The plans didn’t include a managerial change.
It was clear in mid-July that the Seattle Mariners weren’t going to make the postseason. It was obvious in late August they weren’t going to have a winning season.
By September, front office thoughts were starting to meander toward the upcoming offseason and getting the team ready for 2014. That’s why James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Abraham Almonte were called up.
But throughout that time, it was expected that Eric Wedge, if healthy, would be the manager next season. Even without having a contract for 2014, the high ranking members of the Mariners’ front office – CEO Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik – all said Wedge was in their plans.
“I was looking forward to having Eric back,” Zduriencik said. “There was never a discussion of not bringing Eric back. All the discussions we had with the front office with Chuck, Howard, myself and the baseball people, we were prepared to bring him back. I think Eric knew I was in his corner and wanted him to come back.”
But Wedge had other ideas.
After demanding a meeting with Zduriencik a day before the final series of the season and discussing the future, Wedge decided he no longer wanted to work in the organization.
“Let me be clear here, the contract was not the reason I’m not coming back here,” Wedge said. “If they offered me a five-year contract, I wouldn’t have come back here. OK. So let’s be clear on that. Where they see the club – they being Howard, Chuck and Jack – and where I see the club and my vision of the future is just different. That’s as plain as I
can make it.”
The team’s front office wasn’t prepared for Wedge’s decision.
“I think disappointment and surprise,” Lincoln said of his feelings. “Surprise because of what Eric told me when we met in my office in September. Disappointing because I fully expected, as did Jack and Chuck, that we would fully be able to resolve these issues and retain Eric going forward. Eric’s moved on to greener pastures and that didn’t have to happen.”
So instead of the Mariners using their energy to improve the big-league roster, they must find a manager first.
At least they are experienced at it. Zduriencik will be hiring a manager for the third time in his five-year tenure, while Lincoln and Armstrong have seen eight people manage their team since 2002.
Zduriencik tried to sound optimistic about the search.
“I think if you look at this organization and where we’re at, and what we’ve done here, it will be a very desirable job for a lot of good candidates,” he said. “I’ve heard this all through the last half of the season from every club we’ve played, the comments from the general managers or the managers, they like what’s going on here.”
But would candidates like working for a general manager whose job security is shaky at best?
With only a one-year extension, Zduriencik seems to be working on a year-by-year basis. The fear is that a manager’s time with the Mariners would be short-lived if Zduriencik were fired and a new general manager would want his own manager.
Zduriencik downplayed it as a factor in causing trepidation for candidates thinking about the job.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a big deal, I really don’t,” Zduriencik said. “I look at it this way – I’m here doing my job and I’m going to do my job until I’m told, ‘Jack, it’s the end.’ So whether I’m on a one-year or two-year or three-year deal or whatever the case is, it doesn’t change what I’m doing.”
Zduriencik said the new manager won’t necessarily be subject to a contract similar as his own.
“The different kind of candidates you have may dictate the length of a contract,” Zduriencik said. “But right now, I don’t want to get into that. We just need to get our heads together and look at a host of candidates and start the interview process.”
So, just who would be those candidates? There’s an assortment of names out there, but most aren’t well known nor to they have any major league managing experience – something the organization coveted when Wedge was hired.
If the Mariners decided to go with a one-year contract with perhaps a one-year extension, they could fill the position with internal candidates. Third base coach Daren Brown, the longtime Tacoma Rainiers manager, was Seattle’s interim manager after Don Wakamatsu was fired in 2009. Brown also managed the bulk of the players on the current 25-man roster at some point in Tacoma.
Bench coach Robby Thompson filled in for 27 games when Wedge was recovering from a stroke, posting a 12-15 record.
Also Ted Simmons, who has served as special assistant to Zduriencik, could be a candidate. Simmons, an eight-time All-star catcher who has worked in scouting and development, spent three years as a bench coach with the Brewers and Padres (2008-10).
Outside of the organization, the most likely candidates are coaches who have no big-league managerial experience
Reds pitching coach Bryan Price, the Mariners’ pitching coach from 2001-06, is a likely candidate. The affable Price could be a good fit for a team that could feature young pitchers Walker, Erasmo Ramirez and Paxton.
Former Mariners infielder Joey Cora has been mentioned as a candidate. Cora’s name has come up in the past three managerial searches. On those occasions, he was serving as Ozzie Guillen’s bench coach in Chicago and Miami. He now works as a television baseball analyst.
Another solid candidate would be A’s bench coach Chip Hale. He interviewed with the Mariners in 2009 when they hired Wakamatsu. Hale has managed in Triple A as well.
Another potential candidate is Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. He has worked beside manager Joe Maddon since 2008. Maddon and the Rays are some of the most creative thinkers when it comes to managing. The Mariners might be in need of a different on-field approach.
Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo could also be considered.
Zduriencik said he doesn’t think he’ll have to sell the Mariners to the candidates.
“They see the young talent, they know our minor league system,” he said. “I think somebody out there’s going to look at this and say this is a pretty good spot to be. As much as I feel bad that Eric’s not going to be here, I also look forward to the next person coming in and taking us to the next level.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners