From the moment Don Wakamatsu was fired in early August, the name – Bobby Valentine – came up as a potential candidate to take over the Seattle Mariners. Of course, Valentine’s name is often mentioned any time there is managerial opening.
Well, he’s pretty good. He’s managed for 15 years in the big leagues. In eight years with the Texas Rangers (1985-1992) he amassed a 581-605 record, but had four winning seasons. In seven years with the New York Mets (1996-2002), he went 536-467, finishing second in the NL East three times and leading the Mets to the pennant and the World Series in 2000.
He also managed two different times in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines – the 1995 season and from 2004-2009. The Marines won the Japan championship in 2005.
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In August, Peter Gammons reported that a source close to Ichiro said the Mariners all-star right fielder would prefer to have Valentine as the manager.
In talking with several Japanese media who talked to Ichiro when that story broke, they all said that Ichiro was upset that the news leaked. He questioned the ethics of Gammons. Apparently, Gammons retracted the controversial tweet, though I wasn't aware of it. Not that I believe for a second Gammons simply made it up.
Whether Ichiro does or does not want Valentine to be the manager, there are others who do ...
TNT columnist John McGrath wrote a few weeks back that the Mariners should hire Valentine.
A logical argument against Valentine is that the Mariners don’t need any more controversy. On the other hand, after a season that will be recalled for the difficult decision to suspend the troubled Milton Bradley, the clumsy retirement of Ken Griffey Jr., the can’t-go-wrong trade for Cliff Lee that went so very wrong upon a background search of one of the prospects sent to the Mariners, and the pink slips handed to, let’s see, the batting coach, the pitching coach, the bench coach, the pro scouting director and – who else am I forgetting? – ah, of course, the manager.
After a season like 2010, how could anything Bobby Valentine says in 2011 qualify as true controversy?Of course, a pessimist will point to the fact that besides interviewing with the Mariners on Monday, Valentine is interviewing with Blue Jays today and has already interviewed with the Florida Marlins (he’s friend with the Marlins owner). Could he be using these interviews to leverage a higher salary and in the case of Florida, more control over baseball decisions?
Hmmm, wouldn’t you?
Why he fits:
Valentine is the opposite in many ways of Wakamatsu. And most times when a team fires a manager in baseball, they tend to find somebody completely different than the man they fired. Wakamatsu lacked experience and was a patient players’ manager, who would protect them in the media and gave them latitude despite mistakes. Valentine has vast managerial experience and has been known to be bluntly critical of players in the media and to their faces.
He’s also a recognizable name. Sure, he’s not Joe Torre, Lou Piniella or Tony LaRussa, but Valentine has credibility among baseball fans. He’s still visible on ESPN and his past success makes him a known commodity. The Mariners, who are searching for some of the credibility that was lost from a disastrous season, could retain some among their fans by hiring someone like Valentine. Is it quite as splashy as bringing in a power bat? No. But you have to take what you can get.
Don’t underestimate Valentine’s time spent managing in Japan, or the influence of Ichiro if he still wants him as manager. To be fair, Ichiro is not the easiest guy in the world to manage. He has certain demands and expectations and style of play that a manager must deal with. It didn’t bother Wakamatsu, but it drove Mike Hargrove crazy.
Still, Valentine does have a combination of charisma and confidence that can be contagious.
Why he doesn’t fit:
Valentine is 60, and there are only so many jobs he can have in the future. Does he really want to take a job where he knows that 100 losses in the first year is a distinct possibility? Even comparing 25-man rosters for next season, both the Blue Jays and Marlins seem ahead of Seattle. Yes, Seattle has a better atmosphere and probably more loyal fans, but depending on what GM Jack Zduriencik does in the offseason, Valentine could be looking at a team that features five or six positions being filled by players with little or no big league experience.
Much of next season could be spent on teaching players how to play at the major league level. In a way that works for Valentine because he has an understanding of what he expects from players. But at the same time, it clearly will test his patience more than the Marlins and Blue Jays might.
Also, Valentine might not be quite as willing to be subservient when it comes to roster maneuvers. It’s one of the sticking points with the Marlins – he wants to have more than just minor input in the players that the team acquires. And, certainly, if a move is made that he disagrees with, he won’t be one to swallow his opinion like Wakamatsu.
Another aspect to consider is salary and how much the Mariners are willing to pay. Valentine is going to command at least $3 million per season. It’s slightly more than Wakamatsu was making.
If Valentine is willing to come to the Mariners, they should hire him. But I’m not convinced that this is his first choice. He’s an East Coast guy, and the chance to manage in the NL East or AL East again might outweigh a chance to manage Ichiro, and the daunting task of managing during a clear rebuilding period.