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Mariners' search for president heats up, La Russa a legitimate candidate

The Seattle Times' Ryan Divish reports the M's will begin interviewing candidates for team president next week, and USA Today's Bob Nightengale says Tony La Russa is a serious one.

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Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The search for the Mariners' next team president has been a quiet subplot to this offseason. Though the role is an important one, that shouldn’t be unexpected given the M’s need to add on-field talent, and their progress in doing so. But, things remain quiet no more, as interviews begin next week for Chuck Armstrong’s successor.

As the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish notes in the aforementioned piece, the process will begin with internal candidates. A report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale shares the same detail, as he even notes the process will not include external candidates if someone within the organization is deemed capable, but his report revolves around this juicy detail—the Mariners may end up hiring Hall of Famer Tony La Russa.

…with La Russa's high-profile resume and several prominent Major League Baseball officials recommending La Russa to Lincoln, he could be the odds-on-favorite to be the next Mariners' president, providing they open the search to outside candidates. La Russa, when contacted, declined to specifically talk about the Mariners' opening, but acknowledged that he's interested in leaving his special assistant's job with Major League Baseball, and join a team's front office.

"I'm interested in getting to the competition upstairs,'' La Russa said. "I've missed the competition since I left the field. I talked to the commissioner [Bud Selig] about it. It's not a thing where you miss the dugout, but I miss the winning and losing.

"The situation has to be right.’’

Divish does say that it does seem the Mariners would prefer to stay internal, but things would get awfully interesting if we get to the end of next week and the M’s have begun to turn to external candidates. It is worth noting, however, that this is not the start of the Mariners’ search for a new president. It’s far from it, as the M's had begun the search even before Armstrong announced his resignation at the end of November.

That, and the La Russa news coming out now, makes me smirk as I remember something I heard the last week of September, around when Wedge was fired quit.

And I wasn’t the only one to hear about La Russa possibly being in Seatttle. I’m not saying this is true, but I like to trust people—even people I don’t know all that well. It’ll probably end with a stranger on the street saying "Hey man, can I borrow your phone for just a second to make a call?" and immediately running off with it, but I’m a fan, and one who likes good stories—and Tony La Russa being in the hunt to be the next Mariners president is a fun one.

But while we all love big names, and most of us enjoy good stories, La Russa as president of an organization isn’t a slam-dunk hire. He’s a brilliant baseball mind with a reputation put him among the best managers in the history of this ancient game. But being the president of an organization, the individual most responsible for all day-to-day operations, is a job he’s never come close to doing—and it isn’t one we can say with any level of knowledge that he’d be any good at.

Everyone wants a "baseball guy" up top, not some suit who thinks his business acumen will work wonders in the game, but this isn’t some tried-and-true concept. I mean, the Rangers just pushed Nolan Ryan out so Jon Daniels could take his job.

Here’s a hypothetical: imagine Howard Lincoln went to his network of business contacts and hired someone with no experience within the game of baseball—just a colleague from another life who he happened to think was a pretty sharp dude.

People would lose their minds.

And yet, that’s what Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg did. The New York financial investor hired then-29-year-old Matt Silverman to be president of his newly-acquired team. The same thing happened with general manager Andrew Friedman, who is now considered by most to be the best in the game.

Again, imagine the reaction.

So while I do love the story, and may go so far as to say I hope he’s the choice, let’s just remember that La Russa, though a sexy name, is far from the only choice. And, of course, he does have that side-story about everyone would prefer not to talk about.

But while I will say there are no perfect hires, and that we won’t know for a very long time whether or not the Mariners have chosen an appropriate candidate—I can’t underscore enough how important this hire is. I’m as fond of advanced metrics as about everyone here, but don’t mistake unquantifiable for unimportant. This may well be the most pivotal offseason in the history of the Seattle Mariners organization, and the choice of team president is as big a part of that as anything else.

If the La Russa report tells us anything, it’s that the Mariners will have their choice from a field of interesting candidates.

Here's to hoping they choose the right one.