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Mariners Series Preview: Q & A with Jon Shields of Lookout Landing

Instead of just saying "these guys again?!?!", AN and LL did a question-and-answer exchange with each other. Myself and Jon Shields answered some of the burning questions the respective fanbases may have about one of their most frequent opponents. Here is what he had to say about the questions I asked.

Does he count as a former A?
Does he count as a former A?

Q: With the combination of fences being moved in, and the acquisition of some power in Morse, Ibanez, Bay, and Morales, do you see this as a long-term strategy for the M's? Or was it simply what was available now vs. the alternatives?

Q: Relatedly, are Jack Z's days in Seattle numbered?

You'd think so. How many years can a GM lose before he is on the hot seat, regardless of the circumstances?

Zduriencik made a tremendous first impression by getting a 100 loss club above .500 his first season, 2009. He patched up a squad crippled by albatross contracts by playing his own brand of Moneyball, targeting cheap, elite fielders (Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Jack Wilson) and trusting flawed-but-capable players who were under-appreciated by other clubs (Russell Branyan, David Aardsma). Zduriencik employed a number of notable sabermetrically-inclined minds in his front office and it showed in his moves.

Unfortunately, Zduriencik and the Mariners ran into some bad luck the following year. New co-ace Cliff Lee started the season injured and key players Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and Jose Lopez, among others, simultaneously drove their careers into the ground on the way to another 100 losses.

As things have continued to go wrong over the past couple years we've begun seeing a shift in philosophy, or at very least some inconsistencies in his vision. Many of the "new school" members of the front office have been dismissed and Zduriencik has begun making more and more "old school" or otherwise puzzling moves.

Michael Morse (instead of John Jaso) and Jason Bay (instead of Casper Wells) seem to be products of this shift, though the Raul Ibanez move in isolation doesn't stand out from moves he's made in the past and the Kendrys Morales pickup was just a solid move.

One theory with the fences coming in and the Mariners getting free agents-to-be Morse and Morales is that Zduriencik is trying to prove to other free agents that the new Safeco is much more hospitable.

Q: In 2011 both Jemile Weeks and Dustin Ackley seemed like part of a duo of good young 2B in the AL West. In 2012, both had severe sophomore slumps, with Weeks being demoted. Weeks seemed to constantly want to pull the ball, and in general, going away from the approach that made him so successful in 2011 (along with some bad luck). What has Ackley done differently since 2011 that has led to such poor results?

Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero represent part of Zduriencik's continued bad luck. What were the odds that all three blue chippers would fall so short of expectations?

For Ackley, the power went away, his strikeouts went up, and his walks went down.

Part of the problem was that his swing fell apart. He began bailing out on pitches, leaving him no way to defend the outside corner causing him to weakly pull everything to the right side of the infield. He became a groundout-to-second machine, unable to beat the shifts opposing teams began employing.

He has also struggled with his approach. He has what appears to be a fantastic batting eye to the point that he shows the same visible distain for balls just outside the strikezone that Mariner fans saw in Edgar Martinez, but he is often too passive, constantly working from behind in the count after letting strikes and borderline pitches sail past.

After a brutal start to the 2013 season possibly caused by a new batting setup, Ackley scrapped the changes and began hitting the ball with a little more authority, resulting in a .338 batting average over his past 70 plate appearances. Unfortunately, the power and walks are still MIA.

Q: How long will the Mariners stick with Justin Smoak? Does he make it through the year? From everyone else's perspective, that ship sailed long ago.

Justin Smoak seems to have a knack for getting hot right when pulling the plug seems like an inevitability. While he saves his best performances for September and Spring Training, he's currently doing his best to rally together the few optimists left in his camp with a .928 OPS over his past 12 games.

But while he may still have the ability to trick some into thinking he could become a serviceable player one day, no reasonable person could expect him to become the impact player he was once projected to be. The Mariners should have moved on long ago, but for now they'll stick with him a little longer simply due to the fact that they have no young players ready to take his place.

Perhaps when prospect Stefen Romero is deemed ready for big league action they'll accomodate him by bumping Morales to first and Morse to DH.

First pitch tonight is at 7:05 PM. Perhaps some Pacific Time will quicken the A's bats? They'll have a tough customer in Hishashi Iwakuma to deal with.

(Also, if you like this, please let me know if series previews/blog rumbles with other SBN sites should be a regular AN feature)