The Washington Nationals are on the verge of naming D-backs third base coach Matt Williams as their new manager, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, which continues an interesting early trend among the five managerial openings.
Of the two hires so far — the Reds promoting pitching coach Bryan Price and now the Nats closing in on Williams (pictured at right) – neither involves a man with previous Major League managerial experience even though those are two contending teams with high expectations.
Maybe it’s the available crop, or the realization that an untested skipper like Mike Matheny — who spent two years as a roving Minor League instructor with the Cardinals before getting his shot — has done just fine in getting the Cardinals to the World Series.
For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be a big push for any of the remaining teams — the Mariners, Cubs or Tigers — to chase even after Dusty Baker, the biggest-named available skipper after he was fired by the Reds.
The Tigers have interviewed Lloyd McClendon, who previously managed the Pirates, but has been Jim Leyland’s hitting coach in Detroit since 2006. They appear in the likeliest position to pursue a proven skipper, given their playoff success and position to continue challenging in the American League in the immediate future, but among the names brought up as potential Tigers candidates is former catcher Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus has never managed or coached at any level, but has been in the Padres front office since retiring in 2010. There appears to be mutual interest between the Mariners and Ausmus as well, but these things are hard to gauge and GM Jack Zduriencik has been talking to numerous people this week in Arizona.
Zduriencik is returning to Seattle this weekend and will be the keynote speaker on Saturday night at an American Legion Hall of Fame Induction event at the SeaTac Marriott, then will return to Arizona to continue interviews and watch the Mariners’ Arizona Fall League club.
Among the people Zduriencik has interviewed this week are A’s bench coach Chip Hale and Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. Those are just the names that have come out so far, but both are well respected in baseball circles as bright coaches with good leadership and communication skills and knowledge of the game.
Renteria is regarded by many as the top contender for the Cubs opening and he has a past relationship with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who was previously in San Diego.
But the Cubs are keeping things open as well and word emerged Friday that Eric Wedge will interview with them next week, as reported here by my colleague Carrie Muskat from MLB.com. Wedge is one of the most-experienced names being tossed around, given his 10 years as skipper of the Indians and Mariners. It will be interesting to see how he’s perceived as a candidate, coming off his abrupt departure following three losing seasons in Seattle.
My sense is the Mariners will join the Nats and Reds in hiring a fresh face, someone with some coaching background at the Major League level who can grow with a young club. Hale and Renteria fit that mold. So might Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach or Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. Or a number of other smart baseball men who are just waiting for their chance after working in the background for a few years.
These kind of candidates don’t appease fans who want a proven commodity. But it’s worth remembering that proven commodities don’t always win. In fact, they’re only available because they got fired elsewhere. As much as fans clamor for a proven guy like Lou Piniella, even Piniella was 519-578 in seven seasons with the Rays and Cubs after leaving Seattle.
Piniella won in Seattle with the right combination of players. A good manager can make a difference, but the biggest key for any club is the talent level of its athletes. Finding the right leader to put those players in positions to succeed, develop and get the most out of their abilities is part of the equation.
But as Matheny has shown in St. Louis, there isn’t one right or wrong type of manager. The key isn’t finding the biggest available name. It’s finding the right man for the job. The Reds, after winning 90 games last year, are turning the ship over to Price for his first run at anything more than pitching coach. The Nats, after winning 86 games, are turning to Williams, who has four years as a base coach with the D-backs and six weeks of Arizona Fall League managerial duty on his resume.
We’ll see in the next week or two if Zduriencik follows a similar path.
Thanks largely to 10-year runs by Ken Griffey Jr. and then Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariners reeled off 24 straight seasons with a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner from 1987-2010. But now for a third straight year, Seattle will be without a Gold Glover. And this time, the Mariners didn’t even get a finalist for one of the defensive honors.
Rawlings announced its top three finalists at each position for the 2013 Gold Gloves in the American and National Leagues on Friday and the Mariners were one of five teams in the AL and four in the NL that didn’t get any players selected.
The AL West as a whole was pretty defenseless this year, apparently, as only three of 27 AL players selected came from that division, compared to eight from the Central and 16 from the East.
Before anyone starts screaming East Coast bias, however, among the NL finalists, 11 were from the West, 10 from the Central and six from the East.
This year’s voting did have a new twist. The awards previously have been based solely on voting by managers and coaches from all 30 clubs, but this year Rawlings added in a sabermetric component, with about 25 percent of the decision relying on several different defensive metrics favored by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
Besides Seattle, teams with no Gold Glove finalists were the Angels, Astros, White Sox and Indians in the AL and Giants, Padres, Phillies and Marlins in the NL.
Here’s a complete list of the finalists, and you can read more on this story on MLB.com. The winners will be revealed on Tuesday at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
· P: Buehrle (TOR), Dickey (TOR), Fister (DET)
· 1B: Davis (BAL), Hosmer (KC), Loney (TB)
· 2B: Cano (NYY), Pedroia (BOS), Zobrist (TB)
· 3B: Beltre (TEX), Longoria (TB), Machado (BAL)
· SS: A Escobar (KC), Y Escobar (TB), Hardy (BAL)
· C: Mauer (MIN), Perez (KC), Wieters (BAL)
· LF: Cespedes (OAK), Dirks (DET), Gordon (KC)
· CF: Cain (KC), Esllbury (BOS), Jones (BAL)
· RF: Markakis (BAL), Reddick (OAK), Victorino (BOS)
· P: Corbin (ARZ), Greinke (LAD), Wainwright (STL)
· 1B: Goldschmidt (ARZ), Gonzalez (LAD), Rizzo (CHC)
· 2B: Barney (CHC), Ellis (LAD), Phillips (CIN)
· 3B: Arenado (COL), Uribe (LAD), Wright (NYM)
· SS: Desmond (WAS), Tulowitski (COL), Simmons (ATL)
· C: Ellis (LAD), Martin (PIT), Molina (STL)
· LF: Gonzalez (COL), Marte (PIT), Young (NYM)
· CF: Gomez (MIL), McCutchen (PIT), Span (WAS)
· RF: Bruce (CIN), Heyward (ATL), Parra (ARZ)
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is continuing his interviewing process for a new manager while spending the week in Arizona and you can add Padres bench coach Rick Renteria to the list of contenders.
Renteria, 51, interviewed earlier this week with the Cubs about their vacancy and a baseball source indicated he talked Thursday with Zduriencik about Seattle’s opening as well.
The Mariners are also believed to be interested in Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus, who has been mentioned prominently as a contender for the vacant Tigers position following Jim Leyland’s resignation. Ausmus, 44, finished an 18-year Major League career as a catcher in 2010 and has since worked in the Padres’ front office.
Ausmus, a three-time Gold Glove winner, has not managed or coached in the Majors or Minor Leagues, but did manage Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and was well regarded for his leadership and baseball knowledge as a player.
Renteria has a longer track record in coaching as he just finished his sixth season on the Padres’ Major League staff, including the last three as bench coach. He also managed Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Renteria has worked in the Padres organization since 2003 and spent four seasons managing the club’s Class A team at Lake Elsinore and another year leading Triple-A Portland before moving up to San Diego in 2007 as a first-base coach.
Renteria also managed four seasons in the Marlins’ organization at the Class A and AA levels and was the Midwest League Manager of the Year in 1999.
Renteria played parts of five seasons in the Majors as a utility infielder between 1986-94, including 43 games with the Mariners in 1987 and ’88.
Zduriencik has interviewed several candidates this week, including A’s bench coach Chip Hale, as he goes about the process of replacing Eric Wedge, who resigned at the end of a disappointing 71-91 season.
The Mariners, Cubs, Tigers and Nationals are all in pursuit of new managers and will likely wait until after the World Series concludes to make any final decisions. The Reds promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to fill their vacancy prior to the start of the World Series.
Jack Zduriencik has spent the past three weeks putting together his list of managerial candidates to replace Eric Wedge and now things will begin heating up, with A’s bench coach Chip Hale among the first to meet with the Mariners general manager.
Zduriencik is in Arizona for the remainder of this week and was scheduled to meet with Hale on Wednesday, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. Hale, 48, has worked as Bob Melvin’s top assistant the past two years in Oakland and lives in Tucson, Ariz.
Zduriencik will be having initial talks with a number of people in Phoenix this week, some serious candidates and some just for background purposes as the hiring process heats up. Zduriencik is expected to talk to some internal candidates in the Mariners organization as well.
Hale was an infielder with the Twins and Dodgers from 1989-97 before getting into coaching. He spent six seasons as a Minor League manager in the D-backs organization and earned Pioneer League and Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year awards before joining Bob Melvin’s staff as the third base coach and infield coach in Arizona from 2007-09.
He then spent two years as the Mets third base coach in 2010-11 before rejoining Melvin’s staff in Oakland the past two years.
Hale is regarded in baseball circles as one of the up-and-coming managerial prospects in the game as a young, energetic candidate who is detail-oriented and good with the media. He’s obviously familiar with the American League West from his time with the A’s and has worked with some very successful teams, including the National League West champion D-backs in 2007 and the AL West champion A’s the past two years.
Hale interviewed with the Mariners in 2008 when they hired Don Wakamatsu and has also been a contender for several other openings in recent years.
The Mariners are expected to extend their hiring process into early November, after the conclusion of the World Series. Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo is among a lengthy list of candidates that has been mentioned, but he has made it known he doesn’t want to talk with any suitors until his team is done playing.
Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, Tigers hitting coach and former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, former White Sox and Marlins bench coach Joey Cora and current Mariners front-office member Ted Simmons are among the potential candidates, though other names likely will emerge as the process plays out.
There are currently four Major League teams looking for new managers – the Cubs, Nationals, Tigers and Mariners — with the Reds having just promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to replace Dusty Baker.
It’ll be interesting to see what direction the Mariners go. While many fans clamor for familiar names like Baker, the current trend could lean more toward giving lesser-known candidates a chance, given Mike Matheny and John Farrell have led the Cardinals and Red Sox into this year’s World Series. MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince had a good take on that earlier this week in looking at all the openings around baseball.
While Mariners fans are anxious for general manager Jack Zduriencik to add new talent to the roster this offseason, 81 percent of respondents to a quick Twitter poll said they would not have wanted the club to sign Tim Lincecum for the two-year, $35 million deal he got with the Giants on Tuesday.
There had been some early speculation that Lincecum might be interested in signing with his hometown Mariners club as he hit free agency this offseason, but the Giants never let things get that far as they inked their former two-time National League Cy Young winner to a new deal before the free agency period begins following the World Series.
Lincecum, 29, grew up just east of Seattle in Bellevue and pitched for Liberty High School in Renton and the University of Washington before the Mariners passed over him in the 2006 Draft and instead took pitcher Brandon Morrow out of California. Lincecum then proceeded to go 69-41 with a 2.81 ERA and win four All-Star berths from 2008-11 in San Francisco.
But the hard-throwing right-hander lost a little off his fastball and was 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA the past two years, and the Giants are paying a steep price now for a pitcher they’d already spent $63 million on over the past four seasons when he was arbitration eligible, including $22 million last season when he was 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA in 32 starts.
The general consensus of Mariners fans responding to the informal survey on my Twitter account (@gregjohnsMLB) seemed to be that Lincecum might have been a nice addition to the staff, but not at that cost. Of the 96 respondents to the survey, 78 said they would not have wanted the Mariners to sign Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal.
Zduriencik would like to add a veteran pitcher to the Mariners’ mix, most likely a mid-rotation type to slide in behind Felix Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma, in order to take some pressure off up-and-coming youngsters Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez.
It seems doubtful the Mariners would have spent that sort of money on another starter, however, given their bigger need seems to be adding more offensive punch. But the price tag for pitching just went up, if Lincecum’s deal is any indication. Or perhaps this was just the Giants overspending to keep their own popular pitcher in San Francisco.
Either way, Lincecum is now off the market for another two years.
While Mariners president Chuck Armstrong did talk to former manager Lou Piniella last week about the club’s managerial opening, a team official said Friday there was no “full-court press” to bring back the former skipper as has been reported.
Mariners baseball information director Tim Hevly said front-office members have been making calls to people around the game to gather their opinions and that Piniella himself brought up the question of whether he’d be interested during a chat with Armstrong, then called back several days later to say he didn’t want to manage again.
Hevly said Armstrong was talking to Piniella about a number of topics, including letting him know he was going to be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame next year.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was the first to report Thursday night that the 70-year-old Piniella had been contacted by the Mariners.
“I talked to them about the job, but that’s it,” Piniella told Rosenthal. “There was nothing else to it. It was just conversation, nothing more.”
But Rosenthal also quoted a “source with knowledge of the discussions” as saying the club put on “a full-court press” in pursuit of Piniella and Hevly said that simply wasn’t accurate, noting that Armstrong talked to Piniella before heading to Italy on vacation, but general manager Jack Zduriencik is the one doing the hiring.
“Chuck isn’t even in the country right now. Jack is leading the manager’s search,” Hevly said. “And he is still in the process of putting together a list of candidates. People here are talking to lots of people in the game about jobs and managers. As part of a larger conversation with Lou last week, the manager job came up.
“Lou expressed some interest in it, we were surprised, but listened,” Hevly said. “He then called back and said he didn’t want to pursue it. There was no full-court press or serious discussions.”
Piniella is the only manager in Mariners history with a winning record, posting an 840-711 record from 1993-2002 and leading the club to its only four post-season appearances. He then managed Tampa Bay for three seasons and the Cubs for three and a half years before stepping down in August of 2010 to care for his ailing mother.
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said last week that Zduriencik would be the one conducting the hiring process and he didn’t expect any decision until November, after the conclusion of the World Series, in order to allow the team to pursue candidates who might be working for clubs currently in the playoffs.
One of the prospective candidates, A’s bench coach Chip Hale, just saw his team eliminated Thursday night. Tim Wallach, another possible candidate, is working as third base coach for the Dodgers as they begin play in the National League Championship Series. The Mariners aren’t believed to have conducted any formal interviews yet.
Mariners prospects Stefen Romero and Patrick Kivlehan each had a hit and left-hander Kyle Hunter pitched a pair of scoreless innings on Tuesday as the Peoria Javelinas lost their Arizona Fall League opener to Surprise, 7-6, in Surprise, Ariz.
The three Mariners farmhands are among seven Seattle players on the Javelinas squad in the AFL, which features top youngsters from all 30 Major League teams in a 31-game, five-week season.
Hunter was a late replacement on the Peoria team, taking the place of left-hander Danny Hultzen, who underwent surgery to repair a tear in his rotator cuff last week. Hunter, 24, went 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 34 appearances for Double-A Jackson after an early season promotion from Class-A High Desert this past season.
Hunter allowed just one hit with no runs and three strikeouts while pitching the fourth and fifth innings in his debut for the Javelinas. He was a 31st –round Draft pick out of Kansas State in 2011.
Romero and Kivlehan are better-known prospects in the Mariners system. Romero, 24, is the Mariners’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com’s rankings, and hit .277 with 11 home runs and 74 RBIs for Tacoma this past season after getting a late start due to an oblique injury. The former Oregon State standout went 1-for-3 and scored a pair of runs on Tuesday while playing left field.
Kivlehan, 23, went 1-for-4 at designated hitter on Tuesday. The former Rutgers football player hit .303 with 16 homers and 90 RBIs while splitting last season between Class-A Clinton and High Desert. Kivelhan is Seattle’s No. 16 prospect in MLB.com’s rankings.
Four other Mariners players – pitchers Brandon Maurer, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith and shortstop Chris Taylor — didn’t participate in Tuesday’s AFL opener. Maurer is the only one of Seattle’s seven representatives who has played in the Majors as he went 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 22 games for the Mariners as a rookie.
Leone and Smith are hard-throwing right-handed relievers who competed for Jackson this past year, while Taylor earned the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year honors after hitting .314 while splitting the season between High Desert and Jackson.
The Peoria squad is made up of players from the Mariners, Royals, Astros, Padres and Phillies and managed by Jim Pankovits, who has led the Mariners’ Double-A Jackson team the past three years. Here is the full Peoria roster.
The Javelinas host Surprise in a rematch of the same two teams Wednesday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. Here’s the full AFL schedule for Peoria.
Travis Witherspoon, a 24-year-old center fielder in the Angels organization, was claimed off waivers on Tuesday by the Mariners and added to their 40-man roster.
To make room on the 40-man, veteran catcher Henry Blanco has been designated for assignment.
Witherspoon spent all of last season playing for Double-A Arkansas, where he hit .214 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 129 games. He has 140 steals in 173 attempts in his Minor League career, including 110 since the start of the 2011 season.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander was a 12th-round selection in the 2009 Draft out of Spartanburg Methodist College and is regarded as a strong defender and excellent athlete with good speed and power potential who needs to develop his pitch recognition and on-base percentage.
Witherspoon was the 13th-ranked prospect in the Angels’ organization in the latest MLB.com ratings. He is a native of Sumter, South Carolina. Here’s a story former scout Bernie Pleskoff wrote in February for MLB.com outlining why he felt Witherspoon had high upside as an Angels’ prospect.
Blanco, 42, was claimed off waivers by Seattle in mid-June to help mentor rookie catcher Mike Zunino and wound up batting .125 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 35 games. The 16-year Major League veteran hit two grand slams for the Mariners, including a game-winning shot in his Seattle debut in Oakland to help Felix Hernandez to a 4-0 victory on June 15.
But Blanco finished the season in a 1-for-33 slump to finish at .142 for the year, including 15 games with the Blue Jays.
The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Blanco’s contract to the Minor Leagues.
Danny Hultzen, the Mariners top left-handed pitching prospect, underwent shoulder surgery in Pensacola, Fla., on Tuesday to repair a partial tear of his left rotator cuff and clean up the labrum.
No timetable was set on the return of Hultzen, currently rated No. 23 among all of baseball’s prospects by MLB.com. But shoulder surgeries are difficult for pitchers and it would seem unlikely for Hultzen to return by next season.
Hultzen, 23, was Seattle’s first-round Draft choice in 2011 out of the University of Virginia and the second overall pick behind right-hander Gerrit Cole of the Pirates.
“This is very unfortunate for Danny and his family, but we have nothing but high hopes for a good recovery and rehab,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “Danny is a tireless worker and will do everything he can to get back on the mound to start competing again.”
The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, one of the premier orthopedic specialists in the country.
Hultzen made seven Minor League starts during the past season, going 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Tacoma and also picking up a win with five innings of one-run ball in an Arizona Rookie League rehab start.
Hultzen made his last appearance Sept. 1 for Tacoma, throwing two scoreless innings after missing most of the second half of the Triple-A season, then threw a simulated game under the supervision of Mariners staff at Safeco Field in preparation for a stint in instructional ball in Arizona and then the Arizona Fall League.
But the shoulder began hurting again when Hultzen went to Arizona and he underwent surgery after tests revealed damage in the shoulder capsule.
A day after announcing he wouldn’t be returning to the Mariners next season, manager Eric Wedge had one clear message for the media in his pregame chat prior to facing the A’s on Saturday afternoon.
Initial reports spoke largely to the fact Wedge had not been offered a long-term contract and wasn’t willing to take a one-year extension to stay in Seattle, but the third-year skipper said there was far more to it.
The primary issue, he said, was a different vision from team CEO Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik.
“Let me be clear here,” Wedge said. “The contract is not the reason I’m not coming back here. If they offered me a five-year contract, I’m not coming back here. So let’s be clear with that. Where they see the club – they being Howard, Chuck and Jack – and where I see the club and my vision of the future is just different. That’s as plain as I can make it.”
Wedge declined to get into specific differences, saying they ran the “gamut.” But he referred several times to the youthful rebuilding process the club underwent again this year. Three rookie position players – shortstop Brad Miller, second baseman Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino – were brought up in midseason and the pitching staff leaned heavily on youth as well.
“It’s just about sticking with the kids that you believe in, adding to it and being patient,” he said. “Sticking with the program. And having consistency. You have to have consistency with personnel. Every time you turn over, you start over again to a certain extent.”
Wedge noted this year’s roster is heavy on older veteran players and very young players, but lacking the inbetween group that usually is the core of most good clubs and mid-career veterans on longer-term deals who are vested in the team’s future.
“Kendrys [Morales] was good, Raul [Ibanez] was good. One-year deals,” Wedge said. “[Michael] Morse and [Franklin] Gutierrez didn’t work out. Then you had [Jesus] Montero and [Brendan] Ryan didn’t work out. [Dustin] Ackley we had to adjust and have him go back down and figure it out and go to the outfield and that’s worked out well for him.
“Starting pitching will be a big part of these guys moving forward. But where we were in Spring Training and where we were very shortly after that were two different things. We went right back to rebuild mode and started bringing up all these kids. You just can’t get around it. I still feel like before I got sick, they were just starting to get their mojo going a little there. But that was it.”
What do the Mariners need to take that next step?
“It’s a combination of the kids continuing to get better and ultimately getting it, getting over that hump and becoming the big leaguers you want them to be.” Wedge said. “But you also have to get some guys in here. You have to get somebody you can count on in the middle of your lineup, another one you can count on in the middle of your rotation and a guy in the bullpen, too. Easier said than done, with the free-agent market and everybody is trying to make trades. But that’s up to them.”
The Mariners are 70-90 going into Saturday’s game and 212-272 in his three years since taking over a team that went 61-101 in 2010. Wedge said upon arrival he was in it for the long haul and understood what it was going to take to turn things around.
Asked if he was the fall guy now for the losing record, Wedge said that’ s part of the job of Major League manager.
“That comes with the territory,” he said. “But I know what’s happened here and that’s enough for me. I had a vision coming in here. I came here for certain reasons and I’m leaving here for certain reasons.”