By Shannon Drayer
It was a surprise but not a huge one that Eric Wedge said Friday he won't return as the Mariners' manager in 2014. The bigger surprise was that apparently his fate had been far from sealed when he made that announcement. According to general manager Jack Zduriencik, the intention had been to bring him back.
"We never had any reason to think Eric wasn't coming back," Zduriencik said shortly after Wedge met with the media. "I think Eric had known I was in his corner and would like to have him back. But again, there were things we were going to talk through. I think there were a lot of things he and I were going to talk through in relation to the ballclub and direction. But again, the thought process of not bringing Eric back just wasn't there."
Zduriencik had scheduled for Monday a meeting with Wedge to go over the year and discuss what needed to happen going forward. Wedge beat Zduriencik to the punch, asking for a meeting on the off day Thursday. Wedge emailed Zduriencik Friday morning and told him he was not returning.
"It's gotten to a point where it is painfully obvious to me that I just wasn't going to be able to move forward with this organization," Wedge told the media Friday.
One reason was most likely a disagreement over the length of his contract. While Zduriencik is comfortable with a one-year deal, Wedge was not. He left a one-year deal on the table at the end of last year.
"I told them I wasn't 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. That endorsement just wasn't there for me."
That no doubt was hard for Wedge, who has been all in from day one with the Mariners. He was a tireless champion for the plan, and there were times when it seemed no one had more belief in the youth the Mariners were trying to develop than him. In his mind, it took time, it took patience, it took commitment to the long-term vision.
"Even when everybody else is saying it's not working, you've got to stick with the program," he said. "Even when it is not your timeline you've got to stick with the program. And hopefully they will be able to do that here."
Perhaps he wanted the same commitment some of his players were getting. It hasn't been year-to-year for them. They have been allowed to stumble, perhaps a bit too much at times. If the organization is committed to a young player like Dustin Ackley, then should it be similarly committed to the manager who has been developing him? I think Wedge's position was that if you believe in the program, I'm part of the program. Are you going to scrap this in one year? To that end, Wedge asked for a three-year deal when a one-year deal was offered at the end of last season season, multiple sources have told me.
Length of contract most likely is not the only reason Wedge is stepping away.
"We see things differently," he said. "We talked about it but it just got to the point where I couldn't continue to move forward."
What was stopping that? Since he or Zduriencik wouldn't elaborate, I can only give you my insight.
Starting with Bob Melvin, the Mariners have had seven different managers in the 11 years I have covered them on a daily basis. No manager has appeared to be more involved with the "upstairs" than Wedge. From the day he got to Seattle he went about establishing relationships with not only Zduriencik but team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln as well. He also took more of an active interest in what was going on in the minor leagues. He and Zduriencik had by far more meetings together than any other GM/manager duo I have seen. I believe he wanted to have a significant amount of input on personnel decisions.
For a long time it appeared Zduriencik and Wedge were on the same page. If they weren't, Wedge certainly wasn't going to say it. Up until his dugout session Wednesday when he expressed dissatisfaction over his contract status, he was always company-first. There were signs that they didn't always see eye-to-eye, however, with the first and most significant coming midway through last season.
In a postgame media session in the visiting manager's office in Oakland, the normally calm, measured and pro-youth Wedge sounded like a man who had run out of patience with a number of his young hitters. After watching Ackley and others stumble toward the All-Star break it appeared that we were about to see a number of players sent to Triple-A.
"It's just been Groundhog Day too many times for me," an exasperated Wedge said. "Like I told you before, we're in the process of evaluating everybody and everything. We're not going to just keep watching what we are watching. We are not going to keep watching people do the same thing over and over again and live with it."
"You've got to be patient with young players because it doesn't happen right away," he continued. "But ultimately, we need to make sure that if certain guys aren't getting it, then maybe we need to make some changes."
Those were the strongest words Wedge had put out there to date. Everyone who was in the room believed that we would see changes – perhaps big changes – coming out of the break. It was clear he wanted to see changes. Five days later the same team that went into the break came out of it. Wedge's explanation? They needed to take the pressure off the players to allow them to perform better.
I have a hard time believing that after what I saw and heard in that office in Oakland that Wedge had had a complete change of heart after a few days off. I believe that discussions on moves were made and Wedge was overruled. I think then and at times this year he has wanted to have more control of his roster. I don't think he and Zduriencik always agreed on player evaluations. I think this may have been a frustration of Wedge's that coupled with the contract situation led him to this decision.
And that decision had to be a difficult one. With just 30 teams to manage at the major-league level, these jobs are precious. It is not easy for Wedge to walk away.
"It's tough, it's disappointing, it's frustrating, it's upsetting," he said. "But sometimes people just don't see things the same way and things don't work out. It wasn't from a lack of trying. I wanted it to work but it's just not going to. I wish nothing but the best for the Seattle Mariners and everybody involved with the Seattle Mariners and all of the fans here in Seattle. They deserve a winner."