SEATTLE — Eric Wedge is returning to baseball after a year away to face the challenge of another rebuilding project.
This time, it’s with the Seattle Mariners.
Wedge was officially announced on Monday as the Mariners’ seventh manager since 2003. His charge is rebuilding a franchise a decade removed from its last playoff appearance and coming off a second 101-loss campaign in the past three seasons.
“Eric brings the energy, passion and leadership that we think is important as we move forward and he has a track record of winning at the major league and minor league levels,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a statement.
Wedge, 42, has gone down the road of rebuilding a struggling franchise before. He was asked to do it twice during his seven seasons as manager in Cleveland, where in 2007 he took the Indians to within one victory of the World Series.
But his inability to win the second time the Indians tried an overhaul eventually cost Wedge his job.
After a year out of baseball, Wedge is ready to jump back in.
“I think this is a terrific opportunity and I am excited to be a part of it,” Wedge said. “Seattle is a great city for me and my family. With the fan support, the ballpark, the ownership and management, the Mariners are in a great position to be very successful.”
Wedge will be formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday.
He’ll be trying to bring stability to a position of flux for nearly 10 years.
Since Lou Piniella ended his 10-year run with the Mariners in 2002, the managerial position in Seattle has become a constant spin cycle. From Bob Melvin, to Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Don Wakamatsu and Daren Brown — both Riggleman and Brown held interim titles — being the clubhouse leader in Seattle is anything but stable.
Zduriencik believed he had the right choice two years ago when he gave Wakamatsu his first managerial position. And for one season, it worked perfectly. An overachieving Mariners lineup with the feel-good story of Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to his first team captivated the city. Seattle won 85 games in 2009 and after trading for Cliff Lee in the offseason became the popular pick to win the American League West in 2010.
Instead, Seattle collapsed amid rumors, abrupt retirements, dugout spats and above all else, really poor play. Wakamatsu was fired on Aug. 9 with the Mariners 28 games under .500. Brown filled in admirably over the final six weeks, but was never considered a serious candidate for the permanent position.
Zduriencik chose this time to go with experience. His interviews consisted of all former managers, including Bobby Valentine, John Gibbons and Lloyd McClendon.
Ultimately, Zduriencik went with the youngest of the candidates, perhaps a signal of being ready to dig in for what could be a lengthy rebuilding project.
Wedge was just 34 when he was hired by Cleveland after the 2002 season. He went 68-94 that first season with the Indians, but by Year 3, Cleveland was in the AL Central race all the way to the end and finished with 93 wins. After a setback in 2006, Cleveland won the AL Central in 2007 and beat the New York Yankees in the AL division series.
In the AL championship series, the Indians took a 3-1 lead, only to see Boston rally to win the final three games, all in convincing fashion.
By the end of the 2009 season, when Wedge was fired with six games remaining, the Indians had fallen back to the bottom of the division.
In Seattle, Wedge will inherit a roster likely to face an overhaul and will rely on young, inexperienced players. The centerpiece of Seattle’s future will continue to be young right-hander Felix Hernandez, along with some talent in the minor leagues likely to make their debuts next season. Wedge’s job will be to develop those pieces around Hernandez.
“As a former manager of the year he has experience working with both veteran and younger players and as we move ahead we look forward to his contributions,” Zduriencik said.