Click here to read Part 1 of the timeline.
Sub-Chapter 2.3 – Acquisitions
If trading away talented youth was the beginning of the end for Bavasi, the nail in the coffin would be his overall roster management and the 2007 off-season, his final year in Seattle. The Mariners would famously become the first Major League team to lose 100 games with a payroll above $100 million dollars in 2008. Obviously that achievement became easier as payrolls rose in this era, but one team still had to be the first, and that dubious honor is now forever bestowed on the Mariners.
His poor payroll management dates back to the beginning of his service as General Manager in Seattle with no deal more appalling than Seattle’s 2007 off-season acquisition of Carlos Silva who was offered and tendered a four-year $48 million dollar contract returning $8.25 million in 2008. Silva had recorded four years in a starting role prior to his move to Seattle and outside of a successful 2005 season was not worth the contract Bavasi offered. He led the Major Leagues in home runs allowed in 2006 giving up 38 and recorded his fifth straight season over 20 allowed with Seattle in 2008. Silva would end up throwing fewer games (36) in a Mariners uniform than the amount in millions (48) he was paid and was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the 2009 off-season for Milton Bradley with the team agreeing to pay $9 million of his remaining contract through 2011. Definitely feeling the pressure on his job by this point, there were rumors that Bavasi was basically bidding against himself for Silva's services, with no other team even in the ballpark of the M's offer.
The total payroll for the Mariners in 2008 peaked at $116 million dollars, and while I am not going to argue with a portion of that payroll (Ichiro, Sexson, Beltre) as those deals I condone, there are many other question marks in the mix. The team would start 11 different pitchers with the bulk of the games started coming from a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva, and Erik Bedard. The lowest paid pitcher in the rotation was Felix Hernandez while the highest paid was Jarrod Washburn. Batista, Silva, and Washburn averaged 33 years of age a piece in 2008 and were paid a combine salary of $27.6 million dollars for the below performance:
I call into question the number of batters each faced because Felix Hernandez at 22 years of age faced 857 which is more than Carlos Silva ever faced in his major league career outside his 2004 season. This same year King Felix would strike out 175 batters which is more than any two person combination of the three guys above put together.
Outside the $46 million dollars that were annually shelled out to Beltre, Sexson, and Ichiro in 2008, there were still 12 other guys making over $1 million a season with the highest paid position player outside the three above being Jose Vidro. That’s right, I said Jose Vidro. Not Canseco, Bautista, or Cruz. Vidro would pocket $8.5 million on the season batting .234/.274.338 as the team’s primary designated hitter being later being released by the club in August.
If our ‘Trading Youth’ section was where Bavasi took shape as a below average Major League General Manager, then ‘Acquisitions’ is where he made his full transformation. The infamous Erik Bedard trade would be the last ‘blockbuster’ Bavasi would make in the Mariners front office as CEO Howard Lincoln reneged on his previous commitment to Bavasi throughout the 2008 season, terminating his contract mid-season on June 16, 2008. Lincoln had this to say, "Change is in order. We have determined new leadership is needed in the GM position. With a new leader will come a new plan and a new approach." Vice President/Associate GM Lee Pelekoudas was named to take over in the interim.”
Lee Pelekoudas, in case you did not know, served in the Mariners front office from 1979 until he resigned from the team following the 2009 season. His stint as General Manager was quiet, as you can imagine, and he returned to his Associate General Manager position upon the hiring of Jack Zduriencik.
At the wrap of the 2007 season Bill Bavasi was ranked 87th of 98 by Forbes Magazine in terms of General Managers of professional sports teams with at least three years of experience. While 12th from "last" on the list, his spot on the list was the lowest in Major League Baseball.
Chapter 3 (2009-2012)
Jack Zduriencik has been involved in the front office in Major League baseball since 1983 when he was hired as an area scout for the New York Mets. He quickly climbed the ladder, becoming the Director of Scouting for the Pirates in 1991 and ultimately moving into the Brewers front office in the same position in 1999. He was named the Special Assistant to the General Manager -- Doug Melvin -- in 2006, where the Brewers finished the season with a record of 75-87, placing them 4th in the National League Central division. In 2008 the Brewers won 90 games and made their first trip to the postseason since 1982.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin said of his assistant after the 2008 season, "No doubt about it, he deserves almost all the credit for the young players we have. The players he has drafted are making an impact at the big league level."
Notable 2008 active roster Milwaukee Brewers drafted by Jack Zduriencik: James Hardy (2001), Prince Fielder (2002), Rickie Weeks (2003), Yovani Gallardo (2004), and Ryan Braun (2005). That is quite a list of accomplishments when you think in terms of succession for five consecutive years of Major League drafting.
In the 2008 off-season he signed on to his first General Managerial post with the Seattle Mariners. Though his results at the Major League level have varied in his time with Seattle, there is no denying that the club on an organizational level has become deeper. He inherited the 24th ranked overall minor league system in 2009 and under his direction it has climbed to 6th according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season. Zduriencik, with strong scouting roots, has always been labeled as a youth minded General Manager. Some baseball analysts view him as a General Manager best made to build a club up from the bottom before relinquishing the reigns to a more professionally experienced front office leader. I think that is total bologna.
On December 11, 2008 the Seattle Mariners participated in a three team trade sending Sean Green, J.J. Putz, and Jeremy Reed to the New York Mets. In return the club received seven players including Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez, and Jason Vargas. That is a return of three players on the Mariners 2012 25-man active roster or 12% of the team from a single transaction. In searching through Major League history I could not find a transaction that resulted in anything upwards of 12% of a roster three years after the transaction was made. Sounds like the mind of Zduriencik can makes the switch above minor league thinking.
The Mariners will certainly be in the mix for the #1 overall system ranking in baseball prior to the beginning of the 2013 season even with Jesus Montero exhausting his rookie status. The clubs 2012 draft netted three players Baseball America listed in the Top-20 of their league in talent; Tyler Pike in the Arizona League and Patrick Kivlehan and Mike Zunino in the Northwest League. Kivlehan was named the Northwest League MVP while Taylor Ard and Dario Pizzano, fellow 2012 draftees, give the club a total of five league All-Stars from this year’s draft. Along with the emergence of Seattle Minor League Player of the Year Stefen Romero and Pitcher of the Year Brandon Maurer the team will be highly regarded going into next season.
Since 2007 there have been four different ball-clubs ranked #1 overall in minor league talent prior to the season. They are Diamondbacks (2007), Rays (2008), Rangers (2009), Rays (2010), Royals (2011), and Rangers (2012). Here are is how those teams have done since receiving their first #1 overall ranking:
With the exception of the Royals, who are still ranked the #2 system in baseball by BA, the other three clubs have experienced postseason success the past five seasons due to their commitment to youth oriented baseball.
Something to keep in mind if the Mariners are named the #1 overall system in prior to the 2012 season is that the four teams above combined for a record of 345-303 the season after they received their organization's initial #1 overall ranking. Am I saying the Mariners are going to take the field in 2013 and win roughly 54% of their games? I think that is a fair assessment, yes.
The team hasn’t posted a winning season since 2009, but the offense scored more runs (619) in 2012 than they did in their previous two seasons; 2010 (513) and 2011 (556) . These numbers include three former Top-10 prospects in Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley hitting .234 in 1,605 total at-bats in 2012. There is no evidence to support that these three will continue these trends in 2013 and they combined to hit .267 in September/October. Smoak himself hit .341/.426/.580 over the final month of the season with five home runs.
The Mariners dropped to an average batter-age of 27.1 years old in 2012, the third lowest in baseball, whereas in 2011 they were among the league’s highest at 29.3 years old. This batter age is pushing to be lower in 2013 with the impending arrival of top prospects Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin, who are both hitting well in the Arizona Fall League this winter through six games. Both of whom, by the way, were drafted by Jack Zduriencik.
The Mariners average pitcher age has not gone above 28.0 years old since Zduriencik arrived in Seattle. Another metric that will be dipping lower with the impending arrival of 'The Big Three' in Seattle; Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. All of whom were drafted by -- you guessed it -- Jack Zduriencik.
Under Zduriencik's guidance, the Mariners erased two of their top five salaries (Ichiro and League) from the equation moving into the 2012 off-season and could cut ties with another top ten salary in Olivo before free agency begins in November. Are the Mariners going to spend this off-season? Yes. Will it be through free agency? I am not sure. The team has a chip to trade at shortstop with Brendan Ryan, Nick Franklin, Carlos Triunfel, and Brad Miller in the system. Miller, who was second in the minor leagues in hits this season, is likely the furthest from the Major Leagues at this point with a likely 2014 arrival.
In closing of our timeline look, what should you take away from these articles? Things are not as bleak in Seattle as the Major League wins and losses record from the past five to ten years tells us they are. Jack Zduriencik is one of the most talented youth oriented General Managers in the business and his endorsement of Ackley pushes me to believe his 2012 struggles are nothing more than growing pains. There is no decade long rebuild to reference. The current rebuild, which began in 2009 -- four short seasons ago -- has taken this organization from the bottom of the league in talent to the elite top few.
Ultimately what I hope you take away is the honest belief that there is life in Seattle after Bavasi, and we are soon ready to reap the rewards of these actions. Stay true to the team and you will soon be enjoying them too.
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