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02/08/10 4:39 PM EST

Bodley: Zduriencik builds winner in Seattle

Mariners general manager credited for turning around club

Jack Zduriencik reminds me of a movie star discovered in a Hollywood drug store who goes on to win an Academy Award.

Those who celebrate these kinds of successes are unaware of all the years of hard work, waiting on tables, daily struggles, toiling in the Minor Leagues, etc., for that defining moment at the drug store.

Baseball people are gawking at Zduriencik's success since becoming Seattle's general manager and even calling him an overnight success.

Don't mention that to the 59-year-old Zduriencik (zur-EN-sik). The Z-man, as he's called in Seattle, has more than paid his dues. For years he's been anything but baseball's best-kept secret.

"I got my chance, but I'm not doing anything differently than I've ever done," he says. "I just try to be who I am. I want to be good; there are 30 clubs out there who want to be good."

When he was with the Mets in the 1980s and later in the '90s, I always thought Jack Zduriencik was a GM-in-waiting. All he needed was a chance; there was no doubting his ability, especially in judging talent.

He's an astute baseball lifer who's climbed the ladder, building a solid resume in each of his stops along the way.

"I've been fortunate, but the one thing that has really aided me in this transition is I was a scouting director for years, I was a farm director, director of international operations, special assistant and sat right next to the GMs I worked for on so many different decisions and learned from all of them," he says. "And I worked with guys who went on to become GMs."

What he's done with the Mariners since leaving the Milwaukee Brewers executive suite after nine years and becoming Seattle GM on Oct. 22, 2008, is remarkable.

On second thought, when I consider Jack's vast baseball acumen maybe it isn't so remarkable. It was expected.

The Mariners were mired in the murky depths of 101 losses in 2008. Never one afraid to take a chance, the Z-man began re-tooling the team and when the dust settled after 2009, the Mariners had won 85 games, a 24-game swing.

That was only the beginning.

Now with Spring Training 2010 only a few days away he's improved the team so much with bold, sound moves, that Seattle should be the favorite to unseat the Angels in American League West. Zduriencik and the Mariners are big winners this offseason.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Zduriencik says, shrugging off what he considers premature accolades. "We're still the third-best team in our division. Everybody else has made moves too, but we've done what we could do and we'll see where it goes."

Zduriencik has made a long list of player moves since the 2009 season ended, but the most prominent are the signing of free-agent All-Star third baseman Chone Figgins to a four-year, $36 million contract and obtaining former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from Philadelphia for three Minor League prospects. Getting Lee to team with Felix Hernandez (19-5, 2.49 ERA) for such a small price is something that makes Mariners fans giddy, but a move that may haunt Phillies fans for years to come.

Hernandez, who signed a five-year, $78 million contract, and Lee give the Mariners one of the best 1-2, righty-lefty starting combinations in the Major Leagues.

By signing speedster Figgins, the Mariners not only added the only player who stole 30 or more bases each of the past six seasons, but they subtracted his talent from the defending West champion Angels.

Zduriencik traded with the Cubs in December for bad boy Milton Bradley, and last week re-signed injury-plagued left-hander Erik Bedard, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in August.

After locking up Hernandez, it's a long shot for Lee to remain with the Mariners if, as expected, he becomes a free agent after the season. They may not be able to afford his price, one of the reasons the Phillies used for letting him go.

Unlike the Phillies, who obtained Roy Halladay before shipping Lee, the Mariners are happy to have Lee, who underwent foot surgery last week, if only for one season.

"I tried to trade for Cliff Lee at the deadline last July, but he ended up going to Philadelphia," says Jack. "Obviously, even though it's just a one-year thing at least we're happy with it. Common sense tells you if you can run two guys out there like that, and if Bedard can bounce back, we have a pretty formidable rotation.

"When you break down Erik's numbers through the course of his last several years they are impressive. There have been spurts where this guy has really been good. We don't know when he'll be back -- May 1st or later -- we have a guy at best will be our third starter. That's a pretty good arm to have in your rotation at some point in time."

Zduriencik says Lee had surgery in Little Rock, Ark., to remove a bone spur from his foot between his ankle and arch.

"Recovering will be about three weeks," says Zduriencik. "We decided to have him have the surgery rather than let him try and pitch through it during the year. To get it out of the way and have it behind us is important."

Bradley, an oft-suspended outfielder, could be a plus for the Mariners if he can turn the page on his controversial, tumultuous past.

"We were sitting here in the winter time trying to figure out how we're going to sign somebody to bat in the middle of the lineup," Zduriencik says. "The options are to pay a ton of money or to gamble. I've had conversations with Milton. We need him to be the Milton Bradley he can be for this club to be really good. He says he's excited about the opportunity. All we want him to be is part of the ballclub and let the pieces fall where they may."

So, Zduriencik has settled well into this job, but even though he's now running the show, it's really business as usual for the son of a steel worker from Pennsylvania.

"It's interesting," he says. "I get asked what overwhelms me about the job. I never felt that way. I've been comfortable from Day 1."

He adds that Howard Lincoln, the CEO, and Chuck Armstrong, president, "have allowed me to do a lot of things the way I want to."

Like building a winner.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.