Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage … The Amazing Jack Z!

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I’m now fairly convinced that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is some sort of magician.
In his first year on the job he overhauled Seattle’s defense, cut dead weight from the previous regime, brought in nice low-cost pickups, and watched the team go from 61-101 to 85-77.
Not satisfied with that 24-game improvement Zduriencik began his second offseason in Seattle by swinging a blockbuster for Cliff Lee, adding one of the elite pitchers in baseball to a rotation that was already headed by Felix Hernandez.
And now he’s somehow talked the Cubs into taking Carlos Silva in exchange for Milton Bradley.
To be clear, at this point Bradley ranks somewhere between “massive headache” and “team-wrecking insanity.” That and the $21 million he’s owed over the next two seasons obviously gave him negative trade value. In order to get rid of him the Cubs had to not only accept zero value in return for Bradley, but absorb a similarly horrible contract. And boy did they! Silva is owed $25 million over the next two seasons, of which the Mariners will reportedly cover only $9 million, and unlike Bradley he has close to zero on-field value.
Whatever you think about Bradley as a person and teammate he remains a talented player, and even in a career-worst mess of a season hit .257/.378/.397. The year prior he hit .321/.436/.563 to lead the AL in on-base percentage and OPS. Silva, on the other hand, logged a grand total of 30 innings (with a nifty 8.60 ERA) in 2009 after going 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008. At best Silva is a fifth starter and at worst he should be at Triple-A. At best Bradley is among MLB’s better hitters and at worst he’s still a switch-hitting OBP threat.
Assuming that Bradley’s mere presence in Seattle won’t ruin everything that Zduriencik has accomplished in his first year-plus on the job the Mariners’ boss has just pulled off another brilliant move. Zduriencik ditched a nearly useless player owed $25 million for a perfectly useful player owed $22 million. And if Bradley proves too much of a hassle, the Mariners can always simply release him and get zero value for the money, which is exactly where they would’ve been with Silva anyway.
What will The Amazing Jack Z do for his next trick? It sounds like he’ll sign Franklin Gutierrez to a multi-year contract, keeping one of his finest pickups and one of MLB’s most underrated players in Seattle long term. And after that perhaps he’ll swap Brandon Morrow for another hitter, further boosting a lineup that ranked dead last in scoring despite the team’s overall success. At this point every fan should hope their favorite team isn’t on the other end of the phone calls shopping Morrow. Jack Z is pulling bunnies out of hats like crazy.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.