It's a variety of things, which isn't surprising, because I imagine that if the issue were singular it would have much more easily been addressed by now. Ownership is very uninvolved in the team, which in and of itself doesn't have to be a problem, but when an organization isn't working well, having absent ownership can be a problem. That said, having OVERinvolved ownership, particularly when the owner is a buffoon, can also be a problem.
During the Bavasi years, the Mariners were devastated by a series of catastrophically stupid baseball moves. The talent that the Mariners shipped away during the Bavasi years for no returns is staggering, and is enough to make you want to vomit. This is all pretty well-documented and is the absolute foundation of the team's struggles. That Lincoln/Armstrong let Bavasi stick around long enough to devastate the team in this manner is inexcusable.
During the Zduriencik years, the Mariners have made much better baseball decisions (no, not all of them are winners), but have suffered their fair share of awful luck. Everyone thought Smoak, Montero, and Ackley would hit (and maybe Montero and Ackley still will), and if those three players were hitting to their potential right now, the Mariners look like a completely different team. Getting Guti (et al) for Putz was a stroke of brilliance, and if not for injury troubles, he'd be a star. A lot of extremely talented young players have completely tanked on the Mariners, and while you could assume that must be an indictment of coaching staff, I think it's more likely beyond the team's control. Prospects are always fluky in this way, and the Mariners have been on the receiving end of more than their share of highly-touted prospects flaming out.
Zduriencik is also hamstrung by a relatively limited budget. It's not true that management is UNWILLING to spend, and they have certainly made their fair share of lucrative offers, but unfortunately, the Mariners' reputation as a club (and the tendency of talented hitters to fade into nothingness in Seattle) makes them a difficult place to sell to free agents. You could argue whether or not buying bats like Fielder and Pujols is a good idea for the team, but I think it's fair to say that IF you had an unlimited budget, it's a fine idea - the Mariners don't, unfortunately.
On top of that, Zduriencik has suddenly decided that adding aging vets on 1-year deals to take up otherwise-useful at-bats from younger players is a fine idea. Jason Bay is one thing, but Raul Ibanez is another entirely. It probably doesn't substantially harm the club, but it certainly doesn't help the club.
I'm sure I could think of others, but the bottom line is - the Mariners are a mess. Their highly-talented farm system/trades produced three top-tier hitting talents that are all tanking. Those three were supposed to be the cornerstone of a new generation of Mariners that would carry the team back to relevance. That it hasn't happened is pretty devastating to the franchise. Seager seems good. Maybe Saunders and Zunino will be good. Maybe Ackley and Montero will turn it around, and Smoak will be the only loss of the three. Here's hoping.
Pretty well said... alot of faith put into younger players after the debacle that Bavasi caused, and those younger players arent working out. Thankfully (atleast on the very front end) Hamilton turned us down or we'd have another 25 million a year invested in a player who isnt hitting.
Baseballs a funny sport, and to put together a successful team you either need to spend 100s of millions or get lucky with young players. Weve tried the younger player approach and while each of Smoak, Ackely and Montero all looked the part in their projections, they just havent hit.
We still have a strong farm system with young talent. if the younger guys can show promise and start to become atleast average MLB level players we may rebound for 2014 with a new crop of free agent possibilities and the likes of Walker, Hultzen, Franklin and Zunino joining