There's growing speculation about the possibility that Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu be fired this week. I think we know where I stand on this subject. Still, this team is coming off a 6-22 record in July, and is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. It would seem like a logical time for GM Jack Zduriencik to make that move.
Well the team is playing terribly - and Wakamatsu is the next guy to take the fall.
In the past few weeks, we've seen Chone Figgins blow up at his manager and cause an embarrassing scene in the dugout. At no point has Zduriencik or Chuck Armstrong or Howard Lincoln made Figgins own up to any accountability for that incident. He was clearly in the wrong and yet still hasn't addressed the media or offered up a public apology to his manager, his teammates and fans. Instead, he walks around with a Carlos Silva-sized chip on his shoulder that the entire world, including the manager, is against him.
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Perhaps even worse is that it appears Zduriencik and Armstrong are not taking any sort of strong stance behind Wakamatsu. Neither has said that what Figgins has done is wrong or will not be tolerated. They've distanced themselves from their own manager - never a good sign.
If you add to that the Ken Griffey Jr. situation and the controversy and accusations surrounding his retirement earlier this season, and the other minor incidents, Wakamatsu must feel like Caesar - surrounded by enemies posing as friends.
About the only person we know that seems clearly to have his back is Russell Branyan, and that's not exactly going to be the deciding factor that keeps Wakamatsu employed.
Is it right? No, not even in the least bit.
But as Wakamatsu told me months ago when the firing speculation first cropped up, the responsibility still falls upon him, and the possibility of being fired for not winning comes with the job.
While he can't make Figgins hit his weight or play somewhere near the player that got a $36 million contract, or get Jose Lopez to play with more focus or make Milton Bradley and Branyan healthy enough to play every day, Wakamatsu still most likely will be the first person to take the fall for this mess.
Is it fair? Nope, but baseball is far from fair. After all, think about the fact that the two top home run hitters in baseball history likely will be Barry Bonds and A-Rod.
But perhaps the biggest criticism that can be leveled at Wakamatsu is the growing belief that the players have quit on him. It's the worst criticism for both a manager and a player. No manager wants to be accused of his players not playing hard, and no player wants to have that label of not trying. It's not the type of accusation you make lightly.
I haven't been with the team this week. And I can't tell if they have quit on Wakamatsu or are in the process of quitting, for one major reason.
My thought: They are just a bad baseball team and they are basically playing to about a level to be expected right now. Don't confuse an anemic, punchless offense that simply gets overwhelmed by above-average pitching to mean a team isn't trying. They are trying to hit - they simply can't. We've seen it before this season. It's just that the starting pitching was so good it allowed them to still stay in games. Well, the starting pitching regressed to an expected level and suddenly the offense looks worse – it was always bad, but the team was able to overcome it for a few wins.
Maybe this team is playing like a 100-loss team because it was closer to that than we first thought. There's been team-wide underachievement for some reason. Whether it's crumbling under lofty expectations set by the front office, the fans and even themselves, or just an overall complacency after last year's success, they have fallen hard.
Ask yourself which players on this team have exceeded or met your preseason expectations? Check the multiple projections on Fangraphs.
For me it's Michael Saunders, who started the season in Triple A for good reason, and Cliff Lee, who's been traded.
Gutierrez? He hasn't been bad, but I thought he'd turned the corner offensively last season. But he's been forced to bat high in the lineup, when he would be better at five or six.
Felix? He's been good, but not what I expected.
Ichiro? He seems to even be infected by the team-wide apathy and depression.
Lopez? Awful. Just awful.
Bradley? He's hitting .205 with an OPS of .641
Figgins? Well, plenty has been written about that.
Jack Wilson? Missed games with an injury, which was expected.
Adam Moore? Struggled to adjust and now wallowing in Triple A when he should be called up.
The bullpen? Not good. Inconsistent. And injury-plagued.
A year ago at this time, it would have seemed impossible to think of such a fate for Wakamatsu. He preached about building a belief system in the players, the team and the organization. And it seemed like he had done that.
But part of that system was built and based on a relationship with players. What we found is that players above all else are loyal to themselves first.
Still, Wakamatsu maintained belief in players. That they would produce. That they would play solid fundamental baseball. That they would continue to compete and grind and play for pride if not the postseason. That they would be professionals.
It looks like that belief might ultimately cost him his job.