While much of the focus this week has been on the continued managerial search by the Mariners, the team has already quietly gone about removing two members from last season’s coaching staff.
The Mariners fired bench coach Robby Thompson early last week, while they have also told third base coach Jeff Datz he is welcome back in a scouting role, but not in the big league dugout. Datz has yet to tell the Mariners whether he will accept the re-assignment or leave the organization.
All of the coaches were under contract through the 2014 season and the Mariners have said previously that they would be re-evaluating their roles both before and after the new manager is hired. So far, pitching coach Carl Willis, hitting coach Dave Hansen, first base coach Mike Brumley and Daren Brown — who replaced Datz at third base in-season while the latter underwent cancer treatments — have yet to learn their fates.
Willis interviewed for the vacant Baltimore Orioles pitching coach job, but lost out to Dave Wallace.
No reason for Thompson’s firing has been given, though he was close to former Mariners manager Eric Wedge — who informed the team at season’s end that he would not be seeking to extend his contract beyond this year. Among those being considered for the jo of replacing Wedge is Mariners broadcaster and former catcher Dave Valle.
He joins a list of coaches from other teams who have also expressed interest. The Mariners plan more formal interviews of a shortlist of candidates in Seattle next week and could have the new field boss in-place before the GM meetings in Orlando Nov. 11-13.
Valle is believed to be the long in-house candidate for the job. Contrary to rumors, assistant GM Ted Simmons did not apply, nor did Brown or Thompson.
In other news, the Mariners, as expected, declined their options on outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and pitcher Joe Saunders.
Both now become free agents and this could very well be the end of the team’s patience-tying relationship with Gutierrez and his myriad health issues. Gutierrez would have earned $7.5 million in 2014 if the option was extended, but instead he will be ought out for $500,000.
Gutierrez played only sporadically after signing a four-year, $20.25 million deal after the 2009 season. He was sidelined for parts of two seasons by a stomach issue, then missed most of last year with a torn pectoral muscle and ensuing concussion when struck on the head by an errant pickoff throw.
This year, he was hobbled by a leg and hip issue in spring training and would up blowing out his hamstring in April. Gutierrez didn’t return until the final month or so of the season and was not an everyday player when he was in uniform.
The move today doesn’t close the book entirely on Gutierrez returning, since the Mariners could look to ink him to a more cost-effective deal — perhaps as a fourth outfielder. But much of that will depend on who else the Mariners are successful in acquiring.
One target, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, could play center field full time and give the Mariners a needed leadoff hitting upgrade. But he is expected to command more than $100 million over multiple years and his agent — Scott Boras — told me yesterday that he has already had close to a dozen teams ask him about Ellsbury alone.