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Originally published March 31, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified March 31, 2012 at 8:56 PM

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Mariners selling their rebuilding plan but fans waiting before buying in

For the Mariners, everything is riding on The Plan. Jack Zduriencik's viability as the architect. Eric Wedge's credibility as the advocate. And if they fail, an even harsher spotlight will be trained on the higher ups, team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Grading Jack Z

A look at the key moves made by Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik:

Best moves

Drafted Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nick Franklin and Vinnie Catricala.

4 stars Three-way trade with Mets and Indians that brought Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Carp, among others.

4 stars Re-signed Felix Hernandez to five-year, $78 million contract extension in January 2010.

Worst moves

1 stars Signed Chone Figgins to four-year, $36 million contract.

1 stars Traded outfielder Mike Morse to Washington Nationals for OF Ryan Langerhans.

1 stars Signed Jack Wilson to a two-year, $10-million extension in November 2009.

Jury's still out

× The Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade.

× The two Cliff Lee trades.

× Brandon Morrow for Brandon League trade.

Larry Stone

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Jack Zduriencik lives it. Eric Wedge preaches it. Mariners fans pray that it works — and wait impatiently for the proof.

The Mariners, as an organization, are all-in on The Plan — Zduriencik's blueprint for rebuilding a waning franchise. It's predicated on scouting, player development and slow but steady growth toward the Holy Grail: contention, which (theoretically) begets postseason play, which (optimally) begets the Mariners' long-elusive berth in the — cue the orchestral music — World Series.

I could have referenced a World Series championship, but let's not get too giddy here.

The problem with plans, especially those that are capitalized, is that the payoff always is designed to come at some vague, undefined point in the future. Until then, it's all about faith, and Mariners fans have had theirs severely damaged over all these bleak seasons. They're no longer inclined to believe big. Skepticism and cynicism rule the day.

So here's the bottom line: This has got to work. For the Mariners' decision makers, everything is riding on it. Zduriencik's viability as the architect. Wedge's credibility as the advocate. And if they fail, an even harsher spotlight will be trained on the higher-ups, team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln.

Building through the player-development route is a tried and true method of producing, and sustaining, winning ballclubs, when executed correctly. But it's also fraught with danger. Touted players, ones upon whom you stake everything, can get hurt, or go bust. Scouting is an inexact science, and even the most talented prospect can get off track. Blind faith is not always rewarded, as any Pirates (or Orioles, or Royals, or recent Mariners) follower can tell you.

But the Mariners have no one to blame but themselves for the fragile position they find themselves in. Through 10 years without a postseason appearance, through five out of the past eight seasons of 90 or more losses, they've been plagued by bad drafts, ill-advised signings and ill-fated trades.

Now they face the delicate question of when to detour from the build-from-within bandwagon and open the checkbook. You can't buy your way out of last place, as innumerable teams have proved. But you can certainly accelerate your path to contention with some well-timed, well-chosen free agents — a situation the Mariners certainly hope they face in the near future.

For now, the Mariners feel they're on the verge of a breakout, and they might be. They'd better be. Wedge certainly is bullish on this year's team, and adamant that they are heading down a championship path. His steadfast fidelity to the rebuilding program can't help but insinuate itself into the hearts and minds of his team, which might be half the battle. They have to believe before anyone else does, right?

"I believed in it in Cleveland before we had ever done it before. And we did it," Wedge said. "Now I've got the experience of doing it, and have a better idea of what to look for, the whys and wherefores, on top of that.

"The belief has to come in understanding and trusting what you know, and what you see as a baseball guy, and as a leader. And then knowing and trusting your players. I need them to believe, and have as much confidence in themselves as I do in them. They should have enough confidence in me as a leader and baseball guy to say, 'Hey, if this guy believes I can do it, then I damn sure should believe.' I think most of them do, and I think the rest should get there."

It's a compelling narrative, and it's hard not to fall in line after listening to Wedge's heartfelt assurance of a functional offense in 2012. It's hard not to look at the Mariners' growing list of prospects, at budding potential aces like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, and believe better times are indeed ahead.

Except for the fact that this team lost 95 games last year, and 101 the year before that, and 101 two years before that. It's an equaling compelling counterpoint.

Zduriencik has sold Wedge on The Plan, and Wedge is selling that message to his team. Now many fans are waiting to see the tangible evidence before buying in.

Play ball.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry

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