Zduriencik had hand in Brewers' success; are M's on same path?
The Milwaukee Brewers are covered with the fingerprints of Jack Zduriencik, who preceded his current gig as Mariners general manager by serving as Milwaukee's scouting director.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The Milwaukee Brewers, in the midst of a magical season and perhaps headed for their first World Series appearance since 1982, are foremost the handiwork of underrated general manager Doug Melvin.
But they're also covered with the fingerprints of Jack Zduriencik, who preceded his current gig as Mariners general manager by serving as Milwaukee's scouting director from Oct. 25, 1999, until his hiring by Seattle in October 2008.
It was under Zduriencik's watch the Brewers acquired the core of the team that won the NL Central title with a 96-66 record. Milwaukee then ousted Arizona in the division series, and now is locked in a tight battle with St. Louis for the NL pennant.
"I'm pulling for them, no doubt," Zduriencik said. "I keep in touch with the guys back there, guys like Doug, (assistant GM) Gord Ash, (director of baseball operations) Tom Flanagan. It's good to see. I'm really proud for the city. They've got it going right now with the Packers, Badgers (the No. 4-ranked Wisconsin football team) and Brewers. It's a good time to live in Milwaukee."
Zduriencik said he keeps tabs on all the former players he has been associated with, including ex-Mariners (of which 16 were on postseason rosters in the first round). But considering he was on the ground floor of building these Brewers, there's a certain proprietary link to their success.
"Having sat down in their living room, negotiated contracts with their parents and agents, there's a closer bond there," he said. "I've known them so long, since they were kids. I'm proud of them."
While Zduriencik was scouting director, the Brewers drafted seven players who are on the NLCS roster: first baseman Prince Fielder (first round, No. 7 overall, 2002), outfielder Ryan Braun (first round, No. 5 overall, 2005), second baseman Rickie Weeks (first round, No. 2 overall, 2003), pitcher Yovani Gallardo (second round, 2004), outfielder Corey Hart (11th round, 2000), catcher Jonathan Lucroy (third round, 2007) and infielder Taylor Green (25th round, 2005).
They also signed two free-agent pitchers in Chris Narveson and John Axford, who had drifted unsuccessfully through other organizations. Zduriencik is particularly proud of the signing of Axford, who has developed into a standout closer but was out of baseball, working as a waiter/bartender in Dundas, Ontario, when the Brewers brought him in for a tryout in 2008 on the recommendation of scout Joe Lapp.
"I remember the phone call: 'There's this guy with a good arm; we have to sign this guy,' " Zduriencik said. "We signed him out of the tryout camp we had every year in Arizona."
Zduriencik also had an indirect role in the Brewers' two key acquisitions this winter — pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, who combined to go 29-13.
Rather than trade Fielder, who will be a free agent after this season, the Brewers elected to keep him and go for broke, and the strategy worked wonderfully. Fielder had an MVP-caliber season (as did, to an even greater extent, Braun), and the Brewers beat out the Cardinals by six games for just the third division title in franchise history, and the first since 1982.
Greinke was acquired from Kansas City for four young players, including three of Zduriencik's draft choices — Jeremy Jeffress (first round, 2006), Jake Odirizzi (first round, 2008) and Lorenzo Cain (17th round, 2004). Starting shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (who entered the weekend hitting .353 in nine postseason games) also came in that trade.
To get Marcum from Toronto, the Brewers sent infielder Brett Lawrie — Zduriencik's final first-round selection for the Brewers in 2008.
Outfielder Carlos Gomez was acquired from Minnesota the previous season for J.J. Hardy, a second-round choice in 2001.
Another Zduriencik first-rounder — first baseman Matt LaPorta (No. 7 overall, 2007) — was used as the centerpiece of the midseason 2008 trade that landed pitcher CC Sabathia from Cleveland. Sabathia went 11-2 in 17 starts to spark the Brewers' run to the NL wild card, their first playoff appearance in 26 years.
Zduriencik, of course, hopes the Mariners, coming off seasons of 101 and 95 defeats, are on the verge of a similar renaissance, fueled by homegrown talent. Since he has been GM, the Mariners have had three drafts under scouting director Tom McNamara (whom Zduriencik brought with him from Milwaukee, along with special assistant Tony Blengino).
They have twice had the No. 2 overall choice in that span, taking second baseman Dustin Ackley and left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen (sandwiched around their 2010 supplemental first-rounder, fast-rising pitcher Taijuan Walker, who was No. 43 overall).
"I know we're headed in the right direction," Zduriencik said. "The difference is here, when you look at what we have, the strength is pitching, on the big-league and minor-league clubs, with all these young arms coming. There, it was more bats."
It didn't happen instantly in Milwaukee. In Zduriencik's first five seasons with the club, they lost 89, 94, 106, 94 and 94 games, and even last year, the Brewers went 77-85 after going 80-82 in 2009 with Sabathia moving on to the Yankees.
Zduriencik points out there is usually a five- to seven-year lag time from a player being drafted to making his mark in the majors (a timetable that's often accelerated, of course, with the highest draft choices). Hart, for instance, was drafted in 2000, hit the majors in 2004, became a regular in 2007, and an All-Star in 2008.
"It just doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It's important fans understand that. It's starting to form and come together. We have to be patient and ride this thing out. I like where we're at, but we're not where we're going to be."
What fans are waiting to see right now is whether the Mariners will make moves this winter to hasten the process of a Brewers-like breakthrough.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.