Last Winter, the baseball world was taken by storm when the Seattle Mariners threw $240 million over ten years at free agent second baseman Robinson Cano. This was after most assumed the ten-year contract was dead after the debacle of a Mr. Alex Rodriguez and slow demise of Albert Pujols (although Pujols has played well this year). Much of the industry chuckled at the thought of Cano living up to this contract, and as a Yankee fan I was dancing with glee at the fact that we didn’t dish out that kind of dough for a player entering his age 32 season. Boy, was I wrong.
The acquisition of Cano was the building block towards a potential playoff run entering the 2014 season for the Mariners. Their GM, Jack Zduriencik, was entering the last year of his contract (after he was given a one year extension last season) and was officially put on “put up or shut up” status by his owner to save his job. Usually a lame duck GM spells trouble for a franchise because they will tend to deal away the future of the team to keep their job in the present. Luckily for the Mariners, this wasn’t the case.
Zduriencik saw Cano was not only a face of the franchise type of player, but also a great mentor for the plethora of young left-handed hitters on his roster. One of those young lefty hitters, Kyle Seager, has reaped the benefits of Cano, improving his slash line from .260/.338/.426 last year, to .274/.343/.472 this season. He already has posted more RBIs (72) than he did all of last season (69), while being on track to out-slug his career high in homers of 22 that he set last year.
On top of Seager, Dustin Ackley has transformed himself from a disappointing prospect (he was selected number 2 overall in 2009) to a functional major league player. After a rough first half, Ackley has posted a .326/.340/.537 post All Star break slash line. This is a welcomed sight for Mariner fans that had such high hopes for Ackley after he was drafted. I would not be surprised if he attributed much of his success to the tutelage of one, Robinson Cano.
Moving past the acquisition of Cano, Zduriencik made plenty of other potentially job-saving moves this offseason and during the trade deadline.
He started by gambling on two players with recent injury history in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Although both have been somewhat less than stellar, they each have contributed in some way, and I like Morrison to potentially get hot going in the stretch run of the season. Hart is currently on the DL, which is a surprise to nobody. In hindsight, Zduriencik probably should have gambled on someone like Nelson Cruz on a one year deal, but who are we to judge given that there was absolutely no interest around the league on Cruz. Hart and Morrison was the cheaper route as well, making a combined $7.75 million this year, while Cruz is making $8 million (!!!!!!!). I don’t blame Zduriencik for throwing out two darts compared to one, it just turns out that the third dart was the one that stuck.
In perhaps the steal of the offseason, Zduriencik inked starting pitcher Chris Young to a one year/$1.25 million deal. All Young has done is post an ERA of 3.27 over 134 and 2/3 innings pitched, thanks in large part to the flyball friendly confines of Safeco Field. He has been a perfect addition to become the third head to the three-headed monster consisting of himself, King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. That trio could potentially be dangerous in a short playoff series.
Young hasn’t been the only under the radar pitching signing by the Mariners this season. Much to my dismay, Fernando Rodney wasn’t generating much interest on the open market this Winter. Maybe it was the fact that he was coming off of a forgettable 2013 campaign, or maybe teams were afraid he would shoot them with a bow and arrow during contract negotiations. For whatever reason, the Mariners were able to swoop in and sign him to a wonderfully priced two-year/$14 million deal. Rodney has solidified the bullpen and is currently second in the AL with 34 saves. That is A LOT of bow and arrows to be cast.
Fast forward to July 31, and Zduriencik was at it again, this time tinkering the Seattle lineup. In dire need of a consistent leadoff hitter, (even more specifically, a right-handed bat) Austin Jackson was targeted and exchanged for second base prospect Nick Franklin. This move was apart of the blockbuster David Price deal and seemingly went unnoticed because of it. Jackson is under club control until the 2016 season and has had success under current manager Lloyd McClendon, who was his hitting coach previously in Detroit. I applaud this trade given the fact that Franklin had struggled when being called up to the Majors this season and that second base will be not be vacated for another ten seasons if all goes well with Cano. The trade deadline should be considered a success for Seattle just because they resisted the temptation of giving up highly touted pitching prospects such as Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, yet were able to get immediate help for this season. Win win.
Obviously, the success of the Mariners begins and ends with Felix Hernandez, who is once again being his superhuman self this season. For more details on that, read this. If I were a potential AL Wild Card team, I am praying that the Mariners begin to drop off by the time September comes around because I do not welcome the idea of facing King Felix in a winner-take-all one game playoff.
All in all, there is non-football related reason for optimism once again in the Seattle area. Jack Zduriencik and his staff has the routinely renowned cellar dwellers of the AL West competing for a playoff spot for the first time since their historic 2001 season in which they won 116 games. Let’s see if the Mariners can put a fitting cap on their surprising season and save their GM’s job.