Eric Wedge and the Problem with Scapegoating
Last night, local radio host Steve Sandmeyer tweeted out the following:
I have it on pretty good authority that Eric Wedge will not be back.
— Steve Sandmeyer (@SteveSandmeyer) September 12, 2013
The Mariners just got swept at home by the Astros. This is the kind of series that leads an ownership to decide to fire someone, even if they were originally planning on staying the course, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Sandmeyer’s sources were correct and that Eric Wedge does not return as manager next year. In fact, I think I’d be surprised if he did, given the team’s performance and his mid-season health issues.
I’ve clearly made my disagreements with Eric Wedge known throughout the last few years. I think he’s particularly poor at identifying the differences between good and bad players, and has consistently put inferior players in the line-up over better alternatives, due to the fact that he simply values things in a way that do not line up with what players do to win and lose games on the field. Wedge is as old school as old school gets, and his lack of interest in adopting anything that has become accepted knowledge in baseball front offices over the last 20 years remains a problem.
But that said, blaming Eric Wedge for the 2013 Mariners would be just yet another example of the organizational scapegoating that has unfortunately become the norm during the last five years.
When the 2010 Mariners fell apart, and Ken Griffey Jr decided to act like a five year old on his way out of town, Don Wakamatsu got the blame. Rather than standing up for his manager when problems arose, the front office sided with the players, effectively cutting the legs out from under his first managerial selection and laying the blame for that team’s failures at the feet of Wak and his staff.
When the team got embarrassed by Josh Lueke’s past transgressions, Carmen Fusco was made the sacrificial lamb. Instead of standing up for his childhood friend, Jack allowed the organization to throw Fusco under the bus for something that simply wasn’t his responsibility in any way, shape, or form. Fusco was made to be the fall guy for a decision he had nothing really to do with; in fact, he was on an airplane, out of contact with the rest of the front office, when the decision was made to back out of the deal with the Yankees and take Texas’ offer (that included Lueke) instead.
More recently, Tony Blengino was phased out of the organization in large part due to the failure of Chone Figgins. The Mariners spent $36 million on Figgins and got a worthless player that everyone hated, and again, someone had to take the blame for that acquisition. Rather than own up to the fact that Figgins was someone that a lot of people saw value in, it was easier to just blame the stat guy and his stupid math.
At some point, you can’t just keep blaming everyone else. It isn’t always someone else’s fault. Eric Wedge had a hand in building this roster, and there are valid reasons to make a change at the managerial position, but it is simply not fair to Wedge — or an accurate portrayal of the 2013 Mariners season — to decide that he’s the man primarily responsible for this disaster of a season. He’s somewhat responsible for contributing to some of the decisions made over the last few years, but again, Jack is the one who hired him, essentially without input from the rest of his staff.
If a GM has, in a five year span, churned through two managers and a couple of top assistants because there have been that many mistakes that someone has to be fired for, perhaps it’s time for the GM himself to take the responsibility. Even if we really believed that Wak was to blame for the Griffey situation, that Fusco was to blame for the Lueke acquisition, that Blengino was to blame for signing Figgins, and that Wedge was to blame for this team’s inability to hit, field, or pitch, Jack hired them all. What does it say about his ability to build a quality organization if he has to scapegoat one of his own hires every year in order to deflect blame from himself?
A significant part of a GMs job is hiring good people and empowering them to do good things. Even just beyond the roster construction and the general failure of the team to make any progress this season, it has to be considered a stain on Jack’s ability to lead the organization if he has to admit, annually, that he hired the wrong guys.
Even good organizations let people go, and good organizations change managers, so letting Wedge leave wouldn’t, by itself, be an indictment of the front office. But it would be part of a disturbing pattern, and one that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. If Jack is willing to stipulate that he’s now hired the wrong manager twice, and he hired the wrong director of pro scouting, and he hired the wrong stat guy, then maybe Jack just isn’t the guy you want hiring people in the first place.
Beyond just that, though, there’s actually a more practical reason why letting Wedge take the fall for this season simply won’t work: managerial candidates want job security, and Jack Zduriencik can’t offer them any.
If the front office decided to let Wedge take the fall for this season, and brought Jack back for one more year, there is no question that it would be a win-or-go-away season. It would be one final shot, a chance to put a winning team on the field and redeem the last four years of losing. And if it didn’t work, then Jack would be on his way out of town.
What quality managerial candidate is going to volunteer for that gig? Win in year one or you’re gone, because the new GM is going to want to hire his own guy, so you get a single season to try and turn this thing around. No establishing your own process, bringing in your own people, developing a culture; just come in, hope to have an amazing winter, and then win from day one. If you don’t, you’re gone, and who knows when your next shot at managing is going to come. What a tempting offer!
Chili Davis would scoff at that. Dave Roberts would scoff at that. Every interesting managerial prospect is going to want to know that they’re going to be given several years of not only guaranteed salary, but a real opportunity to implement their own vision and plan, and help build a team that they think can make a sustained run at playoff success. The only guys who are signing up for one-and-dones are re-treads who are afraid it might be their last shot at getting back into the game and wouldn’t have a job otherwise anyway. But good candidates aren’t going to have any interest in taking a job from a guy who has one last shot to prove that he can build a winner.
If the Mariners are going to conduct a serious managerial search this winter, it has to come after a front office overhaul, because you can’t plan on getting a good manager to take over under these circumstances. To get a good managerial candidate, you have to be able to offer security, and Jack simply shouldn’t have any kind of long term job security at this point, if he has any left at all.
If Wedge is leaving and Jack is staying, the only real option is to promote from within, picking one of the current guys on the staff to take the head job. But then again, if Eric Wedge was the problem, why should we believe that one of his lieutenants is the solution?
Firing Eric Wedge alone doesn’t work. It not only continues a too long trend of scapegoating, but it puts the organization in a position where they won’t be able to hire a real long term replacement. If Wedge is going, everyone has to go. The Mariners made this bed with both Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge, and letting one take the fall for the failures of both creates more problems than it solves.
It’s time for new voices, but just swapping out the manager’s voice for a new lame duck manager’s voice isn’t going to do anyone any good.