What does the Eric Wedge saga tell us about the direction of the Mariners organization?

Otto Greule Jr

There was much talking to be done by both sides after Eric Wedge's resignation, but neither party ever gave a clear explanation for where their respective visions for the future differed.

It's been almost a month since Eric Wedge resigned as manager of the Mariners. When it went down, the initial dirt-kicking made it seem the pseudo-feud would pull a curtain back on the Mariners—whether it was Wedge revealing where the bodies were buried, or the Mariners front office laying at least some of the organization's recent failures at Wedge's feet.

Neither of those two things happened. There was a lot of talk, but neither side ever got into the specifics for why this relationship didn't extend another year. There was the vague admission by Wedge that each side's vision of the future differed too significantly for him to continue, but neither party ever shared enough details to know what that difference might be.

Before I go any further, let's do a little Occam's Razor: in all likelihood, and regardless of what Wedge has said, this came down to job security. Wedge has said it didn't matter how many years he was offered, that he would've quit regardless, but he likely saw the writing on the wall: he hadn't produced results and, if he were given another year, he'd be on a tight leash—and he didn't want to deal with it.

The possibility exists, of course, that there is more to this. Wedge has said enough to at least make you wonder.

Now, on what Wedge has said, here are his comments on "the vision" to John Heyman, underscoring what he said when he initially resigned:

"I wanted to be here [in Seattle]," Wedge said. "For me to walk away from that shows you how far apart we were," Wedge said in a phone conversation a couple weeks ago. "I was looking forward to seeing it through, but not at the expense of everything I believed in. It's not like we weren't just on the same page. We were worlds apart."

Worlds apart? Wow. So what could it be?

When news of Wedge quitting first came down, two days after he expressed frustration about "hanging out there" without clarity on his job security, I assumed the worst: that the Mariners organization had told him this is how it was going to be—all kids all the time and that this team wouldn't be successful until he developed this group, and this group only, into a talented ballclub. Or, in other words: "We're not going to spend, so get used to it."

He seemed to allude to it in that speaking with the media on his contract, pre-resignation:

The bottom line is you’re going to have a lot of young kids, but you’re going to have to mix in some veterans, too. You have to add to it. Because when you have young kids up here all the time, they’re going to make mistakes. That’s part of it. We haven’t taken a step back. It’s just the fact we keep bringing up kids. You’re going to continue to make mistakes up here while you’re learning.

But then, post-resignation, he seemed to back off the notion:

"It’s just about sticking with the kids you believe in, adding to it, being patient and sticking to the program," Wedge said. "And having consistency. You have to have consistency of personnel. Every time you turn over, you start over again to a certain extent."

It could be lip service—it could all be lip service—but he expresses the desire for patience with the younger players, something that's been the cornerstone of Zduriencik's plan, even before Wedge's arrival. Hell, if there are two words to sum up the vision for this franchise, as interpreted by the fans, it'd probably be that "Be patient."

So, when the local media pressed Wedge to explain where he and the organization's vision differed, he said only "I’m not going to get into that, you’ll have to ask them."

Let's do that, by proxy. Here's what Jack Zduriencik said the day after Wedge quit, to 710 ESPN's Wyman, Mike & Moore:

"I don't think we've missed a beat in what we said we were going to do. And I think he was a part of that thing. He understood that this was going to be young kids. And where are we going to go from here? I mean right now, who's your catcher next year? Who's your second basemen? Shortstop? Who's your center fielder? Who's your third basemen? Who's your center fielder? Your first basem—I mean that stuff's right here before us. You know there's really not any disagreement on any of that. You know I think on what we go out and pursue this offseason: talent. We just want to bring in more talent. We know who our #1 and #2 starter is. We got a really good feel for who number three, number four and number five are gonna be so, philosophically, I don't think there's much of a difference, much of an argument, about where we're at and where we're headed."

Well, no, apparently there is an argument. And while there are some interesting comments in there—potentially alarming ones—it does diverge quite a bit from what Wedge has said.

When Heyman's Wedge story first broke, I saw his CBS colleague Danny Knobler tweet it out and say that Heyman "has all the details." Heyman has almost none of the details. He has a lot of stuff we knew, and then a great deal of of unsourced speculation. Some of it's interesting—like Zduriencik passing "cockamamie ideas" down to Wedge from "way above" or Jack actually backing up his manger—but Wedge actually was at his most revealing, or at least in-depth, in an interview with MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch program, on which he appeared the week after his resignation. He reiterated, again, that they just didn't see eye-to-eye:

"Well it was just a difference of opinion on multiple levels, really. I think that when you talk about what we've been doing here the last three years…really it starts with how you evaluate where we are now…and then how you see yourself move forward in the future. I just felt like we were too far apart , you know, on both those ends for me to continue to move forward.

Then, finally, someone asked the exact question I wanted asked, or stumbled through it: "Eric, is it fair to say, with what you can tell us, that you evaluated the talent currently in-house and maybe looked ahead to more change or a different kind of change than the rest of the organization above you had looked at—based on the current kind of talent?"

Wedge then lets out a deep sigh, and says the following:

No, you know, I always believed in the young kids there but it takes more than just myself. When you talk about building in something and believing in something that has yet to go all the way, you've gotta have some blind faith and you've gotta have some calculated blind faith and you've gotta believe in yourself and in what you're doing. You know what, everyone has to be on the same page with that, you know, but you can only hit your head against the wall so many times before, eventually (chuckle), you got to kinda get off the merry-go-round so, for me, it was just time to move on.

Again, it's hard to say what's real reasoning in this and what's just talking to fill air or voice recorders, but that first line resonates. Not only does he say that he believes in the young kids, but that he's the only one who does—that there are those (many?) who do not.

Now, if I had to guess, if I had to speculate on where the difference in vision might lie, I'd say it's all in the details. Both Wedge and the organization believe in the kids, but what I wonder is if both sides believe in all the kids—or the same kids. It may not be that Wedge is sick of playing only youngsters, and is asking for more proven talent, just that he's tired of different ones every year and can foresee more of the same in the near future.

Maybe I'm digging—no, I'm probably digging—but take for instance the fact that in Howard Lincoln's extended sit-down with Ryan Divish, he lists players he deems part of the Mariners' future twice:

  • "If I go around the infield (Kyle) Seager, (Brad) Miller, (Nick) Franklin, (Justin) Smoak, (Mike) Zunino – I think that’s our future. As I look at the starting pitching, not only Felix (Hernandez), but (Hisashi) Iwakuma had a fabulous year. And we’ve got guys like (James) Paxton, Taijuan Walker and (Brandon) Maurer and (Erasmo) Ramirez – we’ve got a solid foundation there."
  • "There’s a lot of talent there whether it’s Seager or Miller or Franklin or Smoak or particularly Zunino – he’s going to be another Dan Wilson. You can see it coming."

Who don't you see mentioned in either place? Dustin Ackley. Or Michael Saunders, though that's more understandable. Ackley's absence may be understandable as well depending on how much of this team Lincoln watched in the second half.

But even up above, where you see Zduriencik boldly listing guys you could potentially pencil into next year's lineup, he stops himself before saying "first baseman"—and no, that wasn't a typo, he did.

I don't intend to lay out the latter notes here as resounding evidence for the differing visions, but based on what each side has said and their respective philosophies in the past, it wouldn't surprise me. Jack has been quick to move players—whether that be up or down, or sideways—and Wedge has always been an old-school manager intent on having his players put their heads down and grinding it out. He tends to look at what guys can do instead of what they can't, and it'd be understandable if he were to look at Ackley, Saunders and Smoak's high points and be upset if he got the impression they weren't seen as valuable parts of the team's future plans.

Honestly, I don't know, but there are some curious remarks from all parties involved, and I'd be interested in getting your take. The comments above are all linked to, save for the Wedge's comments to MLB Network Radio. That's not online anymore, but here are his full comments on the M's. For the organizational side, there's more from Zduriencik: two interviews with KJR and then another with Steve Sandmeyer.

As stated above, the most likely scenario is that Wedge knew which way this was going to go—that he would be fired following this year or have his hands tied somewhat in 2014—and wanted to go out on his own terms. But there's enough being said by both parties to wonder if there's more to it. And with how little we know about the direction of the franchise, and their vision for the future, it's impossible to resist trying to seek out any shreds of evidence for their intended course we can find.

With a new manager coming in soon, there will be more talk to follow—and I anxiously anticipate what is said by Zduriencik and the new manager regarding the vision for the franchise. There's obviously been a great deal of skepticism regarding the direction in which the Mariners are heading, but I remain optimistic.

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