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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 31, 2010 at 2:14 PM

The next Mariners manager: Should experience matter?

Joey Cora’s name has been linked to the Mariners’ managerial opening from practically the moment Don Wakamatsu was fired, and for good reason. Cora was a finalist — perhaps even a top-two finalist — when Wakamatsu was hired, and nothing has happened since then to diminish his stock. He’s the bench coach for one of the most successful managers in the game, Ozzie Guillen, as well as having a strong Mariner background. So today’s tweet by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, a longtime friend and one of the best in the business, is not a surprise. Jerry tweeted:

“According to the scouting grapevine, White Sox bench coach Joey Cora has emerged as a strong candidate for the Seattle managing job.”

Two other names have been prominently linked to the vacancy: Bobby Valentine, the former Rangers and Mets manager (with two separate stints managing in Japan), and Padres bench coach Ted Simmons.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, in that Cora and Simmons have never managed in the major leagues, while Valentine has 15 years of experience managing in the majors, plus another six with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. Cora’s managerial experience is limited to two seasons with Kingsport of the Class A Appalachian League (2001-02) and one year at Class A Savannah of the South Atlantic League (2003). Simmons, despite a long and impressive baseball resume that includes a successful stint as the Pirates general manager (where his scouting director was Jack Zduriencik), has never managed at all, except for a few stray games filling in for Padres manager Bud Black.

Wakamatsu had never managed in the majors either, of course. He had four years of managerial experience at the minor-league level, none higher than Class AA. That led to obvious speculation that the Mariners would seek an experienced manager this time around as a counter-balance to Wakamatsu. Zduriencik has led credence to that viewpoint in a series of interviews. When Wakamatsu was hired, none of the seven finalists had ever managed a day in the majors.

On KJR-AM a few weeks ago, he said he might favor a manager with major-league experience.

“Even thought Don had not had managerial experience,” Zduriencik told KJR, “I thought that was fine at the time. No problem at all…I do think you look for experience now. The club is in a different situation than it was two years ago.”

At the time, Zduriencik told me, “I’m going to keep all options open. I’m still formulating my thoughts and ideas right now. My goal is to hire the guy we feel is the right fit for where we’re at. Experience will probably be a factor, but I think I have to leave my options wide open.”

More recently, speaking last Friday on the Kevin Calabro show on ESPN 710, Zduriencik said, “I think the one thing we are going to look for is, initially, someone with experience. I’m not going to say that’s going to be the only criteria, because it will not be. But I think it would be important to have someone that has a good track record, someone that has managerial experience.”

And he told Shannon Drayer, “If I had to make a decision today I would lean towards someone with experience, but you have to let the process unfold. I don’t want to box myself in and say that is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt what has to be because I do think you would limit yourself. But I do think that is the criteria we start with.”

Judging from all those remarks, I’d say Cora and especially Simmons will have to really convince Zduriencik that their other qualities supersede their lack of major-league managerial experience. And I think Zduriencik is correct to not box himself in. It’s entirely possible that the perfect candidate is someone who has never managed at the major-league level. I don’t think that should be a do-or-die criterion. And it’s even more possible — I’d say virtually 100 percent certain — that there are under-the-radar candidates we don’t know about yet, and others who will emerge over time. And some, I dare say, will be prominent names.

So while Cora will certainly be a top name, and Simmons and Valentine are worth tucking away, this process will no doubt have many twists and turns before a manager is hired.

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