The month of September has been decidedly grim for the Seattle Mariners in 2013. As of Tuesday Sept. 17, the M’s so far this month boast a sterling record of five wins and 12 losses. The only thing they’re hunting for in October is a deep hole in which to bury this season.
Things are pretty bad, and when times are tough it’s easy to want to channel frustration towards a specific target and right now for Seattle fans, the main target is probably M’s manager Eric Wedge. When Wedge was brought on as manager in 2011, he was heralded as a guy who had an acumen for guiding a team through the rebuilding process. It was expected that he would help pilot the M’s back to relevance.
Now, with just about three seasons in the books with Wedge at the helm, it’s easy to look at the state of things and wonder how far forward the M’s have moved. In his first two seasons, the M’s finished first 67-95 and then 75-87. Though both were losing seasons, it appeared the M’s were making positive strides.
People expected the 2013 season to fall in line with this trend: the M’s were still not going to contend but would probably win a few more games. Unless the M’s miraculously win the rest of the games remaining on their schedule this isn’t going to happen.
On paper, the M’s will have regressed in 2013 and therefore, Wedge, the messiah of rebuilding and the man nominally in charge of the ball club, will have failed. The Mariners are currently in the throes of a disappointing stretch of baseball and the last few seasons haven’t always been very heartening for the Mariner’s faithful.
But how much of the M’s recent performance (specifically this September) can be attributed directly to Eric Wedge? Is he a bad manager? And more importantly, if someone else were at the helm would the Houston Astros still be sweeping the M’s?
Wedge isn’t the one giving up earned runs left and right or making opposing team’s pitchers look like reincarnations of Cy Young.
But he is responsible for including the players producing these stats on the lineup card. He is responsible for fostering a positive mentality in the players in his clubhouse and trying to make sure it spills over on to the field. Is he doing this? Debatable.
Arguably, right now Wedge has more things on his mind than just baseball. The man had a stroke in July, and one could imagine that something like a stroke could put things in perspective for a person. Maybe coaching a baseball squad isn’t the number priority for Wedge right now, and it’s not hard to blame him. But this could be contributing to the M’s play on the field right now, and if this is the case, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
The head coach position in baseball isn’t like other sports (obviously). In baseball creating a winning atmosphere around the team is just as important as choosing the starting lineup or calling in the right reliever at a pivotal moment in a game —and instilling a winning mentality in the team starts with the coach.
When Wedge suffered his stroke, the M’s were playing good baseball; they’d won several in a row and were scrapping their way towards a .500 record. Now that same lineup — with a few minor changes— is getting swept by the Astros. There are some other elements adding to this recent swoon, like Felix Hernandez’s oblique issues, but overall this is essentially the same team.
Wedge has at points in his tenure in Seattle made some baffling managerial decisions. He has mismanaged the bullpen on occasion. The M’s don’t always look particularly inclined to steal bases despite having speedsters like Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders. These things can be attributed directly to Wedge.
But on the positive side, the players don’t seem to have any aversion to playing for him —at least publicly. Wedge doesn’t appear to give players preferential treatment: earlier this season when Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak failed to run out pop-ups both were summarily benched the next game.
During games and afterwards, Wedge projects a stoic and workmanlike confidence regardless of the growing pains occurring on the field (though some of this image could be attributed to his imposing facial hair).
In short Wedge hasn’t been perfect throughout his stay in Seattle, but there also don’t seem to be any rifts in the clubhouse. The players haven’t given any indication that they don’t like Wedge. And the fact remains that the Mariners, as much as fans would like to see them win now, are in the process of rebuilding.
With the players they currently have, it is laughable to think that the M’s would have a winning record if they had a different coach. The bottom line is that the M’s aren’t a great team this year, and axing the coach isn’t going to make the team instantly better.
Even if Lou Piniella had managed the Mariners this season they would almost certainly still be residing in the gutter of the AL West. Using Wedge as a scapegoat to unload frustration isn’t going to fix the M’s woes.
The real dilemma regarding Wedge now lies in whether or not he has the will to keep coaching. It’s troubling to look at the way the team has played since Wedge has returned. The winning mentality that the coach is pivotal in instilling in the team looks to be absent.
Perhaps after suffering a stroke baseball isn’t Wedge’s top priority anymore, and if that is the case, he should step down. This could be a premature assessment and Sabermetricians have yet to come up with an effective method of measuring a “winning mentality,” but the bottom line remains: if Wedge can’t fully dedicate himself to helping get the M’s back to 116 win territory, then it is his responsibility, like Mike Hargrove, to let someone else take their shot.
There could be someone out there more likely to help the M’s succeed, but regardless, at the moment, firing Wedge would be a hollow gesture. He may not be the greatest coach out there, but he also isn’t the catalyst for the team’s failures the past three seasons. The Mariner’s have more important things to accomplish right now than finding a scapegoat.