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The Mariners' roster is what sunk Wakamatsu, not his performance

Aug 9, 2010, 3:49 PM EDT

Don Wakamatsu is taking the fall for the performance of the 2010 Mariners, but their fate is not all -- or even mostly -- his fault.

We’ve heard multiple reports of problems in Seattle this year, from Milton Bradley being Milton Bradley, to Ken Griffey’s sleeping, to Mike Sweeney’s belligerence to the public dustup between Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins.  Any of those things could be evidence of a team lacking authority or a manager lacking control. Any of those things could, in and of themselves, make the case for a manager being fired.

But we really have no idea what goes on in a major league clubhouse, so we really can’t say how much each of those incidents stood as evidence a problem with the manager if, indeed, they did at all.  Bradley, after all, has a history. Griffey had, after all, apparently lost his motivation. Sweeney was, after all, brought in to at least try to be a leader.  Maybe that was all inevitable.

What we know for certain, however, is that for all of the press General Manager Jack Zduriencik’s offseason moves got, they weren’t moves that did anything to make the team better, and that’s ultimately what sunk Don Wakamatsu and the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners were famously inept on offense in 2009, and Jack Z. just didn’t bring in enough lumber to help out. Adrian Beltre left. Chone Figgins came in and has underperformed, but he’s been playing second base, not third, which means that there were other, unexpected holes. Bringing in Milton Bradley was a gamble and bringing in Casey Kotchman to fill the hole at first base went beyond optimism and ventured into the land of fantasy. While he’s been effective in spots this year, Mike
Sweeney really had no business breaking camp with a major league team, and the front office’s insistence on extending an offer to Ken Griffey Jr. was a function of desperation and denial.

Those were the cards Wakamatsu was dealt.  When they didn’t play coming out of spring training, rather than get new cards, the front office fired Mariners’ hitting coach Alan Cockrell.  As Geoff Baker noted a couple of weeks ago, that move set the mood for the remainder of the season, with the front office telling Wakamatsu that the pitiful 2010 Seattle Mariners were his problem and, if they didn’t do better, they would be his fault.

And now he has taken the fall.  He’s not a scapegoat as that phrase is commonly used — like I said above, there are many reasons to believe that he didn’t do everything he could to make a toxic situation any less toxic and ended up with a deeply divided clubhouse — but it’s simply not fair to say that the failure of the Seattle Mariners is all or even mostly Wakamatsu’s fault.

  1. Jonny5 - Aug 9, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    I think Wakamole should have been canned. Not only is it his job to bring the team together to get the most out of the team, but it’s also his job to keep his cool when things fall apart. Rolling around in the dugout with a player isn’t “keeping your cool”. My guess is he never manages another MLB team again. And rightfully so. Yeah, he was dealt an “iffy” hand, but he put himself out of a job imo as soon as he showed everyone he wasn’t manager mat’l by fighting like he did with a player.

  2. Xpensive Wino - Aug 9, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Jack Zduriencik must have photos of ownership blowing a goat.
    There is no other explanation why he would still be employed by any team as a general manager under any circumstances.

  3. Magicwolf2000 - Aug 9, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    Wino – I agree 100 percent! Wak had his problems, but the Z-man is lame and has got to go! The owner needs a stiff cup of coffee to WAKE UP!

  4. Magicwolf2000 - Aug 9, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    Wino – I agree 100 percent! Wak had his problems, but the Z-man is lame and has got to go! The owner needs a stiff cup of coffee to WAKE UP!

  5. Reflex - Aug 9, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    I like JackZ. My problem though is that he was unwilling to tell Seattle that despite last year’s record, this team needed to be torn down and rebuilt right. Jack’s experience in Milwaukee demonstrates he can build a team and is a great picker in the draft. But unfortunatly he is trying to win now and still build a great team, and that simply is not possible with the M’s as currently constructed unless they want to throw huge amounts of money at the problem.

  6. UnfrozenCaveman - Aug 9, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Problem goes deeper than Wak and Jack Z…. look back to when the Human Rain Delay Manager Mike Hargrove just quit in the middle of the season, on a team 4 games back and riding a nice win streak… The problem is higher up – it is Chuck Armstrong and the other C-level execs focused solely on the bottom line – that is the only reason Grif was brought back. The team got great offseason press, sold a bunch of season tickets and filled their coffers. With that, why blow the coin fielding a real team to back up Lee, Felix and some decent 3-4-5 pitchers?

  7. PaulKersey - Aug 9, 2010 at 5:51 PM

    From a process-over-results perspective, I don’t really see much in the way to criticize Jack Z for this past off-season (at the least early part of it). He put the team in a position to be competitive while not selling out the future. Lots and lots of smart people pegged the Mariners as playoff contenders at the beginning of the season, after all. The roster had flaws, but the offense just needed to be adequate for things to work out. Instead, it’s been abysmally terrible. Almost nobody is performing up to even conservative projections. When so much goes wrong on the field and in the clubhouse, it’s time to take a hard look at the manager. The thing is, nobody’s really sure if a manager can swing a team’s chances much for better or worse. If a manager DID have more control than sabermetric wisdom believes, though, and that manager was a detriment to his club, I think the result would be much the same as what you see with the 2010 Mariners. In the absence of evidence that Wakamatsu was helping, his firing seems like a logical stab at fixing what’s wrong in Seattle. We’ll probably never know for sure, but there have to be counter-examples to Mike Scioscia’s perennial Pythag-beating magic. And it stands to reason that their teams would look a lot like Wak’s.

  8. okobojicat - Aug 9, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    I agree on your Griff interpretation, although I do disagree with your description of their planned 3-4-5. They thought they had some quality there. Rowland-Smith pitched very well towards the end of the year last year and seemed to have found it. Ian Snell was lights out in AAA (if he was a prospect, everyone would have been asking why he was still down) and was very good in the past in Pittsburg. Fister (who has been GREAT at times this year had some quality starts last year and seemed like a fair bet for #5. The rotation was ok as constructed, the defense was anticipated to be good as constructed, the offense was anticipated to be weak, but serviceable. The problem was that EVERYONE SUCKED!
    The offense imploded, Rowland-Smith looked like a lost AA pitcher, and Snell couldn’t throw a strike. The bullpen was average at best. Lee was hurt and the team was basically fighting to stay alive once he came back. If every single member of your offense has their career worse offensive year (outside of Guitierez) is that the Front Office’s Fault? Is that the GM’s Fault? Is that the Manager’s Fault?
    Where does it stop?

  9. IdahoMariner - Aug 9, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    Wak wasn’t the problem, and Z isn’t the problem…except that he did that knee-jerk fire the manager thing. Damn. WIsh they’d give him more time.

  10. Mike d - Aug 9, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    People have short memories. Over the winter people were calling jack Z brilliant for getting Lee, getting something of value for Silva, and signing Figgins. They were even the trendy pick for first. Now people want his head.

  11. bigtrav425 - Aug 9, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    i still really dont know who this guy is or were he came from!

  12. john pileggi - Aug 9, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    Hopefully this is a case of a guy getting his first shot with a bad team, taking the fall and then getting another chance in a better situation.

  13. JBerardi - Aug 9, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    Major league managers are highly fungible, since there’s basically no tactical flexibility in modern baseball. Teams don’t have real benches anymore and everyone in the bullpen has a narrowly (and stupidly) defined rolls. Basically the only real job a manager has is to keep everyone happy (or at least awake) in the clubhouse, and to talk to the media. So given the multiple instances of clubhouse dysfunction, sure, fire his ass. I mean, why not? I’m sure the Ms can find another guy who can figure out that the setup man comes in for the eighth.

  14. SeattleSlew - Aug 10, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    Craig, I beg to seriously disagree with you on this one. Yes, this was not a championship team, but with Cliff Lee and Felix, Fister and Vargas and what SHOULD have been a great defense, even the Mariners’ feeble bats could have let them play competitive baseball at the .500 level or better. Aside from the specific “issues” you note, Wak’s swap of Lopez and Figgins set the tone for a horrible start to the season. The 20 games they played with that field orientation in Spring training were certainly not enough to allow either to develop the kind of expertise needed to provide top defense. Do you think it is a coincidence that Jose Lopez (25 HR, 40+ doubles etc. last year, at age 26/27) wound up batting .210 with a handful of extra base hits….and that Chone Figgins, a .280+ spray hitter wound up batting .185 in the Mariner’s first 50 games? When players have trouble in the field it disrupts them at the plate and vice-versa. Not only that, if Bedard had come back, the Mariners had the prospects of perhaps having 3 or 4 left-handed pitchers in the starting rotation (Lee, Bedard, Vargas/Ryan Rowland-Smith) none of whom throws very hard. Opposing teams would certainly stack their lineups with right-handed hitters who tend to hit to 3B and LF more often….and VOILA….those were the Mariners’ two worst positions in the field, since Jack Wilson, Gutierrez, Ichiro and Kochman were top glovemen. What was Wakamatsu thinking. Sure, Lopez had limited range at 2nd but now you have a 3rd baseman who is OK and Figgins has struggled throughout the season with his footwork and bails often at 2nd. In addition Wakamatsu allowed Felix Hernandez to designate Rob Johnson as his “favorite” catcher. Well, Rob Johnson not only leads the world in passed balls, but also, the M’s lead in Wild Pitches (many of which would have been blocked by almost any other catcher.) Gee, wonder why the pitchers were shy about dropping the ball into the dirt to get some swinging strikes?
    So Strike 1 on Wak-No clue on “macro” strategy and personnel decisions. Should have left Lopez at 2nd and Figgins at 3rd and used someone else behind the plate.
    Strike 2 is that he is one of the very worst in-game strategists I have ever seen. He was bench coach for Oakland and Texas during years when they took turns finishing last in the division and it is clear why that happened. How many times did Ichiro or Figgins (75%+ success rate on SB) lead off and get on base when the M’s were tied or one run behind late in the game and then watch the dumb sacrifice bunt to 2nd leaving one out and the M’s incapable of getting a hit by either of the next two batters to score a run. Billy Martin would have easily figured out that you STEAL 2nd (higher probability of success than one of two average hitters getting a hit) and then either hit away so you have 3 possible batters to bring the runner home on a hit or THEN sacrifice the runner to 3rd. so you have one out and a man on 3rd. Duhhhhhhhhhhh I sat and watched at least 25 games where Wak was so outmanaged by the opposing manager in terms of relief/pinch-hitter moves etc. He was terrible.
    Strike 3 is that the team flat out STUNK on fundamentals. This is the responsibility (at the end of the day) of the manager who should be out there on the field seeing that these guys are drilled on how to bunt, how to do a rotation play, how to back up on throws, baserunning skills etc. etc.
    The only point I agree with you on was that any expectations of a championship by the media were certainly out of order, but at the end of the day, Wakamatsu was just POOR in all of the requisite skills. This excludes any of the people issues, and there is no doubt the Griffey/Bradley distractions did not help and only caused a brighter light to shine on Wak’s lack of skill.

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