Soon the cold calls will start. “Jack Zduriencik, have I got a shortstop for you!” and “Allow me to share this incredible opportunity in designated hitters!” and “Mr. Zduriencik, it’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your bullpen is? Qualitatively?”
The Zduriencik-built Mariners started Memorial Day near the top of the American League Wild Card standings. They have, according to the indispensable baseball-stats site Fangraphs, a 22.3% chance of making the playoffs.
Once the phone calls come, Zduriencik and his bosses will have a decision to make: Do we go for it?
Robinson Cano’s excellence, good starts from the team’s young hitters, and upgrades at defense have turned the Mariners from a bad team to a mediocre one. It’s progress! But not success. To reach the playoffs this year, the M’s must get better. And it’s pretty obvious how.
Get a designated hitter. Free-agent signing Corey Hart has been terrible. Now he’s out six weeks with a pulled hamstring, leaving the job to rookie Stefen Romero, who has hit even worse than Hart.
Get a shortstop. With Brad Miller batting .156, the job has fallen to Willie Bloomquist, who at age 36 probably doesn’t have the stamina for five months of everyday play.
Stabilize the bullpen. The Mariners’ top four relievers all average more than four walks per nine innings. It would be nice—not least for the city’s collective blood pressure—to get a reliable strike-thrower.
Zduriencik’s fellow general managers know the M’s deficiencies as well as anyone, and will helpfully recommend acquisitions to push the M’s into the postseason.
Here’s the problem. Any move Zduriencik makes to help the Mariners in 2014 probably hurts them in 2015 and beyond. Zduriencik’s bosses know this better than anyone, after greenlighting several disastrous go-for-broke trades in the mid-aughts that caused the M’s protracted postseason drought.
Brad Miller is probably still the team’s future at shortstop, but if a team offers Zduriencik a reliable veteran in exchange, who could help the M’s make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, what should he do?
I know what I’d do: Make the trade! Of course I’d also sign Ken Griffey Jr. to a lifetime contract, and, just for fun, make the entire bullpen wear their hats like Fernando Rodney. Zduriencik is paid to make these choices rationally, which I hope he does. But I’m sure there’s a little voice looking at the 2014 Mariners and telling him “Why not us?” Or maybe that’s just Russell Wilson.