Coming into this season, it seemed unfathomable that Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu would find himself on the hot seat three months into this season. Considering what Wakamatsu did last season taking a team with little or no expectations following a 101 loss season and winning 85 games with all the feel-good moments and hugfests, you would have thought he had plenty of stability as the manager of the this team.
But nothing about the 2010 season has gone right. The Mariners have underachieved probably more than any other team in baseball. The offense has been anemic. Injuries have taken a toll. Several players are struggling. The situation with Ken Griffey Jr. has turned even more sour in the days after. And above all else, the Mariners aren't winning and playing bad baseball in the losses.
Wakamatsu has taken his fair share of criticism for it. The handling of Griffey and Mike Sweeney in terms of playing time coming out of the season seemed odd. Choices in bullpen management have been questioned. The handling of the offensive issues in relation to the batting order - specifically Chone Figgins were also debated.
Let's just say the "belief system" that Wakamatsu wants to build is crumbling within certain segments of the team and the fan base. And there is a growing sentiment from some that he should be and will be fired.
I'm not a member of that group. Neither are two writers that couldn't be more different, but also come to the same opinion -- USS Mariner's Dave Cameron and Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times.
I’m not saying he’s handled everything perfectly, but I’d like to suggest that it’s highly unfair to lay the perceived ills of the clubhouse at Wak’s feet. He didn’t sign Ken Griffey Jr, who made a lot of statements about being perfectly content playing “any role” on the team but showed that to simply not be true once he was finally removed from a regular job. He didn’t anoint Junior as some kind of sacred cow, a hero to the boys in the locker room who could not be treated as the player that he was – not one worthy of a big league job. And he didn’t cause Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, and Casey Kotchman to hit like Double-A rejects, sinking the offense and the team’s chances at winning in the process.From Kelley ...
The magic wand general manager Jack Zduriencik wielded brilliantly last winter repeatedly let him down this winter.
The truth is, Wak doesn't have the weapons to win this season.From Me ...
Should Wakamatsu have some blame in what's gone wrong this season? Of course, he'll be the first to admit it. As a manager, that comes with the job.
But should he be solely responsible? No.
There are a myriad of other things that have led the Mariners to this point.
You could start with the ownership that put out a demand for a reduction in payroll, while also pushing for the return of Griffey.They asked for both, no matter what they say publicly.
The roster that GM Jack Zduriencik built was going to be offensively challenged even if all the players were hitting well - and of course they are not. Zduriencik was like Midas last season, but this year it hasn't been the case. It's tough to criticize the moves at the time or the thinking behind them. But the failure to add another bat - maybe Aubrey Huff or Adam LaRoche for a little extra money has hurt the Mariners. The decision to add Bradley has drawn criticism, but they couldn't keep Carlos Silva. They just couldn't. The signing the oft-injured Jack Wilson to a two-year deal hasn't paid off because Wilson is once again injured, and Josh Wilson, who makes the league minimum, has been a better player this season.
The players should take plenty of the blame. Figgins is struggling, especially from the left-side of the plate. Kotchman is hitting under .200. Jose Lopez had tried to hit too many home runs this season and hasn't done that, while his average steadily declined. Griffey simply couldn't hit. Milton Bradley couldn't focus on playing because of outside issues. Felix Hernandez is 3-5 and has not pitched with the consistency we saw last season. Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell, both counted on to be starters - have both lost their spots in rotation at one point or another this season.
Injuries haven't helped. Cliff Lee missing the first month was not a good way to start the season. Mark Lowe's back injury has really weakened the bullpen. Sweeney's back is and will always be a DL trip waiting to happen. Wilson has missed the last month. They've lost two catchers and Bradley missed 10 days.
Perhaps the worst indictment against Wakamatsu is the idea that he's lost the clubhouse. That players no longer respect him or share in his belief system.
I will say that there is a faction of players that are upset with him and how the Griffey situation played out. Privately, Griffey's people are blaming Wakamatsu for how he handled the situation, saying the relationship had broken down. Some players believe Griffey. But that shouldn't be surprising. In that situation, players are always going to side with the player, not the manager. They always do. I don't think Wakamatsu forced Griffey out. I think he just stopped playing him for a logical reasons. And tried to bench him discreetly. Anybody who said that Griffey would be satisfied being the 25th guy on the roster, a pinch-hitter and a sometime DH was lying to themselves, including Griffey.
I always hate the idea of a manager's relationship with the players being so vital to success. Do you know how many times I hear players preach about being professional? Well, if you are a professional, then go out and play. You don't have to like your manager to do your job. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people go to work and do their job capably and efficiently (for significantly less money) without being best friends with their boss. Many people downright loathe their bosses. But they still go to work every day and do their job. I'm sorry, but people have little empathy for a guy getting paid significant money (the minimum salary is $400,000) to not only play a game, but also receive all the perks that come with it.
Suck it up and play. If you don't like your manager, tough.
Do you think Lou Piniella or Bobby Cox worries about hurting the feelings of the player? Not hardly. Do you think the bulk of the Cardinals like Tony LaRussa and his condescending, I'm-the-smartest-man-in-the-room attitude? No. They probably think he's a preening schmo. Of course, those managers have a little more distinguished resumes than Wakamatsu.
But he's still the manager of the Seattle Mariners. He's in a position of authority. The players have to abide by it, even if they don't like it. I think Wakamatsu is starting to realize that he can't be as chummy as he was with players. It just doesn't work because he's found out they hold no particular allegiance to him. The order of importance to players is: family, career, team, manager, fans. It sounds cruel, but it's true.
It's time for Wakamatsu to take a similar order of importance.
Wakamatsu has defended the players non-stop this season. He's rationalized their faults and minimized their mistakes. He's downplayed their lack of production and remained positive that they will turn it around. But we all know, the next person to fall if the losing continues will be him. He's made some decisions that haven't been popular with the players, and may have hurt a few feelings. That's part of the growing process as a manager. It's not a popularity contest. If it were, then John McLaren would still be managing and Bob Geren and Mike Hargrove would have never managed a day in their lives.
Like he told me yesterday, "my accountability above all else is to win games."
So he's just as accountable for the losses, but not completely to blame. And certainly not worthy of being fired for.