By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Before the Seattle Mariners could tell him he wasn’t coming back next season, or that he could only come back on a one-year contract, Eric Wedge told the Mariners he was done with the organization.
On Friday morning, Wedge informed the front office that he has no interest in returning for the 2014 season. He will manage the final three games of this season, but he won’t put on a Mariners’ uniform again.
“It’s got to the point where it’s painfully obvious to me that I just wasn’t going to be able to move forward with this organization,” he said before Friday’s game. “We see things differently. We talked about it. But it just got to the point where I couldn’t continue to move forward.”
Wedge’s abrupt resignation means general manager Jack Zduriencik will be looking for his third manager in his five-year tenure. Unless the club brings back someone who’s been here before, the Mariners will have their ninth different manager since 2002 when spring training opens in 2014.
The prevailing thought was that Zduriencik was going to be looking for a replacement for Wedge anyway. Wedge had presided over three-consecutive losing seasons, and this year’s team has lost more games than the teams in either of the first two years.
Still, Zduriencik said the decision from Wedge wasn’t anticipated. He expected Wedge would be his manager in 2014 as did CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong.
“I was surprised,” Zduriencik said. “I was looking forward to having Eric back. But through his series of thought processes, he decided this wasn’t going to work. There was never a discussion of not bringing Eric back. All the discussions we had with the front office with Chuck, Howard, myself and the baseball people, we were prepared to bring him back. I think Eric knew I was in his corner and wanted him to come back.”
Wedge requested a meeting on Thursday to discuss his situation. The original plan was for Zduriencik and Wedge to meet on Monday after the season to discuss everything, including his contract status.
“He just felt that it was a time to make a decision and he needed a decision before the season ended,” Zduriencik said. “I saw that a little differently. I thought, let’s just wait till Monday.”
But that wasn’t the only difference between the two. Wedge wanted a multi-year extension, Zduriencik wasn’t willing to offer that.
“I made it very clear that I wanted to move forward with this organization,” he said. “Ultimately, I didn’t feel like I could continue to manage here with the circumstances the way they are.”
The circumstances were a one-year extension for 2014 and no guarantees beyond.
“I know Eric would have been here through the 2014 season,” Zduriencik said. “From our point, there was a trust factor, you know, ‘Eric, if you do a good job, we’ll move forward with you.’”
Wedge didn’t trust the lack of security, the lame-duck status and the perception that followed with it. It’s why he refused to accept a one-year contract extension that was discussed after last season.
“I told them I wasn’t willing or prepared to do that at that time,” he said. “I didn’t feel like that was the proper endorsement for a young, rebuilding team moving forward. I didn’t feel like that sent the right message to the players, first and foremost, and ultimately the fans, too. So that endorsement just wasn’t there for me.”
Wedge preached often about being “all-in” on the Mariners’ rebuilding process, but he’s now folded the hand after three straight losing seasons. It’s difficult to maintain how improved the Mariners are after his three years.
“It’s tough, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting,” Wedge said. “But sometimes people just don’t see things the same way and things just don’t work. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wanted it to work. But it’s not just going to.”
So what will make it work?
“I just think that when you talk about building something, you have to have a long term view of it,” Wedge said. “And you’ve got to be patient and stick with the program; even on the worst days, you have to stick with the program. Even when everyone else says it’s not working, you have to stick with the program. Even when it’s not on your timeline, you have to stick with the program. Hopefully, they will be able to do that.”
Zduriencik will begin the managerial search immediately. He certainly has experience with it. He hired Don Wakamatsu in 2009 when he began his tenure as GM of the Mariners. After firing Wakamatsu in the middle of the 2010 season, he hired Wedge for the 2011 season.
For Zduriencik, the cliche of “the third time is the charm” isn’t probably too amusing at this time. But he believes the situation is still attractive to prospective candidates.
“The circumstances are different,” he said. “I think every year there is a different set of circumstances. If you look at this organization and where we are at and what we’ve done here, I think this is a very desirable job for a lot of good candidates out there. I’ve heard this a lot the last half of the season from every club we’ve played — the comments from the general managers and comments from the managers. They like what’s going on here, they see our young talent and they know our minor league system. I think somebody out there is going to look at this and say, ‘this is a pretty good spot to be.’”
One of those circumstances in the current situation is Zduriencik’s contract status. He received a one-year extension for 2014 last offseason, but there has been no discussion of him getting an extension past 2014. It means that a prospective manager could be lose his job after one season if Zduriencik isn’t brought back.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue,” Zduriencik said. “I look at it this way: I’m here doing my job and I’m going to do my job until I’m told, ‘Jack, it’s the end.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m on a one-year deal, a two-year deal or a three-year deal, it doesn’t change what I’m doing.”
Zduriencik wouldn’t say whether the next manager will be brought in on a one-year deal, or a multi-year deal.
“That’s hard to say,” he said. “I don’t know who the candidates are going to be. I think each case is different.”