Friday, December 18, 2009

Is Jack Zduriencik the Best GM in Baseball?

In his tenure with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jack Zduriencik greatly influenced the talent in the organization's farm system. In his time, the Brewers had frequent success in the draft. Players taken under Zduriencik were Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun, just to name a few. While drafting is an important part of baseball, it becomes even more important in a small market like Milwaukee.

Because of his success, Zduriencik was a candidate for just about every General Manager job when they opened. In 2007, Zduriencik interviewed for a vacancy in Pittsburgh, only to passed over once again. Needless to say, Zduriencik's misfortune was the Brewers relief. However, luck had to run out eventually.

The next season, Zduriencik accepted the GM spot for the Seattle Mariners. Zduriencik wanted to stay in Milwaukee, but after Doug Melvin signed another extension with the Brewers, he realized his time was not coming in Milwaukee. Instead, Zduriencik accepted the tough job of turning around the 101-loss Mariners. Well, at least it was supposed to be tough.

In his first season with the Mariners, Jack Z has completely turned the franchise around. He has built the club perfectly around his surrounding in Safeco Field. The large gaps of Safeco require a good defense and that's exactly what Jack Z has created. Almost immediately after he took over, Zduriencik traded for one of the best defenders in baseball history: Franklin Gutierrez. Literally, Gutierrez has unlimited range. His UZR/150 ratings are unfathomable. Last season, Gutierrez posted a 30.9 UZR/150. In easier terms, Gutierrez' defense saved the Mariners one run ever 47 innings he played in the field. Those numbers are simply incredible.

Zduriencik didn't stop there. He also traded for slick fielding SS Jack Wilson from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wilson, while often criticized for his bat, is another great defender. Combined between Pittsburgh and Seattle last season, Wilson posted a 20.4 UZR/150 while playing SS.

Acquiring this kind of team lead to the Mariners scoring an incredible 12.0 UZR/150 as a team last season, easily best in baseball. Despite scoring just 640 runs last season (3rd worst in baseball), the Mariners won 85 games. Their combination of pitching and defense allows them to compete without raking the ball.

This offseason, Zduriencik has only improved the club. He is nearing completion of a trade that would send Carlos Silva (and his $24 million contract) to Chicago in exchange for Milton Bradley. If completed, this is an absolute steal for the Mariners. While his ERA seems a little inflated, Silva is still one of the worst pitchers in baseball right now. Bradley surely brings attitude problems to Seattle, but also immense talent. An outfielder of Ichiro, Gutierrez and Bradley would save an incredible amount of runs. Also, Bradley's bat fits perfectly into the middle of the Mariners order. Add in the signing of Chone Figgins and the acquisition of Cliff Lee and the Mariners are set for success next season.

It's tough to say I fault Milwaukee in all this. Doug Melvin has done a pretty decent job as GM of the Brewers. While Zduriencik might have been the better option, letting Melvin go wasn't going to happen. Nevertheless, I have to say what Zduriencik has done in one season is pretty incredible. He took a 101-loss franchise and has turned it into a championship contender. Too bad he wasn't overlooked, again.


G.J. Waala said...

If Jack Z. had a weakness while working for the Crew it was drafting starting pitching. Name a "Jack Z. Era" starter besides Yovani that's done anything for the Brewers. Jack Z. should have probably avoided high school pitchers but oh well. He even admitted in a way that he & his people had been more focused on drafting solid hitters than anything else. Don't get me wrong - his efforts were a key factor in the team's recent success. But he did leave behind a team with some problems in the farm system & it's partly his responsibility.

Pittsburgh was stupid to pass over Jack Z. I believe he's from that area & used to work on some level with the Bucs organization. His talents would have gone to waste there because his bosses there would encourage him to follow their lousy business model, which is to take any affordable, promising Pirate who's had some success at the major league level & trade them for prospects (aka "building toward the future"). They could have a chimp trade guys like Nate McLouth away so why waste Jack Z.'s time?

Part of the reason for Jack Z.'s success is that the M's were seriously shedding payroll when he climbed aboard. A lot of bad contracts started coming off the books. What's part of the strategy to making the first $100M/100 loss team in MLB history better? Wait out some of those bad contracts.

"This offseason, Zduriencik has only improved the club. He is nearing completion of a trade that would send Carlos Silva (and his $24 million contract) to Chicago in exchange for Milton Bradley. If completed, this is an absolute steal for the Mariners."

Why not focus more on the addition of Chone Figgins & Cliff Lee? The Bradley-Silva deal is basically garbage for garbage at this point. Silva sucks & Bradley is a cancer.

"It's tough to say I fault Milwaukee in all this."

Why would anyone fault Milwaukee? Jack Z. was hired by the M's less than a month after the Brewers' first postseason appearance in 26 years. Jack Z. definitely deserved a promotion at that time & Doug Melvin's job security couldn't have been higher.

I think the more interesting question is whether or not Jack Z. would have been the new Brewers GM if the Crew hadn't won the Wild Card in 2008. I could go either way on that one.

It's hard to say whether Jack Z. or Doug Melvin is the better GM at this point. I think it helps that Jack Z. inherited a team with a bona fide Cy Young contender & a lot of money to play around with. Doug Melvin has helped the Brewers get to the playoffs in spite of being handcuffed with some bad contracts. For every Bill Hall/Eric Gagne/Jeff Suppan travesty he's redeemed himself with a Braun extension/CC Sabathia/Randy Wolf deal. Let's see what Melvin does next winter with $24M in bad contracts coming off the books. Let's see where Jack Z. & Doug M. take their teams over the next few years.

G.J. Waala said...

And sorry I misspoke ... by "shedding payroll" I actually meant the M's were taking advantage of bad contracts coming off the books. It's not like the actual payroll was going to be reduced (significantly).

Jonathan Ede said...

While Jack Z got lucky with some players (ex: Kenji Johjima ending his contract), he has still made the best out of the situation. Relating to Milwaukee, many thought he would be the successor to Doug Melvin. I was not saying Milwaukee should've fired Melvin after the playoffs, but Jack Z's talents are undeniable. As for his pitching draft problems, I can overlook them for the sheer talent he picked up. Looking back, the Brewers organization rarely missed on high draft picks. I'll take Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks (just to name a few), and call it a success, even though developing pitching was a problem.

Anonymous said...

A different take on Jack Z. and the Brewer drafts here: