Thursday, September 27, 2007
Mariners GM Bavasi, manager McLaren to keep jobs for next season
SEATTLE -- A while ago, John McLaren's wife gave him a hinged, ceramic baseball. She told him to open it once he got a job as a big-league manager.
Even though the Seattle Mariners bench coach took over on July 2 after Mike Hargrove abruptly resigned, McLaren didn't feel secure enough to open the gift.
Thursday, he finally did.
McLaren and general manager Bill Bavasi are keeping their jobs for next season, Mariners chief executive Howard Lincoln announced.
So now McLaren can put the long-hidden inscription inside the gift baseball to use in 2008: "Lead & Inspire."
"Did we get everything we expected for $113 million? No," Lincoln said Thursday, mindful his team is missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. "But we did get a lot. We got a winning season."
Bavasi's current contract will remain in effect. McLaren's deal to manage was set to end after Sunday's season finale. Bavasi and McLaren will soon begin negotiating a new deal for the manager, though neither man nor Lincoln would reveal if McLaren's new contract will reach past 2008.
"I'm not saying I wasn't anxious, but I was confident," said McLaren, who had been a major league coach for 21 years until three months ago.
Mariners players erupted in applause when McLaren announced he was coming back during a clubhouse meeting before Thursday's game against Cleveland a speech during which his eyes welled with tears.
"When I had an image for this team next year, it always contained that Mac would be back," All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki said, through an interpreter.
The franchise cornerstone signed a $90 million contract to stay in Seattle about a week after McLaren, whom Suzuki has known for a decade, took over for Hargrove. Suzuki said Thursday that when he
decided to re-sign, he was hoping McLaren would come back in 2008.
"Out of all the deals that we made before the season, the fact we signed John McLaren was the best move we made," Suzuki said of McLaren becoming Hargrove's bench coach.
Lincoln, who 12 months ago said Bavasi and Hargrove were on his "hot seat" for 2007 following three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West, repeatedly cited Seattle's first winning season since 2003 for the decision to bring back Bavasi. The Mariners began the day 84-74 and will finish in second place in the division.
"The reality is, it did work. The decision to [keep] Bavasi did create a winning season," Lincoln said.
Lincoln also praised Bavasi's scouting department and his drafts for restocking a farm system that was bereft of prospects when the former Angels GM took the job in November 2003.
When asked if he was sweating out Thursday's decision, Bavasi nearly scoffed and said, "No, I wasn't."
"I knew coming from the first time I had a job in Anaheim that there's two press conferences," he said, referring to one for hiring and one for firing. "You just don't know when the second one is going to be."
Lincoln and the team's Japanese owners gave Bavasi permission to increase payroll to among the top six in the major leagues before this season. Lincoln said the payroll will remain at about $113 million for 2008.
"It's a comfortable position," Lincoln said.
Team president Chuck Armstrong cited the team's increase of 200,000 in attendance this season at Safeco Field to over 2.6 million, the most in the 8½-year history of the stadium that continues to be one of baseball's biggest revenue-producing venues.
Hargrove resigned during an eight-game winning streak July 1. McLaren, a longtime assistant to Lou Piniella who turns 56 on Saturday, had only months earlier returned to Seattle's staff for the first time since 2002.
The Mariners surged on behind McLaren, reaching a season high of 20 games over while leading the wild-card race on Aug. 25. Then a mediocre starting pitching staff and a young, overused bullpen caught up to them. Seattle lost 15 of 17 games from Aug. 25 to Sept. 11.
Armstrong said the disastrous trade that brought Horacio Ramirez from Atlanta for proven veteran setup reliever Rafael Soriano wasn't all Bavasi's fault. Armstrong said, without naming specific off-field incidents, that "a lot of things went on that compelled us to make that move" of Soriano for whatever the Mariners could get.
And Bavasi said the team's September freefall was not McLaren's fault.
"John took the club at as bad a time as you can take a club for a first opportunity. You couldn't script a worse situation," Bavasi said.
"A very streaky club, and he was doing it on the backs of a very young bullpen, serviceable starting pitching. And if you have serviceable starting pitching and are relying on offense, then your bullpen better be damn good. They weren't. They were young and ridden hard," he said.