SEATTLE – The symmetry of baseball isn’t always beautiful.
Ask the Seattle Mariners, who are back where they were two years ago, reeling from 101 losses and looking for a manager.
Monday, general manager Jack Zduriencik entered his third offseason with a to-do list not a lot different than his first, needing to hire a manager and find ways to avoid another poor season.
Dismal as it may seem, Zduriencik says the Mariners haven’t fallen back to where they were in 2008 when he took over.
On hand are young players the organization believes can develop into quality major leaguers. First baseman Justin Smoak, left fielder Michael Saunders and catcher Adam Moore got valuable (if not humbling) experience at the big-league level this year.
The Mariners spent the past two years strengthening their minor league system through trades, signings and the draft, and their farm system was the second most successful in baseball.
“That’s the biggest thing you have to realize, that it’s where we were a few years ago (compared with) where we’re at today,” he said. “You can say, ‘OK, there are pieces coming.’ There are some quality players who are eventually going to be big-league players, and we think they’re going to be good” big leaguers.
The long-range plan remains intact. But what about next year?
Will the Mariners continue to give Smoak, Saunders and Moore time to develop, and can they afford to remain patient if they struggle? And, if the team determines that second base prospect Dustin Ackley is ready for the big leagues in 2011, are they prepared to field a lineup that’s comprised nearly half with young players?
“The question becomes how many young players can you have on your ballclub at any given time? That’s what has to be analyzed as we move forward,” he said.
If the Mariners are willing to make 2011 a true youth movement, they could field a lineup with Moore catching, Smoak at first, Ackley at second, veterans Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins at shortstop and third base, Saunders in left field and veterans Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki in center and right.
Pitching, Felix Hernandez could be backed up by Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Luke French and David Pauley, all who pitched well in their most extensive season of big-league experience. Pushing them will be 21-year-old Michael Pineda, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year. In the bullpen, the Mariners will use winter ball to learn if hard-throwing Dan Cortes can hold up to the pressure of late-inning relief.
Zduriencik must balance the need to develop those youngsters with the desire to acquire established players in an effort to become competitive.
The Mariners’ greatest need is to increase their run production. They finished last in the major leagues in team batting average, runs and home runs, which undermined quality pitching.
“I would hope that some of our players come back to become the players we think they are,” Zduriencik said.
First, he must hire a manager.
Zduriencik is vague on the qualities he wants in a manager, whether the best fit is a veteran with major league managing experience, someone who might work better with young players, or a blend of those qualities.
Daren Brown, who became interim manager after Don Wakamatsu was fired Aug. 9, hasn’t spoken with Zduriencik about the job and has nothing set up in terms of an interview.