BY Art Thiel 03:30PM 08/28/2015

Thiel: Mariners president ‘not a baseball guy’

Mariners president Kevin Mather must replace Jack Zduriencik, whom he fired Friday after endorsing him with a two-year extension a year ago. Mather admits he dithered on firing, and doesn’t know ball.

Kevin Mather admitted he “dragged his feet’ in firing Jack Zduriencik. /

Give Kevin Mather credit for honesty.

“I’m not a baseball guy,” said the president of the Seattle Mariners, a baseball team.

But he is going to be the decider on the successor to Jack Zduriencik, the general manager whom he fired Friday in Chicago after admitting, “I waited too long” to do so.

“I kept waiting for them to rattle off eight out of 10, 12 out of 15, to get on a roll,” he said on a teleconference with Seattle-area reporters Friday. “I maybe dragged my feet . . . I waited too long to start asking myself tough questions about why we’re not having more success.”

Admirable as is his candor, it revealed an absence of knowledge about what he was seeing, despite having been a Mariners employee since 1996, albeit all on the business side.

The Mariners were a team built to win in 2015, with a club-record $130 million payroll as testimony. In the same spirit of candor, I thought the Mariners would win, too, as did many in local and national media.

When they didn’t in April, May and June, for a variety of on-field reasons obvious to many, there were no repairs forthcoming from Zduriencik. There were no major-league ready prospects ready to help immediately, nor was there a surplus of prospects that could have been traded for veterans who could have been difference-makers.

The one move made, for OF/1B Mike Trumbo in June, cost them Welington Castillo,  recently acquired from the Cubs who lasted six games in Seattle.

He proved he was a major-league average catcher, something the Mariners haven’t seen nearly since Dan Wilson. But Castillo turned out that way only for Arizona.

After hitting .160 with two home runs in six games in Seattle, in 56 games for the D-backs, he’s hit .271 with a .917 OPS, thanks in part to 15 homers. Might have been an uptick over Mike Zunino, who was sent down to Tacoma Friday after hitting .174 with a .530 OPS. After a brief, mid-season improvement, Zunino has regressed to bad habits that make him just about the worst hitter among major league regulars.

Sure, the Trumbo trade is a small sample. It is, however, representative of Zduriencik’s Seattle tenure — poor returns for assets surrendered. I outlined the sweep of the meager results in a recent column here on the Mariners’ all-discard team, some of whom departed on the watch of his predecessor, Bill Bavasi.

The attrition was well underway over several years of weak trades and draft choices, leaving the season vulnerable apparently to a bad case of acid reflux by Robinson Cano. But the talent bleed wasn’t obvious to Mather, 52, who succeeded the oft-criticized Chuck Armstrong as president in January 2014.

Mather liked what he saw sufficiently — the Mariners were 71-59 at the time — that he gave Zduriencik a two-year contract extension almost exactly a year ago (Aug. 26).

“Since Jack took over after the 2008 season, we have been building toward our ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series,” Mather said in a club release. “We believe, with the efforts of Jack and his staff, we are now well-positioned as an organization to be a contender for many years to come.”

Twelve months later,  Mather’s action contradicted his words. The team is not well-positioned.

In terms of MLB talent, the roster is not bankrupt, but any executive in baseball would take the young players among the division rival Astros, Rangers and and Angels over the Mariners’ young players, and the A’s have regularly outsmarted the Mariners regarding talent.

In the call, Mather cited the need for Zduriencik’s successor to get domestic and international scouting, minor and major league instructors and other baseball personnel “to work and grow together,” implying that Zduriencik’s operation was fractured.

That likely was true, and getting everyone on the the same page is nice. But that is the desire of a bureaucrat.

What the Mariners need are astute judges of baseball talent, which in baseball elsewhere in the past 10 years typically has required a deep integration of sabermetrics. Mather twice mentioned the need for sabermetrics, but he did so in the manner of a teenager trying to rationalize eating vegetables. The kid is told it’s good for him, and it pleases the folks, so he nibbles a half-portion, never quite sure why.

He also said that he would recommend to the new GM keeping manager Lloyd McClendon and his coaches, whom he thought had done a great job. But he would not order it.

What option does that present to a GM candidate? Suck up to Mather by agreeing to accept McClendon when he’s certain of a better choice, or insist on his own manager and blow the job opportunity?

Mather was asked, given his self-admitted lack of baseball pedigree (accounting major, University of Wisconsin, Class of ’84), why he was qualified to make the GM call.

Calling it “a fair question,” he said, “I’m going to use other people.  I will talk to other people who know more than I do. People whose judgement I trust.”

Well, that’s all he can do. The question then becomes: If he isn’t a baseball guy, how will know what he’s hearing is true, relevant or valuable?

So it has been for the Mariners. The magnum dither.

Howard Lincoln, CEO since 1999, hired Mather to replace Armstrong in part because Lincoln knows and trusts business people. Business has been Mather’s charge in his time in Seattle, not baseball.

It doesn’t mean Mather can’t make a good decision. It just means that he is now replacing a guy he endorsed a year earlier, for reasons he can’t explain.

“We have tremendous people,” he said of the organization. “We have to get better. Our last playoff was 2001. It’s not for lack of resources.

“There’s no reason why this team is not competing year after year.”

Well, there is. But if he says so, he’s fired. Doubtful his candor extends that far.



  • Effzee

    Wow. Someone needs to ask some tough effing questions of HL the next time he avails himself. A lot of very, very tough questions. In rapid fire succession. Demanding answers. On behalf of the people. I am SO not amused. >:-|

  • just passing thru

    Art, is it possible the squad has some serious divisions amongst the players and coaches? It does not appear to be a cohesive dugout. I really wonder if Lloyd can inspire this team, much less manage the tactical elements of a game…

    • jafabian

      I think that’s more than possible though usually if that’s the case the media would see it and report it. But on paper this club should have at least had a winning record and didn’t. That suggests some of the parts don’t fit. And since it was reported that Lloyd wanted to DFA Rodney much, much earlier than when it was done and that they only now send down Zunino tells me that Jack had total control of player personnel and didn’t work with Lloyd on that at all. If that’s the case Lloyd should be brought back. Much like how Gillick retained PInella, Lloyd has a solid resume and if he had more say in player personnel maybe things would have been different.

  • Jamo57

    Art, I’ve read your reporting on the Ms for years. Decades actually (yeah, we’re old).

    My memory of Howard Lincoln as described in “Out of Left Field” is he has a rather pronounced disdain for the “baseball business” so to speak. He dislikes the economics of the “industry”, the payroll that has to be paid to keep the “customers” happy, the investment required to develop the talent and lack of control management has over the long term business “success” of the enterprise. He views the business as an illogical fools pursuit.

    In short, Howard Lincoln is at the helm of a corporate entertainment provider who has a strong dislike for the content their company provides.

    So why the hell does he dither along if he can’t stand the business he’s in? Seattle deserves a franchise passionate about winning, with baseball people making the decisions, who have a love of the sport and a dedication to the irrational fans. Not a grey pinstriped, button down corporation concerned with running a “business”.

    That’s where the problem ultimately lies, in my opinion.

    Just completed my third straight, Mariners-free baseball season.

    • Effzee

      Its like HL views this franchise as his own personal toy. Problem is, that toy is something that a lot of damn people care a lot about the quality of. He doesn’t just run this thing in a vacuum. How does he come to see this necessary perspective? Its just cruel to continue to do this to the fanbase. Its mean to children. He’s like the Grinch Who Stole Baseball, without the moment of realization at the end. The He’s like Dr Seuss on meth. >:-(

      • jimboHuge

        Its more like Nintendo Corp. Of North America owns “The Pen Bar and Grill”, and its a sort of Medieval Times show where they play “baseball”. Beers are $9.00 and they have a very big screen TV.
        This is just an asset to a large, faceless corporation. However, Mather has an opportunity to fool them into hiring a person who can find ways to win baseball games.

        • Effzee

          Doubtful. Mather is a Lincolnite. He will hire whomever Howard approves of. He’s already spoken of asking for outside advice from good baseball people. Which is exactly how we hired JZ. Howard asked outsiders for advice, since he doesn’t know baseball. Hence, we got Bud Selig’s lapdog.

          • jimboHuge

            And don’t forget the “baseball mind” of John Ellis, another person who has never had anything to do with baseball, other than be a part of the Mariners.

  • notaboomer

    i’m not a baseball guy either so if mather could just lower the beer prices and book a few cubs games, i’d surely come back.

  • Matt712

    Probably the most disheartening season I can remember as a Mariners fan. And the saddest part is, when the minds at the top of the organization are – now admittedly – clueless, there isn’t even hope.

    It’s absurdly ironic that these guys are lauded as “businessmen” when clearly the best business decision would be to have baseball people run a baseball operation. And yet they continue to be unwilling or unable to do so.

    Fine. Buy your own RSN, show a tidy profit year in and year out, but not knowing how to do do more than that is really just bad business.

  • Sam Base

    As a long time Mariners fan I know full well it could easily be another decade before the M’s make the playoffs again so I’m taking the GM switch with plenty of salt. New GM, okay. Whatever. Just bleeping win for a change.

  • Larry

    Thanks, Art. You’re one of the few Northwest Sports Journalists that holds the Mariners to account. To long-suffering Mariners fans, this move registers a. Yawn. No way is this team going to get good anytime soon. Since we’re doomed to continued wallowing in the Suckage of this organization, we might as well assign some meaning to it. I propose adopting a Curse. It will give fans something to rally around and discuss other than the latest statistical category in which the M’s have achieved historic lows. Such talk implies that if the M’s can just improve in this or that statistical indice: World Series, here we come, Baby! M’s fans with a historical perspective know it’s much bigger than that. Come to think of it, maybe we really are cursed. All that remains is for readers to weigh in with some viable Curses. Maybe there could be a vote.

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    • Effzee

      Its the Curse of Lincoln, obviously. You can come up with a better name if you want. But make no mistake. He is the curse.

  • Joe_Fan

    I think we all have to be prepared to “wait out” the passing of Howard Lincoln, et al.

  • serenitynow3

    I’m not sure you can hammer Mather for liking what he saw in ’14, after all, who didn’t? Nor can you blame him for taking a few extra weeks to make this decision. Smart franchises make well thought decisions, rather than rash, seat-of-the-pants moves like the Angels or Padres. And to say that the Angels and Rangers have better young talent than the Mariners is uneducated at best. What young talent do the Angels offer? Cron? Heaney? If they had such good talent why does their offense suck? And the Rangers. Are we looking at Odor and DeShields? Joey Gallo? Very debatable.

    • Trygvesture

      When was this EVER a smart franchise under Lincoln? You’re kidding, right?

      • serenitynow3

        It has been pretty smart of late

        • Effzee

          As evidenced by…… ????

          • serenitynow3

            This move. Which is all I referenced in the OP as being smart. It was the right decision and it came within a week or two of when it should’ve been made. Good job.

          • Effzee

            No. It should have been made after last season. Or after 2013. Or after 2012. Waiting 2 or 3 extra YEARS to make the inevitably correct decision is way worse than waiting 2 or 3 extra weeks. Its what bad franchises do. Nobody with foresight liked what they saw in 2014. Obviously, whatever was seen was a facade. As usual.

  • 1coolguy

    Train wreck is all I see

  • Will

    Score: Bean Counter 1 – Mariner Fans 0

  • jafabian

    Its not necessary for Mather to be a “baseball guy”, whatever that is, to be president of the M’s. When the Seattle School District hired John Stanford to be superintendent he had no educational background being a US Army officer but ended up being possibly the best in the history of the district. From Mather’s bio he brings experience in finance to the organization and the numbers show there’s no way the M’s could let Jack continue to run baseball operations. Not with no playoffs and only two winning seasons to show.

    What I’m hoping for is a change in procedure in the search for a new GM. The last two were absolute failures and the farm is depleted, making the job for the next one even more difficult. ESPN has a nice list with Texas’ Thad Levine, Kansas City’s J.J. Picollo, the Chicago Cubs’ Jason McLeod, the New York Yankees’ Billy Eppler, Atlanta’s John Coppolella and Washington’s Doug Harris. Interim GM Jeff Kingston has an opportunity to jump ahead of them but I’d like to see former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto and former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington added. Both have prior GM experience and Cherington had to survive ownership’s preference of Bobby Valentine as manager and turned that mess into a World Series win. If this hire doesn’t do it the organization’s relationship with the fans will be even worse than it is now. Not irreparably, but it’ll continue to sink.

    • 1coolguy

      Well his tenure so far has been a train wreck, so please explain that.

    • Dave Erhardt

      I would like to see Jerry Dipoto, he had success with the Angels and only left because he and Mike Scioscia had their arguments and the manager has been there forever and had more pull then the GM. He did make mistakes like acquiring Josh Hamilton, but then again they drafted Mike Trout and Jack Z. drafted Dustin Ackley, so I think he’s a pretty good judge of talent.

      • jafabian

        I’ve wanted Kim Ng in their last 2 hires but I think she’ll pass in reviewing a 3rd time. She more than has the resume though. Tim Kurkjian also mentioned former Braves GM Frank Wren as well as Dipoto. I’m hoping they go for someone with World Series experience. Woody Woodward and Bill Bavasi had experience. Pat Gillick had World Series experience.

        I listened to Bill Krueger on the M’s broadcast last night. He put the failure of Jack’s tenure all on the plays and said that Jack was being the fall guy on this. His words. I get not wanting to slander Jack on TV but come on, don’t insult Mariner fans.

        • Jimmy Lolita

          So tired of this Kim Ng nonsense. I understand the appeal of “different”, but “different” isn’t always “better”. Every other team that interviewed Ng besides Seattle also passed on offering her their GM job — and she’s been interviewing for GM jobs for over 10 years now. She’s super-qualified to be a “GM candidate”, being a double-minority, as MLB wants teams to interview minorities, but no team has yet said she’s qualified to be GM, as nobody has hired her for that position.

        • Trygvesture

          Could be why Kruger isn’t working for an MLB team: He can analyze games, but not so much any higher up the ladder.

        • Effzee

          Bill Kruger is just about the last person to listen to when you want the truth. He’s a total shill for the front office. Blaming the players is a total cop-out, in this case. The players were being asked to do what they can’t. If you want, assemble a good team first, and then blame the players if they fail. But if you assemble a team of mostly crap, you can’t blame them for being, ultimately, crappy. You can’t employ Willie Bloomquist and yell “Get better!” at him then get confused and frustrated when he doesn’t get better.

  • dingle

    It simply does not matter who is hires or what happens in this organization until Howard Lincoln is no longer there. If he is in command, the pain and woe will continue. The GM could be Jesus Christ, and even with God’s help, the Mariners won’t break .500.

  • 1coolguy

    M’s are SO screwed up.
    Lincoln is not a baseball guy then he hires a guy who admits he’s not a baseball guy.
    I suggest they take their “business talent” and go start a company on their own and let the M’s prosper under the control of “baseball guys”. Wow – talk about a dysfunctional organization. No wonder it’s been so screwed up since Gillick left!
    Oh well: I haven’t bought a ticket in years and until these jokers are gone I will just pass.

    • Kirkland

      As long as the M’s are profitable, and thanks to ROOT they are very much so, Nintendo ain’t selling.

      That said, better Nintendo’s bottom-line ownership than Howard Schultz’s selling the Sonics to a robber baron who moved the team. I’d rather have bad MLB baseball than no MLB baseball.

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  • JT

    The ownership group is a rudderless ship of owners who have no interest or just ego interest in running/owning this team. They are a group of absentee, obstructionist owners with no accountability to the community and fans that line their pockets. There is no culture, vision, or identity to this organization. No grit or personality. Just milquetoast. It’s a, “everyone gets a ribbon and orange wedges” for participating type of organization. Their the middle age guy who keeps telling you about his high school glory days back in the 95′ when he made all-league (no championships), but never amounted to much in his later years; except for maybe a few lucky dalliances with the blonde at the bar.

    This team needs to be sold to one owner. Not a cabal of out of touch, disinterested cronies who never show up to games, have feigning interest in the community (except for PR purposes), and a lack of a championship mentality. An owner with a passion and one vision to bring World Series trophies to this town. Not a, “throw darts at a dart board” and see if we might hit the outer rim of some cheap commercial catch phrase for this years commercials.

    As long as these owners own/run this team, the chances of this town seeing a baseball championships are slim to none.


  • Dave Erhardt

    Refreshing and honest, Art it’s great to hear a voice of common sense when it comes to the problems of the Mariner’s organization. I thought Armstrong was still around. I don’t have as much optimism in Mather picking the right guy to replace Jack Z. Jack was a disaster just like Bavasi was. Jack wanted guys would could hit homers, the heck with guys with a high on base percentage. Two minor league prospects, Paterson and Jackson are not having good seasons in the minors, Zunino was just down to the minors and Ackley never worked out and now he’s a Yankee and injured. So much for his high draft choices. Maybe Walker will work out, Jack could judge pitchers better then bitters. The M’s roster is a mess and only Cruz is having a great year hitting wise. The organization needs to almost start from scratch again and get some good prospects. Signing Cruz and Cano for multiple years won’t bring us the playoffs because the others in the lineup, other then Seagar and a revived Guti, are mediocre at best. And the pitching, especially the relievers, are having a down year. Hard to be optimistic about the M’s immediate future.

  • Tman

    Ok, What is the reason “this team is not competing year after year.”

  • jimboHuge

    It is agreed and assumed nothing good will happen until Lincoln leaves, seeing as how he hates baseball, and baseball people. Lincoln should move to run Root Sports only and let Kevin hire Joe Torre to run the baseball team. Torre and Mather then hire a wheeler dealer saber-inclined GM.

    • Nathan Hall

      Nothing is agreed upon and you should assume nothing. Lincoln deserves to be relieved of his duties, but this is not a hopeless situation. Lincoln doesn’t hate baseball, he hates players bloated salaries. He is much more suited to run Root Sports then he is the Mariners though, that is a fact.

  • Michael B

    Built to win?
    In hindsight it is easy to see that was not the case. With only 3-4 solid position players how did anyone expect them to win.

  • Nathan Hall

    OK, wait a second now. Howard Lincoln’s tenure needs to come to and end, but these comments below about hopelessness and the Mariners never breaking .500 again until everyone at the top is gone are misguided. Howard Lincoln and Kevin Mather were both employed by the Mariners when they enjoyed a great run of success. They are not brilliant baseball minds, but they have to understand how and why Gillick and even Woodward built the Mariners into playoff contenders. They had great baseball minds all around them from scouting to player development. The Mariners are capable of hiring the right GM, but forcing or even suggesting that they keep Lloyd and his staff is irresponsible meddling that can turn good baseball minds away from Seattle. That is what Howard Lincoln is known and criticized for, meddling. Kevin Mather should not do the same, but of course he is Howard’s puppet. There is hope, but there should also be cautious optimism.

    • Effzee

      Apparently, they learned exactly ZERO from the so-called “Great Run of Success,” as they forcibly dismantled every aspect of what it took to create it. Also, Mather joined the M’s in July of 1996. Four playoff appearances in the last 20 years, and none since 2001, is not what I would call success. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And no, there should not be cautious optimism. There is no reason for it. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Deal with it.

      • Nathan Hall

        The Mariners were a model franchise from 1995-2003. Their record during that time made them an elite organization, if you can’t understand that, then you understand nothing!!! You are delusional if you think the Mariners situation is hopeless because in this day and age things can turn on a dime. I said that Lincoln should step down and I said that Mather is not a great baseball guy. But you seem to forget that last year the Mariners were one of baseball’s biggest surprises and missed the playoffs by one game. Your negativity has made you blind to logic. The Mariners have been a disaster from 2004 to present, but that doesn’t erase the success they had during their best run and last year. I am critical of the M’s organization and will remain cautiously optimistic until I see reason not to be. Next year everything can and will change and if the Mariners rebound and make the playoffs you will look like a pessimistic fool.

  • Effzee

    Seriously…. I see all this talk of JZ’s legacy, as if its relevant.

    Where’s the SCATHING article on Howard Lincoln’s “legacy?”


  • RadioGuy

    I think we may have to go a little higher up the food chain than Howard Lincoln while also examining cultural differences to understand why the Mariners are the way they are:

    Let’s remember that the M’s are owned primarily by a Japanese corporation run by a family that has never exhibited the slightest interest in baseball. None of the Yamauchis have (to my knowledge) ever even attended an M’s game in Seattle. Across the ocean, all NPB teams are owned by businesses whose names are on the front of the jerseys. Owning a baseball team in Japan more of a PR move for owners, similar to the Pay’n'Pak/Peterbilt Western/Seafirst fastpitch teams in Seattle between the SIxties and Eighties or even the unlimited hydros…it’s as much about getting their name out there as anything. The difference is that managers and players in Japan are under waaaaay more media and public scrutiny than Bill Fenton or Butch Batt ever dealt with in Seattle.

    When Yamauchi-san & Co. bought the Mariners from Jeff Smulyan, that was their perception of how and why baseball teams are operated. As absentee non-fans, they’ve never known otherwise. Japanese businesses, like their American counterparts, are bottom-line oriented and there’s no question the Mariners have been very profitable. Being an ocean away insulates them from the kind of criticism they’d be getting for their lack of on-field success at home, where there’s a sports media unlike anything we have here (imagine a nation with several ESPNs and Baseball Americas) that would crucify them if they owned a team in the Central or Pacific league with similar results. Instead, the Mariners and Nintendo are given a pass because they represent more than wins and losses in Japan…they represent the country’s foothold in the Holy Grail of their national sports passion: Major League Baseball.

    So what we have in Seattle is a baseball franchise with absentee owners totally disinterested in the game they play and insulated from criticism by English-speaking Americans who ARE interested in on-field performance. Those owners have done what’s typical in pretty much any business on either side of the Pacific by hiring people to MAKE THEM MONEY…something the Mariners have been very successful at. The result is that you have a lawyer like Lincoln and a P/L sheet wonk like Mather at the top of the operational pyramid in Seattle because they’re doing exactly what the Yamauchis hired them to do. In their corporate minds, why change? The team is financially in the black year after year while their franchise value grows in leaps and bounds, cool beans for something that was originally bought as a civic goodwill gesture.

    In the end, Nintendo and the Yamauchis aren’t BAD owners the way George Argyros and Ken Behring were (there’s no talk of moving the team and the player payroll is at an all-time high), but they’re totally disconnected from their product on the field and as long as the lawyer and bean-counter are bringing back good financial reports, things are fine with them and nothing will change. A new GM is nothing more than window-dressing to these people.