It’s December, which means the calendar year is coming to a close. But the Major League Baseball offseason is just beginning. For the Seattle Mariners, it will be the end of a disappointing year as they’ll be eager to put 2013 in the rear-view mirror.
The next 365 days will prove to be paramount for the Mariners and will hold major consequences for the future of the franchise. Don’t believe me?
I’ll start with the most recent news from the Seattle front office: the retirement of long time Mariner President Chuck Armstrong. For 28 years over two separate tenures, Armstrong’s contentious reign at the helm in Seattle had its ups and downs. For years, a decent and growing share of the Mariner fan base has been calling for the head of Armstrong, as well as CEO Howard Lincoln. Poor decision making on the baseball side of operations over the past decade has cultivated an attitude of resentment towards the front office in Seattle.
Effective January 31st of 2014, Armstrong will step down to retire and spend time with his family. A lot of Mariner fans will be happy to see him go. What should be recognized about Armstrong was his devotion to the franchise and the work he put in for nearly three decades. By all accounts from those close to Armstrong, he genuinely cared about the Mariners.
It’s time for a change though. The Mariners need a new direction, new leadership. Former manager Eric Wedge’s messy departure from the club at the end of the 2013 season exemplified the faltering stability at the top of the organization.
Lincoln, who will remain as CEO, has said that a decision on a new president is likely to come in January, with the clear goal of having a replacement named before Armstrong officially steps down. Lincoln will head the search, which will likely mark the most important decision the Mariners will make this upcoming year.
As crucial as that off-the-field decision will be, how the Mariners perform on the field will be just as vital. Lloyd McClendon, who will be the sixth Mariner manager since 2003, takes over a 91 loss team with a roster packed with young players who have yet to prove themselves at the Major League level. The question will be whether or not McClendon and his staff can progress with players like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller.
That’s a lot of young guys, and how they perform in 2014 will determine the makeup of the team going forward. The Mariners need to know what they have with this group and whether or not they can build a winning team around these players.
That’s where General Manager Jack Zduriencik comes in. His job is on the line in 2014, especially with the arrival of a new team president. If the young core of players that he has built throughout his tenure fail yet again to perform, Zduriencik should be gone.
And although you can’t expect McClendon to turn the club completely around in his first year, if he has a new general manager above him after 2014 his job security will get called into question also. He is Zduriencik’s guy, and if Jack isn’t there, then McClendon isn’t safe.
Of course Zduriencik still has the rest of this offseason to supplement the roster and add pieces to try and ensure a 2014 performance that will keep him around in Seattle. The Mariners have been rumored to have interest in a number of free agents, seeking both hitting and pitching alike. There has even been recent murmurings that they are in play for the services of the most expensive player on the market, Robinson Cano.
So it might not all be on the young guys, but I still think Zduriencik’s fate is tied to their evolution as a group.
The choices the Seattle front office make this year will be huge, and we’ll see it all play out over the next twelve months. The Mariners have to hire a new President, a decision that will have far-reaching implications. Then the front office, headed by said new President, has to decide whether or not Zduriencik is the right guy following the 2014 season.
Next December, we’ll know a lot more about the direction this team is heading.