If the Mariners fail to bolster their “BB gun” lineup before the 1 p.m. (PDT) Thursday deadline for non-waiver trades, it will be convenient to point a finger at general manager Jack Zduriencik.
According to a recent Fox Sports report detailing the frustrations of trying to swing a deal with the Mariners, it might more difficult to read Zduriencik than to spell his name.
“I don’t always get the sense that he knows what he wants to do,” a rival general manager told Fox Sports. “One day, he’s interested in one thing. The next day, he’s interested in another. That makes it challenging.”
Although the executives critical of Zduriencik weren’t identified in the story co-written by Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, I’ve got no doubt their qualms are legitimate. Here’s something else about which I’ve got no doubt:
Zduriencik’s apparent habit of waffling is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign he’s paying attention to a market that can be as volatile as a high-risk stock investment.
Take, for instance, left fielder Dustin Ackley. On July 18, as the Mariners were preparing to open the post-All Star break phase of the season with a road game against the Angels, Jon Heyman, CBSSports.com’s “Baseball Insider,” sent a Twitter message pointing out that “a lot of teams are asking about Dustin Ackley. Others see potential there.”
Potential? Seriously? Three-and-a-half seasons into a big-league career that had largely been a disappointment for the No. 2 overall draft choice in 2009, Ackley was hitting .225 and generating almost no production from a position associated with offense.
If I were a scout required to submit an evaluation of Ackley on July 18, my notes would have read like this: “Can do a bit of everything, but excels at nothing. Erratic bat. Little power. Weak arm. Nice guy, but maybe too nice? Worth no more than a middling prospect.”
Between the Twitter post about Ackley’s trade potential and the Mariners’ 5-2 win Tuesday at Cleveland, he had 20 hits in 45 at-bats, improving his numbers from .225 average/.282 on-base percentage/.339 slugging percentage to .256/.303/.372.
And while Ackley won’t come close to hitting the 15-20 homers once expected of him — his career-high is 12 — the sweet swing that made the University of North Carolina star a College World Series legend suddenly has reasserted itself.
Ackley is pulling the ball with authority on hitter’s counts, and going the other way when there’s two strikes. His defense is serviceable, that below-average arm mitigated by a steady glove. He turns outs into outs, and every so often turns fence-clearing blasts into outs.
And there are finances to consider: Ackley’s contract this season guarantees him $1.7 million, a lot of money for most of us but a relative bargain for the Mariners, who have the 26-year old under control through 2017.
Question: Do you trade somebody with the ability to hit .300, somebody who has proven to be durable and whose future is promising — remember, Ackley is only 26 — and who isn’t tethered to the ridiculous contract ($21 million a year through 2019) the Dodgers awarded enigmatic outfielder Matt Kemp?
Answer: Maybe, maybe not. What seemed like a no-brainer proposition only two weeks ago now has many layers of nuance, not the least of which is the Mariners’ quirky history with left fielders.
Steve Braun was the team’s original left fielder, in 1977. Subsequent opening-day lineups have included Bruce Bochte, Dan Meyer, Tracy Jones, Mike Felder, Lee Tinsley, John Mabry and Mike Carp.
There have been two Bradleys (Phil, pensive and aloof, and Milton, who was unhinged); a guy who injured himself while sleepwalking through a nightmare about spiders (Glenallen Hill); a guy who lied about his college-football exploits at USC (Al Martin), and a guy who once strained a muscle while vomiting (Kevin Mitchell).
The most celebrated teams in Mariners franchise history were assembled without an obvious left fielder. Darren Bragg, remembered as the trade chip that returned pitcher Jamie Moyer, started in 1995. (Vince Coleman, a key acquisition obtained after the non-waiver trade deadline, ended up replacing Bragg for the playoff run.)
The 2001 team, which won 116 games and sent eight players to the All-Star Game at Safeco Field, started Martin in left. For the fifth and final game of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, manager Lou Piniella assembled a lineup card that paid homage to longtime right fielder Jay Buhner, who was planning to retire.
The starting left fielder that day? Ichiro Suzuki.
The position has been a source of Mariners instability for more than three decades, variously occupied by hitters who were a defensive liability (Raul Ibanez), or superb fielders lacking a bat (Endy Chavez).
Dustin Ackley is on a second-half tear that suggests he could be the reliable, every day, write-down-the-lineup-
and-don’t-even-fret-about-it left fielder the Mariners never have had.
And to think: Two weeks ago, he could have packaged in a trade that amounted to a shrugged- shoulder deal.
But Zduriencik, for whatever reason, didn’t pull the trigger, and it’s looking like the best move he never made.