time.  These were moves that were absolute disasters and Blengino is not held accountable for those but given praise for his other work.  The story does point to bad trades the team has made since Blengino’s role diminished.  That’s a problem.

The story goes on to talk about Carmen Fusco.  He was another fall guy and truly probably shouldn’t have lost his job.  Again, this happens all the time, especially in baseball.  I feel bad for Fusco but there was a bad situation and Fusco had to fall on the sword.  It’s not right but hardly unheard of.

After Fusco, we hear about how the Mariners don’t treat their scouts well.  The section revolves around Bob Engle, former international scout for the Mariners.  Baker reports (there are no quotes from Engle and he declined to comment) that Engle was furious because Z didn’t want to spend as much money on international scouting.

This is another case of Zduriencik changing his approach and someone getting mad about it.  Sure, you can argue if Z should have done that but it’s hardly ‘dysfunction’.

The story goes back to Wedge.  Wedge and others say that Chuck and Howard would watch the team every night and pass notes along to the manager about things the players should work on.  This is seen as a negative thing.

Really, I saw this as good news.  There’s always talk about how Chuck and Howard don’t know enough.  This story is saying that they’re at least trying.  Maybe they don’t know enough but we can’t fault them for not trying if this is true.  Wedge felt some extra pressure from that?  Maybe, but if Lincoln and Armstrong ‘aren’t all that knowledgable’ as we’ve been led to believe in the last few years, then their notes couldn’t have been all that in-depth.  I don’t see any problem here.

This goes on to say that Lincoln ran things through Armstrong and Zduriencik.  Maybe it’d be better if there was a guy who was more involved but this is hardly unheard of.  Frustrating for employees?  Probably.  Dysfunctional?  Nope.

Another quote by Wedge:  “If I did what they wanted,” Wedge said, “it would be a joke of an organization.”

So, Eric, what was the organization when you did what you wanted?  Your record was 213-273.  That’s good for a .438 winning percentage.

During the final season Eric Wedge wanted a contract extension.  Zduriencik wanted the season to play out.  Wedge eventually said that he wouldn’t come back for the season.

Can you really blame Z for not wanting to commit to anything until the season’s over?  A guy with a .438 winning percentage wanted an extension and didn’t get one during the season.  That’s good!  It’s not a negative thing.

Wedge also said that Jack bad-mouthed coaches.  That quote by Eric was a bit confusing.  They met before the last series of the year.  Wedge wanted a contract extension and Z was talking about the coaching staff.  He had some problems with the coaching.

Due to the lack of improvement in young players on this team, I’d probably side with Zduriencik on this issue.

While parts of this story are bad (nitpicking about font and treating people poorly at times) there is nothing to suggest that Zduriencik, Armstrong, and Lincoln did anything egregious.  In fact, there aren’t many things that I think are bad.  Maybe things are truly awful, but there aren’t enough specific examples to make me see that.

I would also like to see a view from the positive side of things, and that is part of what I’m trying to do here.  There is no comments from current employees like this one.  The story made Zduriencik sound like a bad person and that goes opposite from everything I’ve thought and heard about him for the last 5 years.  That’s not to say that I’m right in my assumption and the article is wrong, I just honestly don’t know.

Mainly, I wish people would critically think about what they’re reading instead of making this extremely dramatic.  The Mariners just did something incredible and it was incredibly positive.  Now isn’t the time to worry about what some former employees had to say about events that happened 2 or 3 years ago.

Cano and Jay-Z

Cano and Jay-Z

– Andrew

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