Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon was in Seattle on Sunday to interview a second time with Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik for the team’s vacant manager position, according to a source familiar with the Tigers’ own managerial search.
Zduriencik began conducting second interviews with a handful of finalists this weekend as Seattle zeroes in on a replacement for Eric Wedge, who stepped down at the end of September.
The other confirmed finalist so far is former Mariners second baseman Joey Cora, who was Ozzie Guillen’s bench coach for both the White Sox and Marlins.
UPDATE (1:45 p.m. PT): Now Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is reporting that A’s bench coach Chip Hale has been asked to interview a second time as well, so that would make three confirmed finalists — Cora, McClendon and now Hale.
McClendon, 54, is the only candidate with previous Major League managing experience who has been publicly tied to the Mariners current opening, as he managed the Pirates from 2001-05.
McClendon had a 336-446 record in five years when Pittsburgh was in the midst of a 20-year run of losing seasons, then was immediately hired by Jim Leyland in Detroit and was regarded as a big part of the Tigers’ success as they reached the American League Championship Series four times and the World Series twice during his eight years.
McClendon previously interviewed with the Mariners in 2010 when they hired Wedge and was under consideration to replace Leyland this past week by the Tigers, who instead named former catcher Brad Ausmus as their new skipper on Sunday.
Ausmus’ hiring in Detroit leaves the Cubs and Mariners as the two remaining clubs with managerial openings, with the Reds having promoted pitching coach Bryan Price and the Nationals bringing in D-backs third base coach Matt Williams. None of the first three hires have any prior Major League managing experience.
Zduriencik initially interviewed about a dozen candidates in Phoenix over the past two weeks. The known candidates in the first round were Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach and former Mariners catcher and current broadcaster Dave Valle, along with McClendon, Cora, Ausmus and Hale.
McClendon hit .244 over an eight-year Major League career as an outfielder and first baseman with the Reds, Cubs and Pirates from 1987-94. He originally was drafted as a catcher out of Valparaiso University in the eighth round in 1980 by the Mets. After retiring as a player in 1994, the Indiana native was hired as hitting instructor by the Pirates and filled that job until becoming Pittsburgh’s manager in 2001.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has returned to Seattle on Saturday and is beginning the second round of interviews for a new manager this weekend, with former Mariners second baseman Joey Cora among a handful of finalists.
Cora, 48, is the latest name to be confirmed as a potential replacement for Erci Wedge, as first reported by Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle. Wedge stepped down at the end of last season after going 71-91 in his third year on the job.
Zduriencik talked with at least a dozen candidates over the past two weeks in Phoenix and now is zeroing in on a small group of leading contenders. There are now eight names who are known to have interviewed in the initial phase – Cora, A’s bench coach Chip Hale, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, Tigers hitting coach and former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, former Mariners catcher and current broadcaster Dave Valle and former catcher Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus, who has been a special assistant in the Padres front office since retiring after an 18-year Major League career in 2010, was confirmed by a baseball source to have interviewed with the Mariners as well as the Tigers and Cubs, the other two teams still in the hiring process. Ausmus, 44, has never coached or managed in the Majors, but did manage Israel in last year’s World Baseball Classic.
Cora, who played for Seattle from 1995-98 as part of a 11-year Major League career, worked as Ozzie Guillen’s third base coach and bench coach with the White Sox and Marlins from 2004-12. He also spent three years managing in the Minor League systems of the Expos and Mets from 2001-03, managed a team in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2005 and ’06 and was the general manager of a Puerto Rican Winter league team from 1999-2001.
Cora was out of coaching this past season after Guillen and his staff were fired by the Marlins, but he has been working as an analyst for the MLB Network. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Puerto Rican native had a career batting average of .277 while playing for the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Indians from 1987-98.
Cora was part of the Mariners’ breakthrough season in 1995 when he hit .297 with 18 stolen bases in 120 games in his first year in Seattle, then earned his only All-Star berth in 1997 when he batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 RBIs and 104 runs scored in 149 games.
Cora was a two-time All-American and two-time Academic All-American in three seasons at Vanderbilt before being drafted by the Padres in the first round (23rd overall) in 1985.
The Mariners, Cubs and Tigers are all expected to finish their hiring processes in the next week or so and then can begin filling out coaching staffs. All the Mariners coaches remain under contract through next season, but bench coach Robby Thompson was told last week that he wouldn’t be returning and former third base coach Jeff Datz was offered a job in scouting.
Pitching coach Carl Willis was given permission to interview for the same position with the Orioles, but that job instead went to Braves’ Minor League pitching instructor Dave Wallace.
As expected, the Mariners declined 2014 contract options for outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and starting pitcher Joe Saunders on Friday, making both veteran players free agents.
The club turned down a $7.5 million option to retain Gutierrez, who instead will receive a $500,000 buyout. The 30-year-old Venezuelan completed a four-year, $20.25 million contract this past season, but would have received a fifth year on that deal if the Mariners had exercised the option.
Saunders, 32, signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Seattle just prior to Spring Training that included a potential second year at $8.3 million. Instead, the Mariners initiated a $900,000 buyout to void that second season after the left-hander went 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts.
The two players will be free to negotiate new deals with any of the 30 Major League teams, including Seattle, as of this coming Tuesday. The Mariners had five other players become free agents on Thursday — Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Humberto Quintero, Oliver Perez and Endy Chavez.
Teams have until 9 p.m. PT on Monday to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents, after which they’re able to sign with any team.
The Mariners’ 40-man roster is now at 34 players, with reliever Stephen Pryor moved from the 60-day disabled list to the 40-man roster on Friday.
Gutierrez won an American League Gold Glove Award in 2009 when he hit .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs in 152 games in his second season after being acquired from the Indians. But after signing his four-year deal with the Mariners in 2010, Gutierrez ran into a lengthy series of health issues that resulted in his playing just 173 of the team’s 486 games over the last three seasons.
Gutierrez played 92 games in 2011 after two disabled list stints with a stomach ailment and a strained oblique muscle. He appeared in just 40 games in 2012 after opening the year on the DL with a torn pectoral muscle, then missing two months with a concussion in midseason after getting hit in the head on a pickoff throw to first base.
Gutierrez then played just 41 games again this past season after a series of hamstring issues. He rejoined the team in late August after a lengthy stint in Triple-A Tacoma and said he’d been diagnosed with an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which he believes contributed to his host of ailments over the previous two years as well.
Gutierrez said medication was helping him control that condition and he hit .235 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 23 games after returning for the final five weeks. For the season, he hit .248 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in 145 at-bats.
Gutierrez had a slash line of .255/.305/.383 with 45 home runs and 194 RBIs in 478 games over five seasons in Seattle and was regarded as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game when healthy, though manager Eric Wedge moved him to right field upon his return this past season in order to reduce the strain on his body.
Saunders had a shorter history with Seattle, working as the No. 3 starter behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma this year after signing as a free agent. He ranked 10th among left-handed starters in the American League with 183 innings, but gave up the second-most hits in the Majors with 232 and opposing hitters batted .311 against him with a 1.60 WHIP.
Saunders is 89-81 with a 4.30 ERA over a nine-year MLB career that has included stints with the Angels, D-backs, Orioles and Mariners.