Contrary to his Seattle Mariners, manager Eric Wedge is not going down without a fight as the 2013 season limps along toward Sunday closure.
The lame-duck manager came out swinging Saturday morning, a few hours before the Mariners’ game against the Oakland A’s, when he told reporters: “If they’d offered me a five-year contract, I wouldn’t be back here.”
Wedge was apparently upset at the insinuations made one day earlier, when he announced to the team that he had no intention of coming back next season. It was widely assumed that Wedge was mostly unhappy with the offer of a one-year extension by the team in the off-season, but Saturday he said the rift between himself and CEO Howard Lincoln, team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik, goes deeper.
“Where they see the club – they being Howard, Chuck and Jack – and where I see the club, my vision of the future and theirs are just different,” he said. “That’s as clear as I can make it.”
The awkwardness of having a lame-duck manager has been on full display this weekend, with Wedge letting his frustration boil over without getting too personal. He still won’t get specific about the nature of the rift, other than to say it’s a disagreement in how best to develop a team.
“We had a certain vision coming in here,” he said. “I came here for certain reasons, and I’m leaving here for certain reasons.”
Wedge came in as Zduriencik’s second managerial hire in 2011, after Don Wakamatsu lasted just two years with the team. The Mariners were in full rebuilding mode at the time, which was acknowledged by everyone involved.
Two sub-.500 seasons were tolerated as the Mariners brought up young talent and waited patiently for the development of players like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak This season was supposed to show the first signs of a future playoff contender.
But the Mariners got off to a miserable start and spent most of the season trying to catch up. Montero and Ackley were sent to Triple-A, Smoak struggled with injuries, and Murphy’s Law started to kick in. A hot streak in July gave some hope and started to provide evidence as to why Wedge might stick around for awhile.
His July 22 stroke not only sidelined Wedge for more than a month but also slowed the team’s progress. Acting manager Robby Thompson couldn’t keep the hot streak going, and then things became worse upon Wedge’s Aug. 23 return.
September has been one of the worst stretches of baseball in recent Mariners history. That’s a pretty bold statement considering where this franchise has been. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Mariners were 11-23 since Wedge’s return – and suddenly his future was in limbo again.
His Friday decision to step down was initially believed to be a way of saving face without the organization having to fire him, but Wedge’s pre-game press conference made it clear that he was the one who was making the decision to walk away. He wasn’t shy about admitting that a rift had developed, yet the Mariners were willing to let him finish out the season.
After his Saturday salvo, the Mariners might wish they had a muzzle. He admitted that the situation was difficult but also showed conviction about his decision to walk.
“It’s tough,” he said. “But ultimately you’ve got to do what you believe in.”
The Mariners have already gone through seven managers since Lou Piniella was traded to Tampa Bay after the 2003 season, and one of them is currently in Seattle managing the two-time defending AL West champions. Oakland’s Bob Melvin was in the visiting dugout Saturday, when he told reporters that A’s bench coach Chip Hale would be a solid candidate for the job. (Hale was reportedly considered three years ago, when Wedge was hired.)
“I think a place like this would be great for Chip,” Melvin told The San Francisco Chronicle before Saturday’s game. “He’s ready for any opportunity.”
Managerial hires are nothing new to the Mariners, who have now lost 90 or more games six times in the past decade. But before any of that, the team just wants to make it through this weekend without Wedge setting any more fires on his way out the door.