By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Seattle Mariners fired back Monday morning at two disgruntled former employees over their allegations of meddling and incompetence among the club’s top executives.
General manager Jack Zduriencik issued a statement on the first day of the Winter Meetings, in hopes of minimizing fallout from the article, which appeared in Sunday’s editions of The Seattle Times.
The article painted a grim picture of disarray in the club’s upper management in assertions by ex-manager Eric Wedge, and Tony Blengino, who served as a special assistant to Zduriencik for statistical analysis.
Zduriencik’s statement categorically denied allegations that he, chairman and chief executive officer Howard Lincoln and president and chief operating officer Chuck Armstrong engaged in meddling.
“I have worked for several major league organizations,” Zduriencik said in the statement. “Our upper management has suggestions and asks questions, just like CEOs and presidents in other organizations do, all to be helpful and contribute to the goal of winning.”
The Mariners recently jolted the baseball world by agreeing to terms with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano on a 10-year contract for $240 million. That deal should become official later this week.
Numerous reports also link the Mariners to several other top free agents and attractive trade targets as they seek to reverse a run of four straight losing seasons.
Zduriencik’s statement sought to shift focus to those efforts.
“Over the years,” it began, “we have chosen to take the high road in talking about former Mariners’ personnel. It hasn’t always been easy, but we felt it was important to do so, not just for the club but also for the individual.
“And in every case, it proved to be the right way to handle things. However, we believe the comments made by former members of our organization that appeared in the Sunday Seattle Times require a brief response.”
Wedge turned down a contract extension late in the season, preferring to quit because of what he characterized in The Times article as a “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership.”
That dysfunction, Wedge said, included interference with routine managerial duties.
Zduriencik’s statement contends Wedge faced nothing out of the ordinary.
“When there are areas that need improvement,” Zduriencik’s statement said, “it’s my job to ask questions, suggest ideas and give direction to the field staff.
“When upper management has questions or suggestions, it’s my job to respond to them. I don’t believe meddling is a fair portrayal.”
The statement also addressed Wedge’s irritation at the suggestion of implementing extra on-field early practice for young players late in the season.
Wedge said the club’s trainers warned the players were too worn out for the extra work to be beneficial. Zduriencik disagreed.
“That suggestion was mine,” the statement said. “Everyone in the baseball department thought this would be a good teaching time to help us improve our fundamentals with a young team and help set the tone for spring training.”
Blegnino was highly critical of Zduriencik’s management style, characterizing it as “intimidating, manipulating, and pitting people against one another. Berating them for no particular reason.”
Zduriencik’s statement seemed to dismiss Blegnino, whose contract was not renewed for 2014, as little more than a disgruntled former employee.
“I can also say that our current statistical analysis group is doing excellent work,” the statement said. “Our dedicated staff and the tools they are using are a key component in our decision-making process, and are light years ahead of where we’ve been.
“I am engaged with their work on a daily basis and very excited in the improvements made. We have never deviated from our rebuilding plan. We have stayed the course, and we now had a talented group of young players.
“We are hard at work looking into every option to add to this core group, as we said we would, and we are looking forward to 2014 and beyond.”