Larry Stone | Fresh-faced finalists could be sign Mariners will go young in 2009
The Mariners' managerial list is a model of diversity, transparency and audacity. The Magnificent Seven are jarring in their relative anonymity and inexperience.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The Mariners' managerial list is a model of diversity, transparency and audacity.
The Magnificent Seven are jarring in their relative anonymity and inexperience. The welcome upshot: not a retread among them. The dangerous corollary: not a proven commodity among them.
All are solid baseball men with sterling reputations. Many have logged considerable time managing in the minors. All have winning in their background. A few have World Series rings.
But none has sat in the big chair in the big leagues.
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik told reporters yesterday that the lack of major-league managerial experience among the seven candidates is mostly coincidence. Still, it could tell us a few things.
One is that Zduriencik is open-minded enough to want a fresh voice in the dugout, someone with unbounded energy and untapped ideas. Cynics would say that he wants someone he can control. I believe he wants someone he and the team can grow with.
The example to keep in mind is Joe Maddon, who toiled in relative obscurity as Angels bench coach until the Rays tapped him as their manager in 2006. After enduring two brutal last-place finishes, he is now the hottest name in the business. Suddenly, everyone wants to find the next Joe Maddon.
"Joe's a good story," Zduriencik said last week at the GM meetings. "Are there individuals out there like that, guys that have less experience but a similar upside? That would be intriguing to me."
You've heard of a Bucket List? Consider this his Maddon List.
It also tells me that the Mariners are inclined to go young in 2009. Though Zduriencik has yet to declare his intentions in that regard, I wouldn't be surprised if their rebuilding plan includes loading up on young talent by trading veterans like Adrian Beltre, J.J. Putz, Jarrod Washburn, et al.
The acquisition of Matt Holliday by the Athletics on Monday just highlights the difficult road ahead for the Mariners to contend in 2009. The Angels are still loaded, and the Rangers have upside.
Zduriencik said Monday he wants "to win right now ... give it our best shot in 2009."
But coming off 101 losses, the Mariners' realistic best shot may be to accumulate talent, add 10 wins to the ledger — thus giving themselves and their fans a good feeling of upward mobility — and position themselves to contend in 2010.
When I read the list of announced candidates to former M's manager Jim Riggleman last night (he had been flying all day and hadn't heard them), his initial reaction was this:
"It might indicate they are looking at a longer-range plan ... there's a little bit of a generalization out there that veteran managers are not as patient with younger players. There might be a feeling that they don't want someone who has managed before that might lose patience. It's not an accurate assessment, but it can filter into your thinking."
Zduriencik denied that the greenness of his list is indicative that a turn to youth is ahead.
"Not at all," he said. "Look at where Brad [Mills, Red Sox bench coach] has been; he's been with a club that recently won a World Series, a very successful organization. Every manager in the big leagues got his start somewhere. All had their first opportunity. That might be what happens here."
Several baseball people I talked to at the general managers meetings were skeptical that someone like Bobby Valentine would be a viable candidate in Seattle. They couldn't envision a first-time general manager hooking up with a strong-willed, assertive manager with a history of major-league success to stand behind, in a probable rebuilding situation.
Even if Zduriencik expands his list, a possibility he left open, it doesn't appear Valentine will be on it.
"I have a good job, and I'm going to keep it," Valentine told me in an e-mail from Japan, where he is manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines.
That's not to say Zduriencik is fearful of strong-willed individuals. He is wise enough to know that timid men don't win, and if the manager doesn't win, the general manager eventually pays the price. After a few weeks around the guy, I get the distinct impression that Zduriencik has the presence and strength to stand up to anyone, as well as the patience to nurture a fledgling manager.
Encouragingly, four of the seven candidates are minorities, a far cry from the ratio of one minority out of 12 interviews in 2002, when Bob Melvin was hired. That one was Willie Randolph, and he wasn't among the four finalists brought back for a second interview.
I also salute Zduriencik and the Mariners for being so transparent in their process — releasing the names of the candidates and making them available to the media after their interview. I hope this is the refreshing first salvo of an open administration.
It might not look like it now, but this job is a plum for the right manager. The resources for success exist here, even if they've been untapped for too long.
If Zduriencik chooses wisely and does his own job well, they both could be household names in a few years.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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