Former basketball star Joe Dumars is to Detroit as Edgar Martinez is to Seattle. But unlike Martinez, the former Piston works for his onetime employer in the very important position of general manager. Despite dubiously passing on Carmelo Anthony in the draft, he acquired Ben and Rasheed Wallace and led the Pistons to an NBA title, toppling the mighty Lakers.
And then all hell broke loose.
Center Ben Wallace left via free agency for Chicago (he's since returned, albeit as a shell of his former self). Dumars dealt star point guard Chauncey Billups, the team's leader and arguably its best performer, to Denver for Allen Iverson, whose Detroit tenure was an unmitigated disaster. Rasheed Wallace left for Boston via free agency. Streaky bench players Ben Gordon and Chalrie Villanueva were signed to ridiculously lucrative contracts, thus hamstringing the franchise financially for years to come.
Jack Zduriencik is not in Dumars territory yet, but with Friday's trade of Cy Young candidate Cliff Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to the Texas Rangers for a trio of prospects, chief among them 23-year-old first baseman Justin Smoak, he's off to a great start if he wants to squander every last ounce of goodwill he built up during his first year as the Mariners' GM.
The Lee trade, taken alone, is not what bothers us. It's a defensible maneuver, although we'd have preferred that Seattle hang on to him and sign him to a long-term deal in the off-season. Frankly, we'd have preferred it if the Mariners extended Lee before the season began, but Lee says Jack & Co. were unwilling to go there (Zduriencik recalls a slightly different version of events, but rest assured a tenacious effort was not made to extend Lee). So now, Lee, acquired mere months ago for prospects, has been traded for (in fairness, slightly better) prospects--in essence, a do-over, only one that costs him a battle-tested setup man, Lowe, who happens to throw 100 mile per hour fastballs.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
This past off-season, Zduriencik let free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre walk off to Boston, where he's returned to the powerhouse form that compelled the Mariners to give him a jumbo deal several years ago after an MVP-caliber season with the Dodgers. Similarly, Carlos Silva has been rock-solid with the Cubs after a dreadful stint in Seattle, and the man he was traded for, Milton Bradley, is having one of the worst years of his career in Seattle. Ditto second baseman Chone Figgins, the Mariners' second-highest-profile off-season acquisition, after Lee. The Brandon (Morrow) for Brandon (League) swap with Toronto? After watching League botch his last couple save opportunities, I think it's safe to assume that was a misfire as well. And say what you want about Kenji Johjima, who left the M's after last season to go home and play in Japan, but at least you could count on the guy to hit .250, whereas his ever-rotating cast of replacements are so inept at the plate that manager Don Wakamatsu should seriously consider DH'ing for them instead of the pitcher. Speaking of designated hitters, rather than spending a modest fee to acquire the likes of Vladimir Guerrero (who's turned back the clock for division-leading Texas) to DH, Zduriencik was content to trot out the Ken Griffey-Mike Sweeney washed-up platoon. Griffey retired after embarrassing himself for the first third of the season, and Sweeney's hurt all the time. Jack Z also rolled the dice on always-injured Erik Bedard, who, predictably, has yet to pitch a game in the bigs this year.
But nothing sums up Zduriencik's nightmare season better than what's occurred over at first base. Russell Branyan hit over 30 home runs for the Mariners last year, and would have cost a mere couple million to re-sign. Instead, Zduriencik let him walk, and signed good glove-mediocre bat Casey Kotchman to replace him. Kotchman, too, is having a career-worst year at the plate--so Zduriencik went out and traded a couple prospects for...Branyan, a guy he could have had for his salary and nothing more in the off-season. Then, just a couple weeks after bringing Branyan back, in the Lee trade, Zduriencik adds Smoak, a young first baseman who is going to merit reps galore on a cellar dweller with an eye on next year. Who's on first? Who fuckin' knows?!
Maybe there's a reason Zduriencik took forever and a day to ascend to the top of his profession, and maybe this sort of inexplicable rotisserie league bullshit wheeling and dealing and about-facing is it. The Seattle Times is sure to give Zduriencik a pass in its annual mid-season report card; we're guessing a C is in the offing. The grade he really deserves? D-minus.