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Hot Stone League

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

October 14, 2010 at 12:22 PM

Thursday update on Mariners’ managerial search, with more thoughts on Bobby Valentine

First, a couple of pieces of business. Congratulations to Daren Brown and his wife Cindy, proud parents of daughter Chloe Lynn Brown, born yesterday at 5 p.m. The stats: 8.6 lbs, 21.5 inches.

Brown, who finished the season as the Mariners’ interim manager after Don Wakamatsu was fired, remains a candidate for the full-time position, but it’s still unclear whether he will receive a formal interview.

Also, top prospect Dustin Ackley injured his finger yesterday in the Arizona Fall League, but it doesn’t seem too serious. Kirby Arnold, who is in Arizona, has details.

Now, on to the Mariners’ managerial search. The club has now finished its first round of five interviews (Bobby Valentine, Cecil Cooper, John Gibbons, Eric Wedge and Lloyd McClendon). I’ve heard they were impressed with all of them. Now the top executives will sit down as an organization and decide whether to expand the list and add some more candidates, or narrow it down from these five guys and Brown. As for a timetable, it’s possible the Mariners could get it done before the World Series, but it’s not a hard and fast deadline. The club has a delicate balance between wanting to make sure they get the guy they really want, and having their top candidate snatched by another team if they wait too long. Wedge alone is interviewing with at least four other teams — the Cubs, Pirates, Blue Jays and Brewers. Valentine and Gibbons have other options as well.

Funny, in going through some files yesterday, I found a batch of stories from October of 1992 concerning the Mariners managerial search. They had just fired Bill Plummer after one 98-loss season, and were looking for his replacement. Woody Woodward, the GM, told our beat writer Bob Finnigan in one story that they wanted a manager with major-league experience after going with an inexperienced manager in Plummer. Sound familiar?

But the real reason I bring it up is this story I ran across, by Finnigan, from Oct. 14, 1992 — precisely 18 years ago today. The headline is “Valentine Tops M’s Wish List — Ex-Ranger Has Fiery Reputation.” Again, sound familiar? Valentine had been fired from his Texas job on July 9, and was listed by Finnigan among a group of candidates that included Bucky Dent, Tom Trebelhorn, Dave Duncan, Chris Chambliss and Davey Johnson. Oh, one other guy — ex-Reds’ manager Lou Piniella.

For the next day’s paper, Finnigan got hold of Valentine at his restaurant in Stamford, Conn., and asked him if he was interested in the Mariners’ job.

“Baseball protocol says you’re supposed to ‘no comment’ questions about managing openings,” he replied. “But I’m not a no-comment kind of guy and the Seattle situation intrigues me.”

Later, asked about managing a team without as many resources as the Rangers (they were talking money; in those Kingdome days, the M’s were the epitome of a small-market team), he replied, “Hey, if anything, I’m creative as a manager. Seattle is a challenge and I’ve spent my life responding to challenges.”

The upshot is that, as we all know, Piniella got the job over Valentine, who wouldn’t get his next major-league managerial gig until 1996 with the Mets (after spending the 1995 season managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan). In fact, in a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Jim Street on Oct. 30, 1992 about Piniella getting the job, Street writes, “Sources told the Post-Intelligencer yesterday that two high-ranking Mariners officials threatened to quit if Valentine became the team’s manager.”

That’s the thing about Bobby V. He inspires strong reactions in people, and he definitely has his detractors. He always has, and probably always will. Drama seems to follow him around. But you could argue the Mariners could use some strong reactions from a fan base that is one step away from apathy.

Here’s an example of how things HAVE changed. Piniella, according to the articles back in 1992, was thought to be pricey, his asking price reported as $750,000 — a huge amount in those days. Plummer, for instance, made $250,000.

Now the dollars are much, much higher. The marquee managers like Piniella, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker make upwards of $3 million. Money could be an issue with Valentine. In this interesting piece by the well-connected Ken Rosenthal at FOX, he writes the following while positing that Valenine is no slam-dunk for the Seattle job:

Valentine might want more money than the Mariners are willing to pay.

Lou Piniella managed the M’s from 1993 to 2002, but the team prefers less expensive managers, sources say. Valentine presumably would require a substantial salary to leave his current position as an analyst for ESPN.

I’ve heard that Valentine could be making as much as $2 million per year on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, and he made much more than that during his second stint with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, which ended in 2009.

I have no idea how high the Mariners would be willing to go, but I think it might be instructive to look at Buck Showalter as a benchmark. He held a similar position on Baseball Tonight before being hired as the Orioles manager in the middle of last season. According to a tweet by his former ESPN colleague Buster Olney shortly after Showalter was hired, he will be paid $1.5 million in each of the next three seasons by the Orioles. It’s even possible that represents a paycut from ESPN, but Showalter wanted to manage more than he wanted to broadcast.

I truly believe Valentine also has a burning desire to get back in a big-league dugout. One friend of his said, “He has more to do to satisfy his life’s ambition, which is to bring a team to the very top of the business.” I know from talking to friends and colleagues of Valentine that the Seattle position has great appeal to him. On the other hand, he’s being paid a lot of money to talk baseball in front of a camera. It’s a good, largely stress-free life. Would he give it up to go to a rebuilding situation? I think he would, but perhaps not if he feels he’s being underpaid.

As Rosenthal’s piece points out, there are other issues — potentially deal-breaking issues — to work through for Valentine to wind up in Seattle, even if he’s their top choice, which isn’t yet clear. If the two sides can get through those, and both genuinely believe it’s a good marriage, you’d have to think they could make the money work.

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