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Mariners GM Zduriencik in Bellevue guarantees team will rebound
Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik preached patience and guaranteed future success as he spoke about team development at a Bellevue Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at the downtown Bellevue Westin.
"I assure you that there is a commitment to this organization, a commitment to this community, and a commitment to this fanbase," Zduriencik said. "I give my word that we're going to get this thing right."
The talk on Tuesday came in the midst of a disappointing season that has seen Ken Griffey Jr. brusquely retire, Cy Young lefty Cliff Lee barely touching the mound before his trade to Texas, and the last-place Mariners falling short of expectations at nearly every turn.
"This has been a year of disappointments, a year of setbacks, and a year of issues," Zduriencik said.
The second-year GM promised that hope will spring from the Mariners' farm system as he rattled off statistics about its minor-league teams ranking number one in home runs and slugging percentage, number two in runs scored and winning percentage, and fourth in batting average.
"We're building an organization right now that I think will sustain for years to come," Zduriencik said. "It takes time. It's difficult."
Developing talent is Zduriencik's forté. He built a reputation for it with the New York Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and especially the Milwaukee Brewers.
Zduriencik said he prefers a roster of mostly home-grown players, with trades and free-agent acquisitions serving as a sort of icing on the cake.
"We are building a foundation," he said. "We are trying to get to a point where you can be proud of the players that are here and every Felix Hernandez who was raised by this organization and comes to the top."
Six Milwaukee Brewers who became All-Stars in the past 10 years came up through the Brewers organization while Zduriencik was working for the club, which went from being basement dwellers to playoff contenders during his tenure.
When it comes to retaining big names like Hernandez and Lee, Zduriencik said it's all about perfect fits.
"If you can, and sometimes it's difficult, you try to create a picture for a player to understand why the community is good for him and his family, where the organization is headed, and why he could be a part of this."
Zduriencik said players are most likely to stray as free agents when they're looking to find the highest bidder above all else.
One audience member asked Zduriencik whether he would move some of his Triple-A players to the majors now that the Mariners are essentially out of the playoff picture.
Zdurincik said he is reluctant to break up a first-place Tacoma team that is chasing a championship.
"If you go to our (Mariners) locker room, it hasn't been a lot of fun lately," he said. "If you go to Tacoma, they're having a blast. They think they can beat anybody.
"For them to win a championship, this is how you build organizations."
There has been speculation that the Mariners may fire manager Don Wakamatsu , possibly before the season ends. Most of that talk surfaced in the wake of a dugout confrontation between the skipper and Chone Figgins, followed by a winless road trip that left the team with a 39-67 record.
Zduriencik said Tuesday that Wakamatsu is the leader of the club, making it clear to players who the boss is, but also making the skipper fully accountable if the team can't turn itself around.