With three games to go in the 2013 season — the final year of Eric Wedge’s contract – and no rumors of an extension circulating, it was only a matter of time before the Seattle Mariners’ manager was asked about his future.
The question came before Wednesday’s game against Kansas City. And Wedge was ready for it like a hitter with the green light on a 3-0 count.
“Well, it’s tough,” he said. “I feel like I’m hanging out there, that’s the reality of it. But I’m coming here and doing my job. You know how passionate I am about this team, and these players in particular, and this organization. The unfortunate part about how it’s being handled is the effect it has on the players. That’s why we’re all here, is for the players.”
Wedge said he has yet to discuss the situation
with general manager Jack Zduriencik.
“It will be sometime between now and the end of the season or right after the season ends,” Wedge said. “So we’ll have to sit down and talk.
On Tuesday, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong confirmed that Zduriencik would be back for the 2014 season, which he received a contract extension for last offseason.
Wedge has received no such assurances. The decision is up to Zduriencik, who has said he will wait until the season is over before addressing it. It’s readily apparent the situation frustrates Wedge.
“Yeah, we shouldn’t be in this situation,” Wedge said. “But you man up. You handle it. It’s what you do. When you are leading men, the men like to know who and what they are being led by and if they are going to be around tomorrow. So it does change the dynamic. But I knew that for a long time. This hasn’t just started. It’s been that way for quite a while. It gets to be in the way.”
The Mariners are approaching 90 losses this season. It will be the third straight losing season under Wedge.
“Here’s the thing, the big league club was in bad shape when I got here,” he said. “And that was told to me directly. We righted the ship. We won six more games the first year. We shored up our system and won eight more games last year. We came in here this year and felt like we’re going to do better. But things changed in a hurry.”
Those “things” were injuries to Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Michael Morse and Stephen Pryor, and the poor play of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Tom Wilhelmsen. It forced the Mariners bring up rookies such as Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino far sooner than anticipated.
“So you bring young kids up, so you take a step back to move two steps forward, that’s what we did,” he said. “ It’s just the way it’s worked out.”
It’s the third straight year the Mariners have been forced to play younger players for much of the season. In Wedge’s three-year tenure, 31 players have made their major league debut for him. He knew this would be part of the rebuilding plan, but having such a young team in his third year wasn’t anticipated.
“But you’re going to be better suited for the future,” he said. “It has to be a long-term plan. I didn’t get here 12 years ago, I didn’t get here six years ago. I got here less than three years ago. So this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re committed to. You have to have strength. You’ve got to have conviction with what you do. But if somebody else is sitting in this seat tomorrow, they’re going to be in a decent situation moving forward, really.”
Wedge suffered a minor stroke before a game on July 22 and missed a month of the season, while bench coach Robby Thompson took over. Wedge thinks it was a factor in the team’s struggles.
“I still felt like, before I got sick, that we were ramping up,” Wedge said. “If you look at what we were starting to do and some of the series we (played) and some of the wins we were having, it was all coming together nicely and then I got sick and I’m gone for a month. It’s not like I left marching orders. Robby and everybody did a great job, but the program was disrupted. It’s been unfortunate. And it’s been tough ever since.”
Wedge hopes the Mariners don’t use his health as a reason to not bring him back.
“Well, that would be unfair,” he said. “It’s been very clear to me from all the doctors I’m going to be 100 percent (healthy). I’m going to have to get into the offseason and then I’ll be fine. They said three to six months.”
He even joked about his diagnosis of sleep apnea being something that will help him be a better manager.
“Hell, I’m going to be better than I ever have been because evidently my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen each and every night and I was working all day to catch up from it,” he said. “I’m looking to be fueled and fired the rest of the way. I feel great. I feel like I’m 33 years old again.”
And he feels like he should be managing the team in the future.
“I’m a strong man, and I’m going to be fine either way,” he said. “But I’d like to see this thing through. We’ve done a lot of developing with a lot of young players over three years. I’d like to be here to lead them and turn the corner.”
Still, in the tone of his voice Wednesday and in the things he has been saying recently, he sounds like a man who seems resolved to the fact that he won’t be coming back.
“Hey, I’ve done this before,” he said. “I know how to do it. The worst thing they could do is blow it up and start over. You got to stick with something at some point in time.”
The Mariners haven’t been great at that. Wedge was their eighth manager since Lou Piniella left in 2002.
“My best managing days are ahead of me whether it’s here or somewhere else,” he said. “I want to be here. I moved my family out here. I’m committed to the community. I’m all in.
“I haven’t done anything wrong except come out here and coach up these kids and teach them how to play at the big league level. That’s what I do. I don’t bitch about anything. I’m here to help these kids become good solid big league players and hopefully solid citizens in Seattle. So if that is not enough for them, then so be it.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners