Howard Lincoln knew there would be a day when he would have to replace Chuck Armstrong. Over the last few years, the two discussed Armstrong’s eventual retirement and its ramifications.
The announcement came on Monday, but Lincoln was notified of Armstrong’s decision last week.
“I was aware that Chuck was considering it,” Lincoln said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We certainly talked about it on more than one occasion, so I can’t say I was stunned. On one hand, while I’m very happy for Chuck and he needs to move on with his life and spend more time with his family, that’s certainly understandable, but it is a great loss for the Mariners and certainly for baseball.”
Now Lincoln and the Mariners must begin the process of moving forward. Even with Armstrong’s retirement not going into effect until Jan. 31, Lincoln is beginning the process of finding a replacement.
Because of the conversations and prudence, Lincoln had already considered the possibly process for replacing Armstrong and potential candidates. But he isn’t going to simply go off of any previous thinking.
“I think as a businessman you always have to anticipate personnel changes within an organization, certainly at the top and in other areas,” he said. “But I go into this with a completely open mind.”
And it’s his mind that will make the decision for the best candidate. He will handle the search for Armstrong’s replacement. It won’t be a search by committee.
“I will take care of that,” he said.
Lincoln doesn’t expect anything to happen in the next few weeks.
“I haven’t made any decisions relative to Chuck’s replacement and really don’t plan on making decisions I would bring to our board of directors before the holiday,” he said. “Ultimately, I will come up with a plan and share that with our board, seek their advice, guidance and approval and move on. I think that’s probably some weeks away.”
Could the search and decision-making process extend beyond Armstrong’s departure date?
“I suppose it is conceivable that we could beyond Jan. 31,” he said. “If we don’t think that we are ready to make the decision, we certainly could do that. But I think it’s much more likely and better for the organization if we have finalized this before Jan. 31.”
So what is looking for in the candidates? Will it be an established baseball guy, or a business person outside the game?
“I’m certainly prepared to look at all possibilities,” he said. “But I have a very good idea of what we need because I have a very good idea of what Chuck does. Quite frankly, it’s going to be very difficult to replacement and that’s not only because he knows the business of the Mariners, but he knows the business of baseball. This guys knows everybody in baseball from the commissioner on down. He even knows the umpires. He knows all the owners, the club presidents, the CEOs, the general managers, the field managers. He literally knows everyone in baseball.”
Armstrong’s relationships within the game extend of a career that spanned three decades. Not many candidates would have that type of experience. But Lincoln believes some level of experience is necessary.
“I think anybody that steps in is going to have to have a lot of these attributes,” he said. “I don’t think that it would make any sense to bring in somebody that had no experience in baseball. Whoever does this and whoever replaces Chuck is going to have to have these attributes and certainly be knowledgeable about the pretty much all aspects of baseball. It’s a strange business when I separate the business of baseball from the business of the Mariners.
“Anybody who takes this job is going to have to have an understanding of what a cashflow statement is and have to know about accounting, finance, sales and marketing, those are skills that you can have that don’t have anything to do with baseball. But when it comes to the business of baseball, that’s different and the person who succeeds Chuck is going to have to have the knowledge of the business of baseball. He has to know his way around the game. He has to know the players. I’m not going about baseball players, but the players in the game. He has to know the people that run major league baseball – the people that we compete with and are partners with – other owners, other CEOs, other presidents and general managers. This person has to have those kinds of contacts or he can’t perform his job.”
That person might even work for the Mariners currently. Lincoln wouldn’t rule out promotion from within.
“Oh yes, we certainly have qualified internal candidates,” he said. “But I’m going into this thing with a wide open view and I’m not limiting to it outside or inside candidates.”
It doesn’t sound as though Lincoln will change the structure of the front office. Teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks have split up the responsibilities of the president position between two people – giving one person control of the business aspect and the other as director of baseball operations.
“I know that some clubs have done that,” he said. “I’m not at the point where I can say it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Most clubs I think operate the same way the Mariners operated under Chuck’s leadership. There are clubs that have tried to separate the baseball operations from the rest of the business. I’m aware of that. I really haven’t started thinking that way yet.”
Another quick note: Lincoln said the payroll budget for the upcoming season will be higher than what the team budgeted last season. The team budgeted close to $95 million for payroll last season, but only used about $84 million.
“It’s certainly going to be above what we budgeted last year,” Lincoln said. “How much? For competitive purposes, I’m not prepared to say. But it certainly is not going to go down.”
So there’s that.