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Z-No Paradox

The Mariners are on quite a roll these days. They had a pitcher earn AL Pitcher of the Week honors in a week where the staff got so ravaged in Boston that they had to make a bullpen move before starting the series last night in Texas. Of course, when 'Kuma throws a no-hitter, the award is warranted. Then, last night, Fernando Rodney issues maybe the most infuriating of all ways to lose - the walk-off walk. Just stand there, Rangers, and be handed the victory.*

*True to the blue!

Seasons likes this lead to rumors of leadership changes. This is the predictable ebb and flow of baseball. So, naturally, rumors of Jack Zduriencik's demise are swirling. It helps that there have been whispers here and there for several years now, though these are some of the loudest whispers yet. The latest, likely most concrete, rumor comes from Ken Rosenthal this morning:
The Mariners have not made a decision on whether to retain GM Jack Zduriencik, but sources say they are in the “contemplation phase,” pondering whether to make such a move.
There isn't too much juicy in this rumor, other than the phrase "contemplation phase." That's something I need to work into my everyday life.

"Sir, are you ready to order lunch?"

"Give me a few more minutes. I'm still in the contemplation phase."

"Are you in line?"

"No, I'm in a contemplation phase, you can go ahead of me."

"Mr. Chalberg, have you written the test yet?"

"No, it's still in the contemplation phase. I am pondering the inclusion of a few problems."

Life choices sound so much more important and impactful when they have a contemplation phase. Anyway, the Mariners ought to be in a contemplation phase with the way this season has gone and how the Zduriencik era seems to be trending.

The biggest problem, in my estimation, is that Jack Zduriencik is a mediocre general manager. He is neither great nor terrible, which means there will always be some justifiable pressure to let go of of him, and also some justifiable reasoning to retain him. His trades are, overall, fine - certainly better than Bill Bavasi's wheeling and dealing before him. Z's free agent acquisitions have also largely turned out okay. I would even argue that Zduriencik has done a good job drafting.

Zduriencik's fatal flaws are questionable roster construction (example: acquiring a redundant Mark Trumbo for a needed capable catcher in Wellington Castillo. In terms of trade value, more than fair, but it was a bad decision looking at the skills on the roster) and lackluster player development. I distinguish between drafting and player development because lots of people outside the Mariners organization thought guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero were great prospects. The fact that many seem to inexplicably flame out points to a player development problem, not an inability to find talent in the first place.

All in all, I think Zduriencik's strengths and weaknesses balance themselves out. I know the Mariners have lost more than they have won under his leadership but the cupboard was frighteningly bare when he took the job. The Mariners are in better position now than when Zduriencik took the job, though they only seem to be trending towards mediocrity.

There is one man on the open market who seems like a natural fit: Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers cut him loose earlier this season after a long, successful run - but not quite successful enough for owner Mike Ilitch. He desired a World Championship because he is a rare "old school" owner. Ilitch is aging and places winning above profit margins with his sports franchises. Dombrowski's Tigers did more than their fair share of winning, which included a few trips to the World Series, but the eruption of the Royals the last few years makes it appear like Detroit's window with Dombrowski had closed. So, out he goes. It was World Series or bust in Detroit.

Still, Dombrowski is a heck of a catch. It is still hard to pin good valuations on GMs, but data-driven attempts and softer, anecdotal attempts both regard him as an above-average general manager. Moreover, the payrolls of the Tigers and Mariners are not all that different from one another. Seattle, on paper, looks like the kind of place where Dombrowski could duplicate his success in Detroit with minimal tweaking to his process and strategies. Dombrowski would seem to safely be an upgrade over Zduriencik.

I don't know what kinds of factors the Mariners are weighing in their "contemplation phase," but I don't mind them thinking before acting. However, if I could sit in the room with some influence, I would push to relieve Jack Zduriencik of his duties right now and go after Dave Dombrowski immediately. Few teams are in position to fire their GMs right now. The Mariners could get a jump on the market and be the first to offer Dombrowski a job. If he accepts, then he has a month or so to watch the team firsthand before the season is over, and then another month through the playoffs to create an offseason plan. It would put him and the Mariners in better position to succeed.

The risk is that Dombrowski rejects the M's overtures. However, if that happens, then the Mariners have between now and the end of the season to make a list of GM candidates. Moreover, potential candidates will know there is an opportunity in Seattle. The Mariners would form the GM market. This does not guarantee they will find an improvement over Zduriencik, but it should improve their chances of finding the strongest replacement possible.

Contemplating is good. It is an activity I endorse in many walks of life. However, the Mariners could contemplate their way into a corner if this contemplation phase drags on a while. There is strategic leverage to be gained if the Mariners pull the trigger and fire Zduriencik now, but that advantage closes a little more every day. If the Mariners think about this forever, then the best option will be to keep Zduriencik, whether the Mariners decide they are open to a new direction or not.