Mariners manager Eric Wedge isn’t about to make his departure any easier on the team’s upper management before Sunday’s season finale.
Wedge on Saturday called out the team’s top brass and disputed their version of why he decided to resign and not return next year. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik on Friday told the media his only serious disagreement with Wedge was the manager feeling a one-year contract extension through 2014 was insufficient.
But on Saturday morning, Wedge said that was simply not the case.
“Let me be clear here: The contract is not the reason I’m not coming back here,” Wedge said. “If they’d offered me a five-year contract, I wouldn’t have come back here. So, let’s be clear with that.”
Instead, he added, it’s because of a fundamental disagreement with Zduriencik, team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln over the team’s future direction.
Wedge made his comments in the hours before his team defeated the Oakland Athletics, 7-5, in front of 17,751 fans at Safeco Field. Brad Miller hit a grand slam, a solo home run and drove in five runs to help starting pitcher Brandon Maurer notch the victory with 51 / 3 innings of two-run ball.
“Them getting to third with no outs allows me to look for something to drive,” Miller said of his first career slam. “I was lucky to get one.”
Justin Smoak also hit a two-run homer, giving him a career-high 20 this season.
But in a scenario that’s repeated itself daily since Tuesday, much of the talk surrounding the team was all about off-field stuff. Wedge said there has been a philosophical breakdown since last winter between him and management over the team’s direction.
“It’s where they see the club,” he said. “ ‘They’ being Howard (Lincoln), Chuck (Armstrong) and Jack (Zduriencik). And where I see the club and my vision for the future and theirs, it’s just different. And that’s about as plain as I can make it.”
Randy Adamack, the Mariners’ senior vice president of communication, said the team had no comment on Wedge’s latest statements.
Wedge declined to go into specifics about the disagreement. But he’s hinted in broader strokes that it is over the team’s commitment to its rebuilding plan and the lack of supporting cast it has brought in to help younger players.
Several veterans imported last winter came on one-year deals. Wedge agreed the team lacks the type of fourth- and fifth-year players in their prime that can speed a rebuilding plan along.
The Mariners also went with oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez in a key role as their everyday center fielder despite his health history. Gutierrez was never completely healthy in spring training and got hurt right away in April, exposing outfield depth issues on the roster.
Wedge has managed Gutierrez since their days in Cleveland and been vocal in his belief the outfielder’s playing time has to be managed — and limited, even when healthy — to keep him productive. When Gutierrez couldn’t stay on the field more than a day or two at a time in April, Wedge grew visibly exasperated with the situation as losses mounted.
Injuries to Michael Saunders and Michael Morse worsened the outfield situation. By June, tired of the struggles of youngsters Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, as well as veteran Brendan Ryan, the Mariners effectively called it a season and brought up Nick Franklin, Miller and Mike Zunino from Class AAA.
Wedge was asked whether he felt he was now shouldering the blame for how losses piled up.
“It comes with the territory, you know what I mean?” he said. “I mean, I know what’s happened here and that’s enough for me.”
Wedge said a rebuilding plan like the one in Seattle needs upper management to remain patient with mistakes by young players while providing a solid support base of older players to take pressure off inexperienced guys.
“And having consistency,” he said. “You have to have consistency with personnel. Every time you turn over, you start over again to a certain extent.”
Wedge said that need for personnel consistency applies to the coaching staff as well as players being brought in or continuously promoted from the minors.
“The whole gambit,” he said.
Wedge has said he’d expected the rebuilding to be further along, but the decision to “go young” again with new faces meant more losing would need to be endured short-term. He said he didn’t have the say in personnel matters he feels a big-league manager is entitled to have.
“Not to the extent that I would have liked,” he said.
Sources indicated this past week that the Mariners have contemplated changes to Wedge’s coaching staff because of a perceived lack of preparation of players and their inability to execute in key situations. Zduriencik said Friday he planned to address players before Sunday’s finale about how execution will be a prime focus next season.
Wedge has said it’s tough to expect rookie players to fully execute and that mistakes are part of rebuilding pains. Wedge said Saturday that getting through his final two days here won’t be easy given everything going on.
“It’s tough,” he said. “But ultimately, you’ve got to do what you believe in.”