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      The Seattle Mariners Are Still A Behind-The-Scenes Shitshow
      Edited photo. Original by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
      September 1, 2014

      The Seattle Mariners Are Still A Behind-The-Scenes Shitshow

      Jack Zduriencik's front office couldn't even go a week after his feel-good multi-year extension without someone fucking it up.

      Thursday night, former super-prospect and general disappointment Jesus Montero was coaching first base for the Everett AquaSox, the short-season Class A Seattle Mariners affiliate, as part of his rehab of an oblique strain. As it happened, Mariners' national cross-checker Butch Baccala—in most organizations, the national cross-checker is the scout responsible for reviewing the reports of all other domestic scouts the team employs, and is one of the highest-ranking non-executives in the scouting department—was in the stands to observe the game. That's when this happened, per MiLB.com writer Tyler Maun:

      The ice cream incident—it was later confirmed to be an ice cream sandwich that Baccala ordered for Montero—was reported as a "joke," and as far as that goes, it's accurate: Sending Montero an ice cream sandwich in the dugout was a joke. It was a petty, pathetically mean joke, intended to shame the first baseman about his weight in front of a group of younger players who were supposed to be looking up to him as a mentor during his short time with the AquaSox. And it came directly on the heels of the taunting, Spanish-language equivalent of "move it, fatty," something that would have been in extremely poor taste from an opposing fan, let alone the national cross-checker of the organization that's supposed to be helping Montero develop as a baseball player.

      Montero, of course, flipped out. This is the part where we note that grabbing a bat and going into the stands remains unacceptable for a professional ball-player, no matter how horrid someone acts towards you. It resulted in a time-out for Cubs prospect Jorge Soler last year under similar circumstances (though with far less provocation, as reported), and Soler limited his outburst to other players instead of inadvertently threatening paying customers. While Soler only sat for five games, however, Montero will lose the rest of his season. And Baccala is almost certainly done as a Mariner; he might be finished in baseball and he certainly should be. His behavior was unacceptable from start to finish.

      Baccala has made no public account of his actions so far except to tell Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times that he wasn't "attempting to provoke Montero about his weight," after first denying the reported version of events whole cloth. But of course that's nonsense; this incident involving Montero is shocking only in its degree, not its kind. This isn't even the first time this year that the Mariners have openly tried to "motivate" Montero into better conditioning by humiliating him in public. And the last guy to do it? Jack Zduriencik himself.

      Consider this Seattle Times piece from February 20 of this year, wherein, despite team officials acknowledging that Montero had done everything asked of him since reporting to camp, Zduriencik issued some of the most denigrating on-the-record statements in recent memory by an executive about a player in his own organization: "We are disappointed in how he came in physically … I'm not counting on him, I'm not expecting anything. … He has the ability to get over the hump, and he should. But if he doesn't, then shame on Jesus." Zduriencik's statements are bookended by reportage about how disappointed the organization is, despite Montero's protestations that he shows up to do extra cardio and infield work. "Shame on Jesus" seems to be a running theme here.

      (Jesus Montero has probably been making this face a whole lot lately. Photo via David Richard-USA Today Sports)

      While Zduriencik's statement seems like an understandable, if asshole-ish, thing to feed the team beat-writer, this assumes that the Mariners have done everything in their power to work with Montero and he just hasn't responded. It doesn't excuse using public humiliation as a motivating tool—not in Spring Training and certainly not Thursday night—but one can see why the Mariners would be frustrated if they held up their end of the bargain, providing offseason nutritional and exercise guidelines with clear objectives, and Montero still showed up to camp overweight.

      It's not clear that Seattle did any of that, though. The Mariners declined multiple requests to provide comment for this piece, both about the Montero incident in general and to the specific questions of whether or not the team has an offseason conditioning program for players on its 40-man roster and, if so, whether or not Montero was provided with a copy. Simply meeting with a player at the end of the year, giving him a target weight, and then turning him loose is not the same thing as having a program. Offseason conditioning routines have been a thing in forward-thinking organizations for years; the Houston Astros have a particularly tech-oriented one, for instance, but teams like the New York Yankees have been providing robust conditioning materials for years. And yet, when then Seattle shortstop prospect Nick Franklin decided to put on forty pounds before the 2013 season, he didn't do it through the team—he just grabbed his personal trainer, went out there, and got big. When Michael Pineda and Jose Campos came over to New York from Seattle in the trade that made Montero a Mariner in the first place, the Yankees were shocked by how poorly conditioned both pitchers were.

      Relying on personal trainers and independent motivation to keep players in shape might work sometimes, but in a case where there is an obvious issue, a responsible organization steps in and formulates a plan. Perhaps there was a plan, and perhaps Montero ignored it; the Mariners aren't saying. But the way Seattle has handled conditioning up until now doesn't give them a track record that inspires confidence.

      Beyond that, Montero's conditioning issues are not a new thing; the Mariners should have known what the marks against him were when they traded high-level assets for him. Even when he was a Yankee, New York was less than impressed with Montero's dedication to working out, but his body didn't become a newsworthy issue until he went to Seattle. The Mariners trading for a top-flight prospect with conditioning problems, repeatedly leaving him to his own devices over the offseason, and then acting shocked he showed up over their expected weight would already beggar belief. But the idea that their response to that would be to have the team's top executive humiliate him in the media about his weight defies understanding and creates an atmosphere of permissiveness for that kind of bullying. Baccala's actions last Thursday night were beyond the pale, and ultimately he alone will own them. But when Baccala ordered that ice cream sandwich, he wasn't doing it in a vacuum; he was just stepping over a boundary his bosses had decided they were okay with pushing.


      So Butch Baccala will go away, and Jesus Montero probably will too—the book is likely closed on both men in Seattle now. But Zduriencik and his front office will remain for two or three years to come, at least, and if Thursday night demonstrated anything, it's that regardless of how good Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager or the rest are on the field, the Seattle Mariners remain a behind-the-scenes shitshow.

      Follow Jonathan Bernhardt on Twitter.

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