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Wakamatsu isn't the only one at fault
The Mariners sacked manager Don Wakamatsu and two coaches Monday. Surely, they were the main culprits behind the most disappointing performance in baseball this season.
Yes, Wakamatsu lost the clubhouse. But let’s not forget who put the players in the room — general manager Jack Zduriencik, who announced Monday’s firings.
Zduriencik is more responsible than Wakamatsu for the Mariners’ poor play this season. And that duo accounts for only a few slices of the massive blame pie.
To illustrate that point, I’d like to remind you of the following Ichiro Suzuki musing from 2006.
“If there is a problem, we need to notice what creates the problem,” he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “The problem usually isn’t on the cover.
“If you are talking about a tree — if the tree has a problem, you need to look at the root. But you cannot see the root. The mistake is to keep watering the tree. That’s not going to solve anything. You need to find where the problem is.”
Thanks for the suggestion. Let’s do that.
In-depth research reveals the Mariners have not reached the postseason since 2001. And I can think of three people who have maintained prominent roles with the organization for those nine years (and counting).
Howard Lincoln, the chairman.
Chuck Armstrong, the club president.
Ichiro, the right fielder.
General managers have come and gone: the great Pat Gillick, the not-so-great Bill Bavasi, the affable-yet-besieged Jack Z.
Lincoln, Armstrong and Ichiro remain.
What was that Ichiro quote again?
The mistake is to keep watering the tree. That’s not going to solve anything.
The Mariners’ decision-making structure is flawed. That is the fault of Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik. Meanwhile, their biggest star has stubbornly refused to apply his talents in a way that can most benefit the team.
Ichiro should have taken note of the fact his teammates were suffering from RBI-itis, walked into the manager’s office and insisted on moving from first to third in the order. The Mariners would have obliged. You see, Ichiro always gets his way.
Instead, the 10-time All-Star is meandering through a mediocre season by his standards. Statistically minded fans — of which the Mariners have many — know that Ichiro entered Monday with an OPS-plus of 108. That ranks just fourth among everyday outfielders in the American League West.
Ichiro can hit for power — when he wants to. But he would rather reach the 200-hit mark, which he has done during each of his seasons in the United States.
That’s a remarkable achievement, one that should earn him a plaque in Cooperstown. But the Mariners have paid a steep price for his selfish brilliance. They haven’t seen the postseason since the team-first days of Dan Wilson, Mark McLemore and Stan Javier.
I’m not going to bother suggesting the Mariners should trade Ichiro. Not happening. Owner Hiroshi Yamauchi wouldn’t allow it.
That being the case, don’t you think a decade should be long enough for the Mariners to stumble upon a way to win with Ichiro?
Nope. Zduriencik, with the blessings of Lincoln and Armstrong, handed his manager a combustible, pockmarked roster.
Yes, he made a great trade with the Phillies to get Cliff Lee — prompting me to declare in a December column that Zduriencik was “making difficult maneuvers look routine.”
But the Mariners had flaws that many observers — myself included — didn’t see until the team stepped on the field.
• Chone Figgins was the big free-agent splash, at four years and $36 million. But he had a rocky relationship with Wakamatsu, and the rift became public after a dugout altercation last month. Perhaps the two would have been on better terms if Figgins had been able to bat leadoff and play third base — roles in which he thrived as an Angel.
Of course, the leadoff spot was never available to Figgins. It belongs to Ichiro.
• The Mariners acquired the long-troubled Milton Bradley from the Cubs, with the idea that he would be a reliable run producer. Big mistake.
• The organization brought back Ken Griffey Jr. for a second victory lap, even though it should have been apparent from last year’s .214 batting average that he was finished. Misty sentiment trumped baseball evaluations.
Wakamatsu couldn’t find a way to get along with the future Hall of Famer and franchise icon — hence “Sleepgate.” And the inability to coexist with Junior was the manager’s fault..
But how, exactly, did Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik think this would end? Contending teams need home runs, not bobblehead revenues, at the DH spot.
• Zduriencik traded the plus-stuff Brandon Morrow for Brandon League, a decent setup reliever. If you saw the highlights from Morrow’s 17-strikeout, near-no-hitter on Sunday, I don’t need to remind you the Mariners made a profound gaffe there.
• The Mariners gave shortstop Jack Wilson a two-year, $10 million contract extension after last season, despite a long history of injuries. He is on the disabled list. Again.
• Zduriencik passed up numerous opportunities to upgrade the offense at catcher and first base during the offseason. (Casey Kotchman doesn’t count.) Then Zduriencik dealt Lee to the Rangers for a prospect package that included Justin Smoak, the latest first baseman of the future.
Ten-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki is having a mediocre season. Otto Greule Jr
Smoak batted .159 in his first 16 games with Seattle. He is now at Triple-A.
• The Mariners spent $1.75 million on left-handed starter Erik Bedard, who finished last season on the disabled list. As with Wilson, the ominous medical records were there. No surprise: Bedard underwent season-ending shoulder surgery without throwing a pitch in the majors this year.
Now, let it be known that Zduriencik is a first-class person — loyal, hard-working and skilled as a talent evaluator.
Frankly, he’s too smart to have made this many mistakes.
I believe he strayed from his scouting background and based too many decisions on sabermetric data. Numbers are fine. But numbers don’t tell you that Bradley has long-standing anger management problems, that Bedard and Wilson have trouble staying on the field or that Figgins wouldn’t see the same pitches as a No. 2 hitter in Seattle that he did while the leadoff man in Orange County.
In the scouts-vs.-stats system of checks and balances, Zduriencik allowed the scales to tip too far toward VORP. That was a mistake — for which those in the front office above and below the GM are also responsible.
Yes, Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and pitching coach Rick Adair deserved some blame for the Mariners’ horrendous play. But any discerning Mariners fan will see through their firings and realize what’s going on.
Daren Brown, just up from Tacoma, is Manager No. 7 for Lincoln, Armstrong and Ichiro since they last reached the playoffs.
And Zduriencik is about to get new, painful confirmation that his roster — not the man writing the lineup — has been the problem all along.
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