What’s next for the Mariners? Maybe nothing at all


SEATTLE — What if the Mariners do nothing in response to this miserable season?

(Pause for angry comments about how nothing has been their style for 12 years.)

(Still pausing.)

(Done? OK, good. Now, listen.)

This is just a midseason thought born of boredom over the recurring speculation about the job security of general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge. And as I’ll detail later, both must meet certain criteria for this to occur. But if you want to have the most thorough discussion about what’s best for the Mariners, you must consider, at the very least, whether this franchise is better off doubling down on its long rebuilding process than changing for the sake of change and perceived public appeasement.

More than cuddling with this new batch of puppies and dreaming about the future, the intrigue about the season’s second half rests with the answer to this question: How much do the Mariners really believe in this plan they’ve been selling so hard for five years?

We’ll have an answer in three months. Right now, despite those who bark to the contrary, all the evidence is inconclusive.

Zduriencik, who is in Year 5 of his plan, has done everything he promised in terms of amassing young talent and building the farm system. But his acquisitions through trades and free agency haven’t been good enough to build a good major-league roster.

Wedge, who is in Year 3, has created an environment of professionalism and hard work and kept his focus on developing youth. But while he doesn’t have a dream team at his disposal, he still must take blame for the individual and collective underachieving of a 35-47 Mariners team that has enough talent to produce a record closer to .500.

Under an ideal ownership situation, the harsh nature of professional sports would take over, and both men would probably be fired. But the Mariners’ ownership situation is so far from ideal that you’d have to take a spaceship to visit it.

After a dozen years of hiring and firing and changing ideologies, it’s beyond time for better self-examination from the top of the organization. No, this isn’t another “Sell the team!” or “Fire Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong!” rant because those ideas have yet to prove realistic. And I only want to ponder reality today.

In this odd case, without a fully-engaged ownership group, better self-examination from the top only goes as high as CEO Lincoln and president Armstrong. Despite public outcry, they are virtually bulletproof. Like it or not, that’s the situation, and the Mariners can win with them running the business side. But Lincoln and Armstrong need the right baseball people dictating the on-field decisions, and they have a poor recent record of trusting and hiring the right folks.

Resolution about the Mariners’ current direction must start with Lincoln and Armstrong asking whether the franchise has done enough to help Jack Z and Wedge succeed. They should ask that question before they evaluate anything else. Because if the top of the organization is coming up short — and there’s a dozen years of evidence to suggest some issues — then it doesn’t matter who’s running the baseball operations.

Maybe the answer isn’t warming up the hot seat until buns toast. Maybe it’s about purchasing more comfortable chairs.

That upper level self-examination should inspire a better approach to utilize the Mariners’ resources. It’s not just about spending money aimlessly. The Mariners did that a lot during the Bill Bavasi era. It’s about being wise, strategic and aggressive when necessary.

Then comes the question about whether Zduriencik and Wedge are the right fits. Criteria for both are clear. For Zduriencik to remain, the majority of his young big-league talent must establish themselves as legit major leaguers with a clear future by the end of the season. We have to see it in most of them. For Wedge, he needs to get more out of this roster, produce a team that plays better in the second half (like last season) and show tangible signs of improving the offense.

Record should be a concern secondary to how the product is trending, but individual improvement should spur some team success. So, a 95-loss season gets both men fired. But there’s a possibility that, say, a 74-88 final record looks terrible but keeps the band together.

There’s still a possibility the Mariners are headed in the right direction, but it’s taking forever because the rebuilding task is so difficult, and the franchise has been too skittish about going all in to finish the job. It’s safer to tiptoe and wait on the puppies than to drop $118 million on payroll, which the Mariners did for Bavasi’s last season in 2008, and risk another disaster that takes five more years to clean up.

But how much do the Mariners really believe in what they’ve been selling so hard for five years? I want to know the answer. And if the evidence on Zduriencik and Wedge remains inconclusive at year’s end, I want to see if the organization would do something bold, something more difficult than change, something that would make me believe they’re serious about their plan.

Nothing.

Nothing, except make sure they do everything necessary for Zduriencik and Wedge to succeed.