Mariners overhaul image with quiet manager
SEATTLE Ñ The beauty of Lou Piniella was the temper tantrums, the thrown bases, the prolific belly testing the strength of buttons on his Seattle Mariners jersey. It was the smoke-filled office as he shot the bull with reporters, the two-day growth, the cantankerous old-school mentality.
Seattle could not have hired anyone more different to replace him as manager than Bob Melvin.
In Melvin, the Mariners have somebody who could have jumped off the pages of GQ Magazine, or out of the boardroom. A strapping, 6-foot-4 former big-league catcher, he takes over a veteran-laden club and promises many things, including:
• 'They have chemistry here, and I don't want to get in the way of it.'
• 'I'm going to be positive and upbeat É and how upset I get is uncharted waters.'
In other words, he might start with an argument with an umpire, rather than kicking dirt on the ump's shoes, ‡ la Sweet Lou.
Something that Piniella and Melvin have in common? Both have been to the World Series and won it, with other teams Ñ Melvin as bench coach with Arizona two years ago.
The Mariners may or may not have another run in them. Their most proven pitcher, Jamie Moyer, just turned 40, and was rewarded with a three-year contract. The best hitter, Edgar Martinez, just turned 40; he's the designated hitter and re-signed for one more year. Eleven Mariners were born in the 1960s, not including Melvin, who just turned 41.
Only two years ago, the M's won 116 games. Last year, they won 93 and missed the playoffs. The core remains intact. 'I think we're one of 12 to 14 teams that thinks they can do it,' Melvin says of winning the World Series.
The Mariners, who open full camp Feb. 16 in Peoria, Ariz., need several things to fall into place to beat out Anaheim and Oakland:Êstable starting pitching; another round of career years from Mike Cameron, Bret Boone and Ichiro Suzuki; and third baseman Jeff Cirillo returning to .300, now that Piniella isn't around to hound him.
General Manager Pat Gillick addressed some needs in the offseason by signing free agents John Mabry and Greg Colbrunn. Both are reliable hitters and bench players who can spot start Ñ Mabry at several positions and Colbrunn at first base. Gillick also re-signed catcher Dan Wilson and first baseman John Olerud. And, as compensation for letting go of Piniella, Seattle acquired athletic left fielder Randy Winn from Tampa Bay.
Seattle recently picked up pitcher Jamey Wright, signing him to a minor league deal. Melvin says Ryan Franklin and possibly Wright could be the fourth and fifth starters; a healthy Gil Meche, Ken Cloude and Rafael Soriano also will get their shots. And maybe Ryan Anderson, the big lefty who has had shoulder injuries the last two years, could factor in by the end of the season.
That's not saying problems don't lurk with the top starters. How much more does Moyer, 13-8 last year, have left? The crafty left-hander can still be the 'No. 1 or 1A starter' next to Freddy Garcia, Gillick says. Moyer 'might be 40, but the way he takes care of himself, he's 30 or 35,' the GM says. 'With his determination and style of pitching, I'd bet my life that he's going to do these three years pretty well.'
OK, what about Garcia, the hard-throwing righty who can't seem to consistently string together starts? He and the club are in arbitration, an always contentious and emotional ordeal.
'He's got to get hold of his emotions,' Gillick says. 'That's the thing about No. 1 starters Ñ they're able to control their emotions.'
Joel Pineiro should be the No. 3 starter.
The Mariners also need to fill out the bullpen. They hope Norm Charlton can overcome elbow surgery so that he and maybe a rookie Ñ Jeff Heaverlo or Aaron Taylor Ñ can pitch middle innings.
Melvin has been pacing around his living room trying to determine the lineups for 162 games.
'We're so versatile,' he says. 'We have so many lefty-righty options and guys who can play so many positions. It makes my head spin.'