Jack Zduriencik’s not a glass-half-full kinda guy. When he’s hailing his own “accomplishments,” the Seattle Mariners general manager is strictly a glass-brim-full-and-spilling-single-malt-Scotch-all-over-the-floor sort of fellow.
The other day he stayed on for an extra half inning to tell M’s broadcasters a thing or two-hundred about all the swell acquisitions he’s been getting while dealing away a pair of the team’s starting pitchers. It was terrific to hear about the potential greatness associated with the players’ names. Unfortunately Jack-Z, as always, said little or nothing about what he gave up — or gave up on — in order to bring in new players he’ll no doubt give up on some day.
Two give-up-on guys may be worthy of the attention of baseball observers in this region. Both now play their home games in the Eastern time zone though they have several other more compelling details in common. One is that they both play first base. Another is that they both have chances to win this year’s batting championships in each league.
Zduriencik gave up on Mike Morse midway through the 2009 season. Morse wasn’t going to work out at third base, it was said, and the M’s already had a franchise player at shortstop by the name of Yuniesky Betancourt except — oops! — he suddenly wasn’t worth keeping and was dealt to Kansas City a fortnight after the Morse departure. Anyway, the M’s did acquire the great Ryan Langerhans for Morse, the same Langerhans sent down to Tacoma earlier this season before being shipped to the Arizona organization in a cash deal.
Morse? He’s hitting .316 in the clean-up position for the Washington Nationals. His 18 dingers and 62 runs batted in are, respectively, four and 15 better than those of Seattle team-leader Miguel Olivo in those two power categories. Yes, Morse would have to go some to catch National League hitting leader Jose Reyes (.339). Ditto, Casey Kotchman’s quest in the American League. Kotchman? Isn’t he that guy who cluttered up the M’s roster last season, batting .217 and winding up at Tampa Bay this year? Yeah, and now he’s hitting .331, third in the American League, albeit 25 percentage points behind Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez.
It isn’t particularly sporting to wish ill of ex-Mariners unless, of course, it’s Alex Rodriguez, our poster child for the justification of Schadenfreude. On the other hand, even the most rational of beings must sometimes wonder whether Seattle, the Mariners, Safeco Field, and maybe even Jack Zduriencik are more than mildly jinxed. How else to explain how players who either under-performed or who were under-estimated here could move to other clubs and become big stars?
In the cases of Morse and Kotchman, both of whom had two hits during their most recent games (Thursday, Aug. 4), their successes comprise what seems to be a particularly Stephen King-inspired thing given who’s on first for Seattle now.
That, or course, would be Justin Smoak, said by his G.M. many times since his acquisition from Texas a year ago to be capable of quickly becoming a switch-hitting impact player capable of Gold Glove awards at first base. This season he’s demonstrated that he may be a switch “batter” but not so much a switch “hitter”: better from the right-hand side than the left, from which he sees far more pitches. He also has had to deal with emotional struggles (the death of his father) and physical injuries (a recently bunged up left thumb).
The statistical toll: The 24-year-old through Wednesday was hitting just .221, with modest power numbers.
There’s been no word as to whether G.M. Zduriencik is still clicking brim-full glasses about Smoak’s long-term potential. In a perverse sense, perhaps Seattle fans wish for the struggling first-sacker that Jack-Z would ship him to another club. If so, Smoak next season would probably win the triple crown.