M’s hire Tigers hitting coach McClendon as manager

SEATTLE — Lloyd McClendon was hired as manager of the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, taking over a rebuilding job that Eric Wedge walked away from.

McClendon becomes the third manager hired by general manager Jack Zduriencik. Wedge quit at the end of the Mariners’ fourth straight losing season, citing differences with the front office on how to move forward with improving the team. Wedge’s three-year contract expired after the season.

The 54-year-old McClendon is the 16th full-time manager in club history. He takes over a club that went 71-91 last year. He will be formally introduced by the team on Thursday.

“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to manage the Seattle Mariners,” McClendon said in a statement. “Seattle has a tremendous group of talented players and the fans and city should be excited about the club’s future. I’m looking for this group to take a big step forward.”

Seattle is the fourth club to fill its managerial vacancy. The Washington Nationals hired Matt Williams to replace Davey Johnson. The Cincinnati Reds, who fired Dusty Baker after a 90-win season, went with pitching coach Bryan Price as their new manager and Detroit chose Brad Ausmus to take over for Jim Leyland — a job McClendon interviewed for.

The Chicago Cubs are still looking for a manager.

McClendon was the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001-05, going 336-446 during the Pirates’ 20-year stretch of losing seasons. Pittsburgh never won more than 75 games or finished higher than fourth in the NL Central during his tenure and he was fired in early September of the 2005 season.

After Pittsburgh, McClendon settled into a stable role Leyland’s staff in Detroit. For eight seasons, McClendon was a coach for the Tigers, including the last seven as hitting coach. He interviewed for managerial positions in Seattle and Miami during that stretch, but never got an offer.

“Lloyd is a bright and articulate guy,” Zduriencik said in the statement. “He has major league managerial experience and has served in a vital capacity in Detroit under one of the game’s best managers. He is a tireless worker and is very respected by the players with whom he has worked. We look forward to Lloyd embracing our players as we move the Mariners forward.”

Zduriencik didn’t expect to be in this position. As of late September, Zduriencik was preparing for Wedge to be around to continue to rebuild Seattle into a contender. Instead Wedge left and Zduriencik was tasked with hiring the eighth manager or interim manager for the franchise since 2002.

McClendon was one of five reported finalists for the Mariners job, a list that included Joey Cora, Oakland bench coach Chip Hale, Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and San Diego bench coach Rick Renteria. McClendon was the only one of the group with previous major league managerial experience.

Cora had ties to the Mariners franchise from his time as a player in Seattle.

McClendon spent eight seasons in the majors as a player with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs. He immediately transitioned from a playing career into coaching, serving as a hitting coach for the Pirates in 1995 until he accepted their managerial position before the 2001 season.

McClendon will likely need time to build a winner in Seattle even with a starting rotation anchored by AL Cy Young award finalist Hisashi Iwakuma and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. The Mariners haven’t been to the postseason since 2001, and there are numerous roster questions for the club playing in one of baseball’s toughest divisions.

Seattle has high hopes for young catcher Mike Zunino, shortstop Brad Miller and second baseman Nick Franklin. Justin Smoak solidified himself at first base after showing some consistency at the plate last season and third baseman Kyle Seager was the Mariners most reliable everyday player.

But even with making a qualifying offer, it seems unlikely slugging designated hitter Kendrys Morales will accept a $14.1 million, one-year deal when there could be a bigger pot in free agency.

Raul Ibanez hit 29 homers at age 41, but there it’s unclear if Seattle wants to bring him back, and he’s not a long-term solution. The rest of the Mariners outfield is unproven and their bullpen struggled for stretches of the season.

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