Updated Apr 4, 2011 - 7:52 pm
Unhappy Zduriencik sent message to young players about effort
By Mike Salk
Jack Zduriencik hasn't said much since the failed 2010 season came to a merciful end. He met with reporters after he hired Eric Wedge and did one day of media interviews at the close of the season, but he has largely been out of the public eye.
That changed on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.
In a long interview on Brock and Salk, Jack told us that he was “embarrassed.” He actually used that word to describe the season that began with such promise but ended so quickly. It's a fair word and one that accurately describes how fans felt as well. But it also showed how seriously he takes it and how clearly he understands the depth of his team's failure.
“I was so disappointed on so many fronts (about) what happened,” he continued. “And we’re trying to fix that. We’re on the road to doing that and I think Eric is getting this loud and clear - his coaching staff I think is getting it loud and clear. If there is any young player or any player that thinks they’re going to roll in here and have easy street, they’re badly mistaken, because they’ll start the year in Triple-A if they’re not prepared to play up here in the big leagues.”
Wow. Strong words.
Sitting across from him, I felt a different vibe. In the past, he's been the affable professor – happy to laugh and equally willing to explain what his team was doing. On Wednesday, he was almost fired up. It was as if he had listened to one of Eric Wedge's speeches and was ready to run through a wall. He was, in my view, frustrated that his team is forced to be patient this year and that he is left out of the excitement of hunting the big lions of the baseball safari.
Speaking to the small group of writers and radio-folk that made the trip to Orlando, Jack explained that he began the process of sending his message at the end of last season.
He had a conversation, Jack explained, with a young player at the end of last year. In it he told him, "you need to realize how important what you're doing is to your life and your career. You're in the big leagues but do you realize how important this is for you to be successful?
"My point is this," he continued. "If you aren't preparing yourself and you're not realizing that this about a whole lot more than just living the major league life, then you're missing the message. And you're not promised anything."
I asked if this was because players were not preparing hard enough.
"I think it's a reality check," he answered. Though he never said the word, that sounded like a 'yes' to me.
Now we know how upset Zduriencik really was. We know how hard he took the losing season. And we also know that he made every attempt to act.
Clearly, he believed some of these issues should have been addressed by the manager. In response, he replaced Don Wakamatsu. But that didn't fix the problem.
We all knew that Wakamatsu was not the sole issue. Some of he problems had to trace back to the players. Yes, the team had some construction flaws, which Zduriencik acknowledged were his fault. But players also underachieved and most failed to even approach their career averages.
"There were a lot of things that went wrong last year," according to the GM.
"And there were a lot of things that players should have learned either from their own experiences, or their eyesight, or their teammates," he said.
Essentially, he is saying that the manager was more of a problem than a solution, but the players didn't exactly help him out but ratcheting up their own effort.
"I met with them to grab talented players and get their attention," he said. "It was done in a heartfelt way and with care."
That makes sense. To be around Zduriencik and to speak with those that know him well is to understand that he has very high expectations of the people who work for him. That extends to his scouts, assistants, coaches and coordinators.
It apparently applies to his players as well.
From what I have heard, it is tough to outwork Jack. He is often the first to arrive and the last to leave and he expects his people to be ready to work whenever he is ready, which is almost all the time. Many of his most loyal lieutenants like and respect him for that exact reason.
But now it appears he is asking his players to share his work effort. And he is letting them know in a variety of ways. He fired their manager. He brought in the hard-edged Wedge with a mantra of accountability. He met with individual players. And now he is sending a public message through the media.
"If you are not preparing like you are a major leaguer then you are missing the point," he said.
If players still don't get the message, the last step is to punish them, either with a 25.6 mile trip to Tacoma or a one-way ticket out of town. And he has stated a few times now that he is willing to do that to some of his young players.
“They are not on scholarship,” he told us. They don't get to stay and play no matter what.
We don't need to single out any one player but Adam Moore makes a nice example only because I asked about his future during the radio interview on Wednesday.
"If I’m Adam Moore," offered Zduriencik after a long pause, "I've got to look at myself and I've got to ask myself this question: 'how good do I really want to be?' He has physical tools, he has good skills. He should be a good major league player. Again, it gets back to how good does Adam want to be. That's up to Adam."
He made similar comments about Michael Saunders and Mauricio Robles – essentially saying that his young players have to show they belong and they have to do it by working hard, preparing the right way, and being accountable to themselves and their teammates. That was the purpose of his meetings with individuals last year.
Did they get the message?
"We'll find out," Jack said. "That remains to be seen."
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