In two of the three most important spots on his coaching staff, new Mariners manager Eric Wedge went for former players with proven credentials and post-season experience.
The hope is that hitting coach Chris Chambliss and bench coach Robby Thompson can convey something many current Mariners have little experience with — winning in the major leagues.
Chambliss was a consistent winner during his time with the Yankees and Thompson was part of the core of the Giants’ success in Candlestick Park in the late 1980s that helped lead to a new stadium.
Thompson was a two-time All-Star (1988 and 1993) during 11 years with the Giants when he was opening day starter every year. He won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and has received high marks for his work as a coach.
He hasnt done much coaching lately, taking a break while his three sons went through high school. But if he comes back with the same fire he displayed as a player, he could be a motivator the likes of which the club hasnt seen on the coaching staff in a while.
At 61, Chambliss is 13 years older than Thompson and was a frequent visitor to the postseason, including winning two World Series championships (1977-78) with the Yankees in four appearances in the postseason four times. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1971. He won two more World Series rings with the Yankees as a coach.
“Im excited to bring Chris along as the hitting coach, Wedge said. “Hes the consummate professional. You cant find anybody who hasnt said that about Chris. He really knows hitting.
In his 42nd year in professional baseball, he has 13 years as a hitting coach. Some of his teams the 1996 and 200 Yankees, the 1993 Cardinals put together good offensive showings, although not all under his charge did.
“Jack (general manager Jack Zduriencik) and I spent some great time with him in Seattle (during the interview), Wedge said. “He had a great big league career, and his experience will be great for us.
Given that the 2010 Mariners had the worst offense in MLB and the poorest performance in franchise history, Chambliss will have some challenges. He had a .279 average in 17 years in the big leagues as a first baseman and hit 185 homers.
Wedge is bringing back three coaches who finished on the Seattle staff last year: Mike Brumley (first base), Carl Willis (pitching) and Jason Phillips (bullpen catcher). Others joining the staff are 14-year veteran pitcher Jaime Navarro (bullpen) and Jeff Datz (third base).
Meanwhile, the Mariners had word from first baseman Casey Kotchman that he is opting for free agency rather than accept an outright to the minor leagues.
“I figured he would do that, general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Well see what happens going forward, but this is something that we expected.
That news followed fast on the Mariners’ decision not to pick up contract options on three players from last years roster left-handed starter Erik Bedard, first baseman/DH Russell Branyan and third baseman Jose Lopez.
Those moves trim about $20.5 million from the Seattle payroll for the 2011 season the buyouts for Lopez and Bedard will cost the club about $250,000 although thats not to say that none of the three will be with the Mariners next season.
Lopez is still one year shy of free agency, and he will be eligible for salary arbitration that would keep him with Seattle for the 2011 season if the club doesnt trade him.
Bedard, who is coming back from left shoulder surgery, was in the same situation last year and signed a one-year contract for low base pay ($1.5 million) and high incentive based bonuses ($8 million).
Bedard, Branyan and Kotchman could be back under contracts similar to the one Bedard signed last year, but the chances are not considered large.
Meanwhile, Wedge will be having a conference call with his staff within the week and have a face-to-face gathering later. He wants the clubs coaches to act as a unit well before spring training.
Zduriencik said that Daren Brown, who took over as manager in August when Don Wakamatsu was fired, has agreed to return to the organization as the manager at Triple-A Tacoma, the job he had before taking over. Minor league instructor Alonzo Powell, who took over as the hitting coach, will return to his minor league duties as well, Zduriencik said.