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Originally published Monday, September 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

For M's, crucial plays happening off field this postseason

The Mariners' postseason, perhaps the most crucial in its history, starts today, when team president Chuck Armstrong has a phone call with commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the procedural logistics of contacting potential general manager candidates.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

It seems only fitting to let the closer have the final word on what he ruefully (but accurately) termed "this horrible, horrible thing we called a season."

J.J. Putz, who made the final 2008 Mariners memory an incongruously positive one Sunday by striking out the side to end a three-game sweep of Oakland, was asked to sum up the year.

"A circus," he replied. "If one thing went wrong one day, something completely different was going to go wrong the next day. It was just a miserable, miserable season."

But now it's finally, mercifully over. And the Mariners' postseason, perhaps the most crucial in its history, starts today, when team president Chuck Armstrong has a phone call with commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the procedural logistics of contacting potential general-manager candidates.

One of the apparent lead candidates already seems to be out of the running. That's Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who, according to the New York Post, has told the Steinbrenner family he wants to return. So unless the negotiations on a new contract blow up — not out of the question in light of what happened to Joe Torre last year — cross Cashman's name off the list if that story proves accurate.

But here's a possible new name to put on the list: Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin.

The word in the industry is that Melvin was not happy that Brewers manager Ned Yost was fired with 12 games to go, a decision that most believe was mandated by owner Mark Attanasio.

Melvin played the good soldier, executing and explaining the move. And the fact that the Brewers rebounded from four losses in the first five games of replacement manager Dale Sveum's regime — winning six of their last seven to earn the NL wild-card berth — could smooth over any hard feelings. Especially if the Brewers go deep into the playoffs.

But if Melvin decides that his autonomy has been irrevocably compromised, he might seek an exit from the final year of his Milwaukee contract. And it's hard to imagine the Mariners not being interested in Melvin, who presided over the most successful period in Texas Rangers history as GM from 1996 to 2001 (three AL West titles) before reviving the fortunes of the Brewers (first winning season since 1992 in 2007, first playoff berth since 1982 this year).

The Mariners still must decide what direction to go in their search, with Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln having indicated that they are open to all options.

The possibilities range from experienced sitting GMs such as Melvin, Cashman (if available) and San Diego's Kevin Towers (if team president Sandy Alderson grants permission for Seattle to talk to him, which he indicated earlier this year he would not do), to former GMs such as John Hart, Randy Smith and Gerry Hunsicker (currently senior vice president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays).

Then there's the vast network of assistant general managers, farm directors and the like, which is where the Mariners could really unearth a gem.

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Here's hoping that they have the courage and foresight to give serious consideration to some candidates on which they might find it harder to pull the trigger. It's always easier, and safer, to go for someone with a track record, but Cashman, Theo Epstein (Red Sox), Billy Beane (A's), Mark Shapiro (Indians) and Andrew Friedman (Rays) were all relative unknowns who seized their first opportunity and ran with it.

Why not make it the Mariners' mission to find the next strategical superstar from the ranks of underlings? I'm talking the likes of Kim Ng (Dodgers), Tony LaCava (Blue Jays), Jerry DiPoto (Diamondbacks) and David Forst (A's), a list that's hardly inclusive.

Rest assured that Mariners players like Putz and Raul Ibanez, who have so much of their future hinging on the Mariners' offseason choices, will be watching carefully.

"I'm just as interested as everyone else," Putz said. "It could be completely different around here, depending on which way they go with it."

So will Jim Riggleman, who deserves plaudits for the thankless job he executed with passion, grace and skill.

It was not Riggleman's fault that he often had a glorified Class AAA lineup to trot out, but his tough-minded stance helped bring some order to the circus atmosphere to which Putz alluded. He deserves consideration to hold the job on a full-time basis, but the mandate for change as the result of this year's disaster is so strong, he's realistically an extreme longshot.

The managerial question, which will be tackled after the Mariners name the GM, is another vital element in their rebound efforts.

And you thought the Mariners' season ended on Sunday? It's only just begun.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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