Mariners reduce search for manager down to three, plus possible wild cards

SEATTLE — Seven interviews in four, whirlwind days. Early breakfast meetings, power lunches, late-dinner talks and reference calls. All that has apparently whittled the Mariners’ search for a new manager down to three final candidates and one or two possible wild cards.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said he probably has three men he prefers over the other four and will likely bring them back for a second interview. That means this long search will likely continue into next week.

And because none of the candidates he has talked to this week has managed in the major leagues before, the GM said he may bring in one or two additional candidates who has.

“It could become like a horse race — let’s give it one more shot, go down the stretch and see who solidifies himself in the second interview,” Zduriencik said Thursday night after interviewing St. Louis third-base coach Jose Oquendo and before taking him to dinner.

Zduriencik interviewed Boston third-base coach DeMarlo Hale in the morning. Before that, Zduriencik and Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong met with San Diego Triple-A manager Randy Ready, Oakland bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Boston bench coach Brad Mills, Chicago White Sox bench coach and former Mariners infielder Joey Cora, and Arizona third-base coach Chip Hale.

“I’ll tell you, I was impressed,” Zduriencik said. “All were very well prepared. They had worked for this and earned the right to be here.”

Zduriencik had said it was “50-50” that the search would end this week. Now he’s saying there only a small chance it will be done by the weekend.

The Mariners can afford to take their time. They have the only managerial opening in the major leagues.

“The luxury we have is that we don’t have any competition in another team wanting to have one of these guys. We’re the only job open,” he said.

The first-time GM and former scout and special assistant with Milwaukee said he wants a fresh face to bring new ideas to a team that last season became the first to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll.

But in his third week on the job, doesn’t he at least want to compare all these new ideas of the inexperienced to the methods of a man who has done the job before? After all, this isn’t exactly the Phillies, Rays or Red Sox he is in charge of. Experience could presumably help a team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2001.

“That’s a very good question. I’ve asked myself that question. That’s crossed my mind,” said Zduriencik, who has been in the major leagues for 25 years.

But he said he’s talked to many managers in formal and informal situations, around batting cages and such, and thus has an idea what a former major league manager would say in an interview.

Still, he said he might bring in one he already has in mind this weekend.

“I am to a small degree open to doing that,” he said.

Oquendo played 12 seasons as an infielder in the major leagues for the Mets and Cardinals. Zduriencik knew him when he was New York’s 19-year-old shortstop in 1983 and Zduriencik was in the Mets’ front office.

Oquendo said he started wanting to become a manager in his last three years as a player, when he began seeing the game more analytically as a part-time player instead of a regular.

“I was a little nervous,” he said of sitting across from Zduriencik and Armstrong. “But it went pretty great. A lot of good questions.”

DeMarlo Hale is the third member of Terry Francona’s coaching staff in Boston that Seattle has considered. Zduriencik was also thinking about pitching coach John Farrell, who said Monday night he had withdrawn from consideration for family reasons and for his commitment to the Red Sox.

The tour of the Red Sox staff is because Boston has been a World Series winner or contender for years. And because Zduriencik and Francona have been friends for decades — they grew up 15 minutes apart in Western Pennsylvania.

Hale was a minor league manager from 1993-99 in the Red Sox organization. He also managed at Class AAA Oklahoma in the Texas organization in 2000-01.

Is he surprised at being considered for the big jump to the big leagues?

“No, I’m not surprised,” Hale said after his 3 1/2-hour interview over breakfast. “It’s very nice for them to be open to many different kinds of candidates.”

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