A cool breeze sweeps through Safeco Field. It’s early April, the first home game of the year. Felix Hernandez takes the mound heading up a rotation that will soon be the best in baseball. He picks up the ball and vigorously rubs it, anxious to begin a promising new season.
He looks around, scanning the seats filled with fans and hope. Then, he turns to the team standing behind him, closely analyzing a new regime sure to produce more runs and more wins than the last couple seasons of treachery. What does he see?
That question will be answered in the coming months as a new offseason lies ahead. Many positions will need to be filled and many questions will need to be answered in the most critical winter of general manager Jack Zduriencik’s career.
After years of finishing in the black, will ownership finally open up its pocket books and go after the impact bat this team desperately needs? Will the team stay committed to its plethora of youth or will it seek a trade for veteran talent? Will they seek out a proven hitter to fill the black hole that has been left field, or will they choose one of the four players actively fighting for the position? How will the team fill out a rotation in the short term while they wait for the young arms of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Mauricio Robles to develop?
For years, Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners ownership have force-fed Seattle fans on the future of the franchise. They tell us year after year to patiently wait for the young prospects to develop. That, in time, great things will come. We’re done believing big, we’re done waiting, now is the time to start expecting. The future is now.
This team does not have the luxury of waiting; there approach must be proactive. The window of opportunity is closing. With three years left on Felix Hernandez’s contract, the Mariners must prove they can contend now or he will leave for greener pastures. If they fail to win with Felix, the perpetual rebuilding process will have to start over once again.
The Mariners must show exponential improvement as early as next year, and must be a legitimate playoff contender by 2013 or else Jack Zduriencik and company will be packing there bags and a new general manager will come in with yet another “rebuilding plan.”
Many Seattle fans will surely proceed with pessimism, and rightly so. Why should they expect anything more than failure from this team? It’s what they’ve witnessed for a decade.
Though I try not to get sucked into the hype that management feeds fans, I do believe the Mariners have enough of a talent base to show exponential growth over the next couple seasons.
Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi and Danny Hultzen are just a few of the young talented prospects Zduriencik has accrued through trades and draft picks in his time as general manager. Some of these players will not pan out, but some will.
Zduriencik now must decide how to build around these players instead of relying solely on the young guys to get it done. Sprinkle in an impact player like Prince Fielder, David Ortiz or maybe Jose Reyes, and you can start talking playoffs. Until then, Seattle fans are right to remain pessimistic.
The foundation has been laid, now it’s time to build a contender. The window of opportunity is as open as it will ever be. Enough rebuilding, enough hoping; now is the time for winning. This winter will show whether Jack Zduriencik and ownership are truly committed to winning or if their rebuilding plan was just a ploy to make money.