If the buzzards are circling Jack Zduriencik, as some suggest, it’s hard to see that it’s having any effect as he works through the closing weeks of his seventh season as the Seattle Mariners’ general manager.
It’s not that he’s oblivious; he has heard the growing number of rumors and speculation that his job is on the line despite getting a multiyear extension less than a year ago.
Professional sports are a results-based business, and the Mariners, a trendy spring pick to reach the World Series for the first time in their 39-year history, are an enormous disappointment at 56-65.
Zduriencik simply chooses to address the on-field issues rather than off-field talk — particularly when that talk isn’t tied to the club’s ownership group, which has not publicly addressed his job status.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to (the rumors),” Zduriencik said in a group interview with the club’s beat reporters earlier this week in Texas, “because I can tell you, if you were engrossed in what people are saying or what somebody thinks is going on, when they really don’t have all the information, then that can certainly sidetrack you.
“It can affect your way of thinking. I’ve got eyes. I can see what’s going on here. I know what has not worked and what should be working and isn’t. For me to focus on any outside distractions (is nonproductive).”
The speculation is rampant.
Former Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski was a rumor-mill favorite before he took the job in Boston. USA Today now identifies former Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams and former San Diego and Arizona GM Kevin Towers as possible candidates.
Zduriencik said he sees no indication the ongoing chatter regarding his job security is affecting his staff, which would likely find their jobs at risk if the club’s ownership group opts for a replacement.
“We don’t talk about it,” he said. “I mean, there’s not a day that I walk in there and somebody says to me, ‘Hey, did you read this?’ or ‘Hey, I heard this.’ That doesn’t happen.
“I walk in and say, ‘What are we doing today? What went on on the field today? What do you see and hear? What’s going on in the minor leagues?’
“That’s the conversation that goes on. No one comes and sits down and says, ‘Hey, I heard this,’ or ‘I heard that,’ because I would tell them the same thing. ‘Do your job. You have a job to do.’
“ ‘You’ve got another month-and-a-half to finish what you’re paid to do. Do it. Do it to the best of your ability.’ I know they do it. I expect them to do it.”
Zduriencik insists he has not changed his approach.
“My job is to do my job every day,” he said. “I said it five years ago. I said it three years ago. I said it last year. I’m not going to do anything that is not in the best interest of this organization.
“Now, some things may not work out. Some things get disappointing. Some things work out real well, but the job that you have to do as a general manager is just to continue to do what you know is right.”
Zduriencik contends the disappointing season stems primarily from players not performing to expectations. He appears to place little, if any, blame on manager Lloyd McClendon, who is under contract through next season.
“I think Lloyd is a good manager,” Zduriencik said. “I think what’s happened with Lloyd is we’ve had underperforming players, in a nutshell, and that ties your hands.
“You’re a genius when you’ve got five starters throwing real well and your bullpen’s a lockdown bullpen. When that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to point a finger and say, ‘Well, he didn’t do this or he didn’t do that.’ ”
A year ago, only three American League clubs scored fewer runs than the Mariners, who remained in contention for a postseason berth until the middle of the season’s final game.
Zduriencik believed he addressed that weakness in the offseason by signing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, who led the majors in home runs, and acquiring veteran outfielder Seth Smith from San Diego in a trade.
Cruz is on pace for the best season of his career, and Smith is performing close to his career norms. Even so, the Mariners struggled to score runs in the season’s early weeks.
That led to the June 20 decision to replace hitting coach Howard Johnson with franchise icon Edgar Martinez. That move is paying off. The Mariners are averaging more than a run a game more under Martinez.
“There’s responsibility for everything for everybody,” Zduriencik said, “but at the end of the day, when players don’t perform to the level you think they can or should … it stresses everybody.
“Everybody looks bad. The players look bad. The front office looks bad. The manager doesn’t look as good as he should, but if your lineup is performing, it’s easier to be a good manager.”
The other big failing this year is the bullpen. A year ago, the club’s relief corps led the majors with a 2.59 ERA; the current group heads into Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox with a 4.30 mark — No. 24 in the league.
“That question is asked internally a lot,” Zduriencik said. “When you look at the bullpen of a year ago and you look at the success that they had, if you were sitting there in the wintertime, and if you were sitting in my chair, (would you) you get rid of this guy? Get rid of that guy? Move this guy? They’re all fairly young, all talented, all had really good years.”
The decline, Zduriencik contends, stems from the bullpen being the most volatile and unpredictable aspect of any club from one year to the next. Even so, he acknowledges the group’s regression has been startling.
“It looked like a year ago they were going to be big pieces going forward,” he said. “The fact that the entire bullpen, for the most part, hasn’t performed to the level we would have like it to is very disappointing.
“Now, hopefully they’ve grown. Hopefully they get through it, and the ones that are going to be here hopefully will be better a year from now.”
Zduriencik holds to a similar hope when he assesses the club as a whole. He still believes the Mariners possess the core group of a postseason contender.
“I think there’s a pretty good nucleus here,” he said. “I think when we started the year, we were really excited about (Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager). I still think they’re going to be productive players.
“I think you look at the strides Taijuan (Walker) made. (Mike) Montgomery’s had some good spurts for us. I think the fact that you’re going to have (James) Paxton back here ... it’s still positive.
“I think there’s a good, young nucleus of pitching. Carson Smith’s done a real nice job for us. Still learning. He’s had his ups and downs and bumps here and there, but still very talented.
“I think when you start to piece it together, there are things we need to do going forward, but I do think that there are some really solid pieces there.”
Is that enough to keep the wolves at bay?
“I don’t have any control over that,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t necessarily have a great deal of control on the guys’ performance on the field, but it is what it is. You have players signed, you have players who need to perform.
“But if there are rumors out there, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t control a rumor one way or the other. All I can do is do my job every day and hope that players from this day forward perform.”
Mariners general managers
Lou Gorman: 1977-80
Dan O’Brien: 1981-83
Hal Keller: 1984-85
Dick Balderson: 1986-88
Woody Woodward: 1988-99
Pat Gillick: 2000-03
Bill Bavasi: 2004-08
Jack Zduriencik: 2009-present