Eric Wedge may have been a scapegoat for the Seattle Mariners’ ills this past season.
How much of a victim, however, depends on which Eric Wedge you believe.
Concluding his third season as the Mariners’ field manager last week, Wedge initially expressed frustration over management not making a long-term commitment to his continuing employment.
In resigning a few days later, he largely retracted his previous comments — saying he would not have accepted even a five-year contact offer to return and hinting at philosophical differences with ownership and general manager Jack Zduriencik.
The first Wedge was as off-base as Michael Saunders prematurely breaking for second base on a misfired steal attempt.
Wedge hasn’t had a winning season at either Seattle or Cleveland since 2007. He owns the third worst managerial record in Mariner franchise history and saw his team regress this season. Why would you possibly make a long-term commitment to someone with that record?
The second Eric Wedge was much more on-target, particularly when he vented over the absence of players in their late 20s on the Mariner roster.
The M’s seem to be curiously averse to signing players in their prime. Their roster in recent years seems to consist primarily of raw youngsters and veterans on their last legs.
To be fair to Zduriencik, it isn’t easy to recruit high-priced free agents to the Mariners — as the club’s unsuccessful pursuit of Prince Fielder a couple of years ago demonstrated. An elite player hoping to play on a pennant contender isn’t exactly thinking of Seattle as a logical destination.
It is true, however, that Wedge was dealt ill-constructed hands during much of his Mariner tenure.
The M’s, for example, were exceptionally vulnerable to southpaw pitching this season. That’s hardly surprising, considering their lineup was largely populated with left-handed batters and switch-hitters who were less effective from the right-hand side of the plate.
To my mind, Wedge was no better or no worse than 80 percent of his managerial brethren.
He deserved a share of the blame for Seattle’s dismal record in extra-inning contests this season. Wedge’s habit of pinch-running for such slow-footed sluggers as Kendrys Morales in the late innings of regulation play often came back to haunt him when Morales was unavailable to come to the plate in critical extra-inning situations. He also frequently burned out his bullpen with multiple pitching changes in the late innings.
His lineup selection, however, was reasonably sound and he appeared to command the respect of his players. He may not have merited a rousing vote of confidence, but Zduriencik’s stated plan to bring him back for one more season didn’t seem out of line.
Most Seattle fans would assign greater blame for the current state of the club to Zduriencik, club CEO Howard Lincoln or club president Chuck Armstrong.
Armstrong’s continuing employment has always seemed a mystery, since he has never pretended to be a baseball expert and has been linked with Mariner mediocrity since the days of George Argyros’ ownership. Bringing in someone such as retired Seattle General Manager Pat Gillick to run the club would be a huge step in the right direction.
I haven’t jumped on the Dump Lincoln bandwagon, however, since there is no guarantee that his successor would keep the franchise in Seattle.
Zduriencik has been retained for 2014, which could be a watershed season for the franchise. With phenoms Taijuan Walker and James Paxton joining Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the M’s could open the campaign with an excellent starting pitching rotation. Zduriencik’s challenge will be to upgrade virtually every other department — particularly finding some right-handed bats and reliable relievers.
One thing is certain. Zduriencik’s “We’re on a five-year plan, or maybe it’s seven years or, on second thought, make it an even dozen” posture won’t wash anymore.
He’s lucky to have a job next year. Both Eric Wedges probably would agree with that.
Rick Anderson is The Daily World’s sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Daily World sports department on Twitter at @DW_GHSports.