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Mariners' Zduriencik Blazes Trail For Scouting Directors

PEORIA, Ariz.—Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik often rides a golf cart around the multiple fields at his team's spring training complex.

It's the only way Zduriencik can keep track of all the fruits of various trades that have marked his eventful first 16 months running a Mariners team now back on baseball's radar. Several of those players came to the organization in one megadeal with the Mets and Indians that landed, among others, highlight-generating center fielder Franklin Gutierrez in exchange for a package centered around closer J.J. Putz.

The three-team, 12-player blockbuster cemented Zduriencik's reputation as a shrewd operator and excellent evaluator of talent, often attributed to his years spent in scouting. In fact, many around the game are suggesting that Zduriencik's success may lead to scouting directors becoming tapped more frequently as the next great pool of general manager talent.

But Zduriencik cautions that his executive formation came from more than just scouting alone.

"It helped a lot," Zduriencik said of his time as scouting director with the Brewers. "But I was also a farm director and that helped a lot. I was also in international operations and that helped a lot. I was also a special assistant, sitting close to the general manager. So, everything I did contributed to different aspects of my job right now. Certainly, a scouting background is great because of the fact that I know so many players. And that's what I did, I evaluated talent for years.

"But again, when you're a minor league director, there are issues there that helped as well. The process of putting things together. The process of making trades between one minor league club and another minor league club. Moving players up and down and those types of things. Building relationships with staff members. It's all part of what a person becomes."

Zduriencik worked for four organizations before joining the Mariners. He started his career as an area scout with the Mets in 1983, and he eventually worked (in two stints with the organization) as a crosschecker, farm director, advance scout and special assistant to the GM. He worked as a scouting director for the Pirates from 1991-93, and was international scouting director for the Dodgers in 1999. From there he became the Brewers' scouting director and built his reputation as a standout talent evaluator, and he helped rebuild that organization through the draft. He was Baseball America's Major League Executive of the Year in 2007, the only non-GM to ever win the award.

With the increased emphasis being placed on young prospects as the big currency in baseball, knowing whose talent will translate to a big league field has become an even more coveted part of any GM's skill set.

Zduriencik can drive his golf cart to a minor league bullpen session and watch Class A righthander Maikel Cleto, one of his Putz trade pickups, hurl 98 mph fastballs. A two-minute cart ride later, he can spot Double-A outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, another Putz trade acquisition, scoring the decisive run of a big league intrasquad game.

Only afterward will Zduriencik drive over to the clubhouse, where he can check on Gutierrez, who has a bit of a sore shoulder early this spring. He can also say hello to first baseman Mike Carp, or pitchers Jason Vargas and Garrett Olson, more fruits of the Putz trade tree who have already spent time in the majors.

When it came to picking his own scouting director, Zduriencik went with old friend Tom McNamara from his Milwaukee days. McNamara has 16 years of scouting experience, but is running his own department for the first time.

"Tommy's a terrific evaluator," Zduriencik said. "He works his tail off. You look at just last year's draft alone, you've got (Dustin) Ackley, (Nick) Franklin and the young catcher (Steven Baron). Even if you go to the fourth round, look at the (James) Jones kid. There are some really good pieces here and there and I think that as he gets experience, he'll do really well. And as he puts his team together, that's a big part of it. You come in the first year as a scouting director and you don't know anyone on your staff.

"As the philosophy becomes more ingrained and he gets more comfortable with the people around him, he should do very well."

And, if McNamara plays his cards right under Zduriencik's tutelage, it might not be long before he gets to pick his own scouting director.

Geoff Baker cover the Mariners for the Seattle Times