When Do People Start Getting Fired?
In my pre-season preview of sorts, I wrote the following paragraph:
And, finally, I expect everyone will be back for one more run next year. I think the young guys will show enough to keep anyone from getting fired, though the team won’t win enough to earn long term extensions for everyone in charge either. They’ll get one more shot to win with the young players they’ve acquired. 2014 is the make-or-break year. 2013 is another building-for-the-future season, or will be seen that way in retrospect, at least.
I take it back. This team is going to get people fired. The question now is more when and who than if. And given how badly the team has started, I know a lot of you are hoping to see these changes sooner rather than later.
Side note – I take no pleasure in writing about people potentially losing their jobs. These are still human beings with families to support and bills to pay, and you’d be surprised how little MLB teams pay their front office staff below the GM level. If there is a regime change and the new guy eventually cleans house, there are going to be a lot of people out of work who aren’t independently wealthy. That sucks. I have a lot of empathy for people who might be eventually unemployed because of this team, especially the ones at the lower pay grades. Please don’t take this as rooting for people to get fired.
But, before we go starting any kind of lynch mob, it’s worth remembering that emotional decisions that are solely made to make a point are often regrettable in retrospect. If the Mariners are going to make some changes at the front office or field staff level, they should be able to explain why those changes are going to help move the organization forward. Taking a pound of flesh might appease the angry horde, but the Mariners should be in the business of improving the organization, not simply bowing to public pressure. Responding to the push for “more dingers!” is part of why the 2013 Mariners put together a dreadful roster in the first place.
So, let’s start with the field staff. I’ve never made a big secret out of my disagreements with Eric Wedge, and I don’t think he’s shown that he’s a very good evaluator of talent or that he has a good grasp on what traits should be emphasized to build a winning baseball team. In short, I don’t think Eric Wedge is the right guy to be the Mariners manager long term, and I won’t be too sad to see him move on at some point. But, what good would firing Eric Wedge do right now, really?
You’re not going to go conduct a full managerial search. Those happen in the off-season, not the middle of the year when the candidates are committed to other organizations. And, unless you know for sure that you’re not changing GMs, hiring a permanent manager now just means you have an awkward situation if you do make a change in the front office, since new GMs generally want the power to bring in their own staff. If you lay the blame for this team at the feet of Eric Wedge — certainly, he deserves some of the blame, so I’m not absolving him of responsibility for this roster — all you’re really going to accomplish is removing him so that you can promote a coach that was selected based in large part on his ability to work with Eric Wedge.
Carl Willis is here primarily because of his previous relationship with Wedge. Robby Thompson and Jeff Datz were with Wedge in Cleveland, and Datz was his bench coach, the guy who usually has the most interaction with the manager during games. The only “new guy” on the bench is Dave Hansen, who came over from the Dodgers to serve as hitting coach this year, but are you really excited about promoting the team’s hitting coach right now? Is there any indication that anyone on the staff now would be doing anything any differently?
Making change just for the sake of making change is usually useless. That doesn’t mean I’m completely against the idea of replacing Eric Wedge in-season, but I’d like to see a reason for the change simply beyond “I’m frustrated and someone has to take the fall for this.”
In some ways, managers are hired to be the fall guy for when the roster goes badly, and since Wedge had a lot of input into how this particular roster was built, it’s not totally unfair for him to take the fall for the performance of this team. But, is firing him now going to actually make things any better? If not, then what’s the point? As illogical as some of Wedge’s decisions are, it’s not like the team has a bunch of talented reserves who are getting shut out of playing time right now. The Mariners got rid of all those guys over the winter. The reserves suck now. Getting a new manager to play the bench guys more often would probably make the team worse, not better.
I don’t think it really makes all that much sense to fire Eric Wedge until you’ve also decided you’re going to fire Jack Zduriencik and go another direction. And firing a GM in season comes with some complications.
The main one is the draft. We’re six weeks away from the Mariners selecting 12th overall, and there’s a lot of work that has already been done to get the staff prepared to pick another crop of young prospects. Making a change at the GM level doesn’t mean that Tom McNamara would do his job any differently, but it adds another variable to the mix. Does whoever get promoted from within to hold the job on an interim basis — the most likely candidate would be Assistant GM Jeff Kingston, though Tony Blengino is also still on the team’s payroll, and would give the team a different voice than what they have at the moment — decide to pull rank and exercise more control in the draft room in order to try and make a name for himself in hopes of landing the full time job? You’d hope not, but is that a dynamic you really want to mess with right now? If there’s one area the organization has succeeded at in the Jack Zduriencik era, it’s been drafting. I’m not sure I’d want to mess with the current organizational structure before these guys got to do the thing they’re best at.
After the draft, it’s a little more palatable to make a change, but it’s still not the easiest transition ever. At that point, you’d be looking at seven weeks before the trade deadline, so it’s a time where a lot of important decisions are going to have to be made, including some that could have some long term ramifications for the franchise. Maybe the Mariners will decide that they don’t want Jack to be the guy making those calls if they’ve already determined that he won’t be back next year, but would you feel any better with an interim GM making those decisions? Remember when Lee Pelekoudas was the interim GM of the Mariners in 2008, and he was reportedly overruled on several veterans-for-prospects trades he attempted to make? Are the Mariners really better off with a guy who isn’t empowered to make the final call than they are with a lame duck?
A few years ago, Jim Hendry was fired by the Cubs on July 22nd but stayed on until August 19th in order to help the club transition through the deadline. Bavasi was fired mid-season, as we noted. Josh Byrnes was fired by the Diamondbacks on July 1st, 2010, and then replaced by Kevin Towers a few months later. But there aren’t a lot of other examples of in-season GM changes. Baseball America has an executive database and you can go through each team’s GM history and see the date of the hirings and firings; they’re almost all in October or November.
Realistically, if you’ve gotten to the point where you think the organization is headed in the wrong direction — I reached that point this off-season — and are in need of new blood, then you’re probably going to be waiting until this coming winter to see the new GM brought in. Making a change now might guarantee that a change is made, but it doesn’t necessarily put you in a better position long term, unless you think Jack, Wedge, and company are actively undermining the development of the players on the roster with their presence. Maybe they are, I don’t know. But “maybe, I don’t know” isn’t a reason for me to throw my full support behind a house cleaning that will lead to a bunch of interim replacements.
My sense is that the guys in charge needed a non-embarrassing season to keep their jobs, to keep organizational faith in the process, and show that there were positive steps in the right direction, even if those steps didn’t result in a winning season just yet. They needed Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak to hit. They needed Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton to pitch well enough in the minors to justify the hype. They needed to get Mike Zunino to the big leagues without it feeling like he was rushed to try and save someone’s job. They needed to establish that the young players were worth building around.
They needed this April to not happen. Embarrassing is the only word I can use to describe this. The team is publicly stating that they think they can win while starting Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Robert Andino, and Kelly Shoppach. They traded for Aaron Harang to save the pitching staff. This roster is embarrassing. This roster is probably going to get everyone fired. This roster should get everyone fired.
But, I don’t know that it’s all that helpful if it gets them fired soon. If it happens, I’m not going to be against the decision, and I don’t think having an interim manager or GM would lead to impending doom. But, I don’t know that it would really help anything either.
During a season, there’s only so much an organization can really do. The Mariners made this bed when they let the front office try and build a winning team around dingers and voodoo. It has blown up in their faces in a comical way, and it’s probably going to cost the people in charge their jobs. But, I don’t know that it needs to cost them their jobs in a RIGHT NOW THIS MINUTE I DEMAND CHANGE kind of way.
Firing people shouldn’t just be about making yourself feel better because you fired someone. Firing people should happen because you think you have someone who can do a better job. Maybe the Mariners have those people in place and think it’s the right time to make the move. From the outside, it’s impossible to know whether or not that’s true. But we shouldn’t demand change without knowing whether there are actually better options internally.
The time for change is coming. If ownership decides its here already, I’m okay with that. If they decide to wait a while, I’m okay with that too. I’d rather have them make an informed decision after seeing all the evidence over a longer period of time than see an emotional reaction to 23 bad games. If they don’t need any more time to make a rational, informed decision, so be it, but that’s a different reason for firing everyone than “this team sucks and you’re going to pay for building it.”