Jack Zduriencik is not completely cleaning house, but he is definitely giving it a thorough scrubbing. After his initial interview, I was not sure how long it would take him to assess the state of the franchise and begin making changes. As it turns out, it is taking almost no time at all.
Word officially broke Tuesday that scouting director Bob Fontaine would not be back, and from the sounds of it he did not have much of a chance to stick around. It is unfortunate. Fontaine seems like one of the real nice guys in baseball, and he was good at his job. The M's drafts under him were significantly better than typical M's drafts the last 15 years or so. In particular, Fontaine had a keen eye for pitching. Just in 2006 the M's added Brandon Morrow, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio to the organization. Of course, thanks to Bill Bavasi, only Morrow remains, but that's not Fontaine's fault. It's not all that fair that Fontaine is getting cut loose, but this is how baseball works. Any organization would be wise to pick him up, and I hope he lands on his feet and succeeds somewhere.
While I am sad and disappointed to see Fontaine go, I am also inclined to trust Zduriencik when it comes to scouting and player development. His track record speaks for itself. Plus, after announcing that Fontaine was leaving, the Mariners also made some more announcements. First, Zduriencik is going to keep Bob Engle and Lee Pelekoudas around. Both are great decisions. Engle is the biggest reason the M's supplement their farm system with so much international talent, and I am very excited that it looks like Zduriencik is not all that interested in messing with the success the M's have had in that department. Meanwhile, Pelekoudas has served in a number of roles for the Mariners over the past 28 years, and his longevity has value. He knows baseball, and he knows where this organization has been, which makes figuring out where the organization is going quite a bit easier.
On top of that, two additions to the front office were announced on Tuesday. The Brewers agreed to let Zduriencik take two people from his Milwaukee staff, and he picked Tony Blengino and Tom McNamara. Blengino was Zduriencik's top assistant in Milwaukee, and is a member of SABR. In many respects, he is the kind of guy that Bavasi never seemed to strongly consider for a job in the organization. McNamara has an extensive background in scouting that even includes a stint with the Mariners front office from 1994-2000. They obviously both worked well with Zduriencik in Milwaukee, and so they should also fit well here.
Lastly, this morning it was announced that long-time Mariner Benny Looper would leave the team. He was offered a position as a scout, but it would have been a major demotion. So, he has left. One one hand it is tough to see long-time Mariners like Benny Looper leave, but on the other it is exciting to see that Jack Zduriencik is taking charge and putting his stamp on this front office, making tough decisions when he deems it necessary.
Publicly, Zduriencik says that he is not very close to finalizing the structure of the front office, but it is certainly coming into focus. Bavasi's model seemed bloated with a bunch of special assistants to the GM, which was a glorified way of hiring his baseball buddies. On top of that, there was no real room for sabermetrics (Bavasi claimed over and over the he valued statistics, but the structure of his front office certainly did not support that).
Under Jack, I expect to see a bit more streamlined front office and more emphasis put on statistical analysis. Looking at the staff right now, my best guess is that Lee Pelekoudas will be the assistant GM, Blengino the director of scouting, McNamara the assistant director of scouting, and Engle remains the head of international scouting. Pelekoudas has the experience with free agency, contract negotiations, and trade negotiations that Zduriencik does not have a ton of yet. Also, in this model, both Blengino and McNamara would receive promotions, and they have the potential to be a devastating combo. Blengino comes from a mostly business-orientated, statistical background (he last played baseball in high school), while McNamara played in the minors and has worked his way up the scouting chain the good, old-fashioned way. The two of them could potentially offer different perspectives that give abnormally complete profiles of prospects. Lastly, Engle stays where he has been awesome for many years.
At this point, the front office is more shaken up than settled, but what's coming together looks pretty good.