Mariners sizing candidates for new skipper
GM Zduriencik expects plenty of interest with club's infusion of young talent
SEATTLE -- As Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik begins his managerial search to replace Eric Wedge, he doesn't have as much competition among other clubs filling vacancies as in previous years.
The only other Major League team with a managerial opening so far is the Cubs, who dismissed Dale Sveum on Monday. Wedge told the Mariners he wouldn't be returning on Friday, though Zduriencik said Wedge would have been welcomed back for another year after his current contract expired at the end of October.
The Mariners are in an interesting position as Zduriencik, finishing his fifth year as GM, is believed to have just agreed to a one-year contract extension of his own. The club has been building with youth, but finished 71-91 this season and hasn't made the postseason since 2001.
If Zduriencik's situation is seen as tenuous, that could dissuade more experienced candidates from pursuing the opening. On the flip side, a manager who stepped into a young club on the rise could be seen as succeeding if the record improves next year and then be given a chance to grow with a team whose expectations are low following four straight losing seasons.
There was initial speculation that Zduriencik might stay in-house and offer the job to third-base coach Darren Brown, who has managed many of the team's young players at Triple-A Tacoma and also filled in the final 50 games as the Mariners skipper in 2010 after Don Wakamatsu was dismissed in August.
The Mariners have other internal candidates as well. Bench coach Robby Thompson filled in for 27 games when Wedge missed a month following a stroke in July, with the team going 12-15 while operating without issues until Wedge's return.
All of the Mariners coaches are under contract for one more year, but Zduriencik said their status would depend on who he hires as the new manager.
Ted Simmons, an eight-time All-Star catcher, has spent the past three years as one of Zduriencik's senior advisors and could be a strong candidate. Simmons, 64, has extensive scouting and front-office background with the Pirates, Cardinals, Indians and Padres since retiring from a 21-year playing career in 1988. But he also spent three years as a Major League bench coach with the Brewers and Padres from 2008-10 before joining Zduriencik's staff.
But Zduriencik -- who hired Wakamatsu in 2009 and Wedge in 2011 -- indicated his search will be wide open.
"I don't know who the candidates are going to be or what road we're going to go down," he said. "We're going to interview all sorts of candidates."
And with only one other managerial opening at this point, some extremely well-regarded coaches around the Majors could be interested, with A's bench coach Chip Hale among the potential front-runners. Hale, 48, interviewed for the Mariners' job that went to Wakamatsu in '09 and also was a finalist for the Mets job that went to Terry Collins in 2010.
Hale is an energetic former player who earned Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year honors while leading Tucson to some excellent seasons before coaching with the D-backs, Mets and now the A's for the past two years.
D-backs third-base coach Matt Williams, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price, Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, Yankees third-base coach Rob Thomson, former White Sox and Marlins bench coach Joey Cora and recently dismissed Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee are also potential names to watch.
Price was the Mariners' pitching coach from 2001-06 under Lou Piniella, Bob Melvin and Mike Hargrove and has since worked for the D-backs, Phillies and Reds. Cora played for the Mariners from 1995-98 and was Ozzie Guillen's top coach in Chicago and Miami until the Marlins dismissed Guillen and his staff following the 2012 season. Cora now is working as an MLB Network analyst.
There are former managers whose names could pop up as well -- like one-time Mariners coach Larry Bowa and former Pirates skipper and current Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon -- but it remains to see how long-term a commitment the Mariners want to make, given Zduriencik's situation, and how that might impact the pool of applicants.
"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."
Zduriencik said he doesn't feel his own contract situation will affect things.
"I don't think that's going to be a big deal, I really don't," he 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.
"And I think candidates that come in here, they're going to look at the general manager relationship you have with them," he said. "But they're also going to look at the players, and the potential we have here. And I think from that standpoint, I trust the people above me and if I do a good job and continue to do what we're doing, then we'll be here for awhile. You do your job and that's just the way you look at it."
Zduriencik will sell the franchise's youthful promise, a farm system featuring several prize pitching prospects and a team that gained considerable experience with three rookies -- shortstop Brad Miller, second baseman Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino -- all getting tossed into the fire this past season.
So while he'll be making his third managerial hire since taking over in 2009, Zduriencik feels the circumstances are different now after laying the groundwork.
"I think if you look at this organization and where we're at, and what we've done here, it'll 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 -- every club we've played, the comments from the general managers or the managers, they like what's going on here.
"They see the young talent, they know our Minor League system," Zduriencik said. "So, 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."