By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — With three games remaining in the 2013 season — the final year of his contract — and no rumors of an extension, it was only a matter of time before Eric Wedge was asked about the status of his future employment as the manager of the Seattle Mariners.
The question came before Wednesday’s game. And Wedge was ready for it like a hitter with the green light with a 3-0 count.
“Well, it’s tough,” he said. “I feel like I’m hanging out there, that’s the reality of it. But I’m coming here and doing my job. You know how passionate I am about this team, and these players in particular, and this organization. The unfortunate part about how it’s being handled is the effect it has on the players. That’s why we’re all here, is for the players.”
Wedge has yet to discuss the situation with general manager Jack Zduriencik.
“It will be some time between now and the end of the season or right after the season ends,” Wedge said. “So we’ll have to sit down and talk.
On Tuesday, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong confirmed that Zduriencik would be back for the 2014 season, which he received a contract extension for last offseason.
Wedge has received no such assurances. The decision is up to Zduriencik, who has said he will wait until the season is over with before finalizing it. It’s readily apparent that it frustrates Wedge.
“Yeah, we shouldn’t be in this situation,” he said. “But you man up. You handle it. It’s what you do. When you are leading men, the men like to know who and what they are being led by and if they are going to be around tomorrow. So it does change the dynamic. But I knew that for a long time. This hasn’t just started. It’s been that way for quite a while. It gets to be in the way.”
The Mariners are on their way to losing 90 games this season. It will be the third straight losing team under Wedge.
“Here’s the thing, the big league club was in bad shape when I got here,” he said. “And that was told to me directly. We righted the ship. We won six more games the first year. We sured up our system and won eight more games last year. We came in here this year and felt like were going to do better. But things changed in a hurry.”
Those things were injuries to Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Michael Morse and Stephen Pryor and the poor play of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Tom Wilhelmsen. It forced the Mariners bring up rookies like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino far sooner than anticipated.
“So you bring young kids up, so you take a step back to move two steps forward, that’s what we did,” he said. ” It’s just the way it’s worked out.”
It’s the third straight year the Mariners have been forced to play younger players for much of the season. In his three-year tenure, 31 players have made their major league debut. He knew this would be part of the rebuilding plan, but having this young of a team in his third year wasn’t anticipated.
“But you’re going to be better suited for the future,” he said. “It has to be a long-term plan. I didn’t get here 12 years ago, I didn’t get here six years ago. I got here less than three years ago. So this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re committed to. You have to have strength. You’ve got to have conviction with what you do. But if somebody else is sitting in this seat tomorrow, they’re going to be in a decent situation moving forward, really.”
Amidst this season’s roster turnover, Wedge suffered a minor stroke on July 22 before a game and missed a month of season to recover, while bench coach Robby Thompson took over. He believes it was a factor in the team’s struggles.
“I still felt like, before I got sick, that we were ramping up,” Wedge said. “If you look at what we were starting to do and some of the series we playing and some of the wins we were having, it was all coming together nicely and then I got sick and I’m gone for a month. It’s not like I left marching orders. Robby and everybody did a great job, but the program was disrupted. It’s been unfortunate. And it’s been tough ever since.”
Wedge hopes the Mariners don’t use his health as an issue not to bring him back.
“Well that would be unfair,” he said. “It’s been very clear to me from all the doctors I’m going to be 100 percent. I’m going to have to get into the offseason and then I’ll be fine. They said three to six months.”
He even joked about his diagnosis of sleep apnea as being something that will help him be a better manager.
“Hell, I’m going to be better than I ever have been because evidently my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen each and every night and I was working all day to catch up from it,” he said. “I’m looking to be fueled and fired the rest of the way. I feel great. I feel like I’m 33 years old again.”
And he feels like he should be managing the team in the future.
“I’m a strong man, and I’m going to be fine either way,” he said. “But I’d like to see this thing through. We’ve done a lot of developing with a lot of young players over three years. I’d like to be here to lead them and turn the corner.”
Still in the tone of his voice and in the things he said on Wednesday and in the days before that, he sounds like a man who seems resolute in the fact that he won’t be coming back.
“Hey, I’ve done this before,” he said. “I know how to do it. The worst thing they could do is blow it up and start over. You got to stick something at some point in time.”
The Mariners haven’t been great at that. Wedge was their eighth manager since Lou Piniella left in 2002.
“My best managing days are ahead of me whether it’s here or somewhere else,” he said. “I want to be here. I moved my family out here. I’m committed to the community. I’m all in. I haven’t done anything wrong except for come out here and coach up these kids and teach them how to play at the big league level. That’s what I do. I don’t bitch about anything. I’m here to help these kids become good solid big league players and hopefully solid citizens in Seattle. So if that is not enough for them, then so be it.”