Eric Wedge came close to managing the Cleveland Indians all the way to a World Series. He says in this interview that he believes the Mariners are going to be in a similar spot soon and will go even further. The Mariners made waves by signing Felix Hernandez to an extension in the offseason, but also have a combination of young talent and veteran leaders that could make them an intriguing team to keep an eye on. Eric Wedge joined KJR in Seattle with Dave “Softy” Mahler to discuss changing things from year to year in spring training, his expectations for the season in Seattle, if he’s driven by nearly getting to the World Series with Cleveland, not wanting to rush prospects to the big show too soon, up-and-coming catcher Mike Zunino and the extension of Felix Hernandez.
This is your 10th year as an MLB manager. Do you change things from year to year or have you kind of found a formula at this point?
“No, you most definitely do change. You’ve got to know your people, you’ve got to know you’re setting, you’ve got to know where you’re at as an organization. And it should be different from year to year. If this was the same thing this year as it was last year, then I wouldn’t be doing my job. We’re just so much further along than we were from Year 1, so much along than last year in Year 2. I feel as strongly about us as I ever have, just in terms of the overall talent in our camp.”
What is it about this club that you have now compared to those seasons that really leads you to think you could see some wins this season?
“Experienced young players, and when I say experienced, it might be half a year, a year or a year and a half, but it’s still more than nothing. … They’re a lot tougher, a lot wiser, a lot smarter. And then you look at the veteran players who we brought in. You look at Morse, Bay, Ibanez and Morales and you look at bringing in Saunders and Bonderman and Garland, who have been winners and been to World Series and been on championship teams. They’re fighting to make the club and these are difference-makers for us. We’ve got a lot going on here.”
How much are you driven by your time in Cleveland, where you nearly made it to the World Series?
“You’re half right. It does drive me, but I don’t think about it. I only think about today and I think about tomorrow and next week, next month and next year. … I’ve got all the confidence in the world that we’re going to surpass that. We were a game away from the World Series, and if I’m making that statement, then I’m very confident that sooner or later we’ll be competing to get into the World Series. We’re just doing it the right way.”
Some managers seem to rush young players up to the big league club, but you don’t seem to be in a hurry to do that:
“No, I’ve said from Day 1 here that I’m not afraid to lose my job. I’m going to do things for the right reasons, and the right reasons are for this organization and for the players. When you talk about the young players, the best way I can describe it to you is this: We want to have them up here when they’re ready, not because we feel like we need them necessarily.”
Can you imagine a scenario where you have prospect Mike Zunino up for opening day?
“It’d be a long shot, but yeah. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened. I tell you what, he’s impressive. It’s hard not to recognize what he’s doing out there — whether it be catching or obviously offensively or even in general conversation. … Again, just because of his youth and inexperience, it would be a long shot, but anything can happen.”
On the extension to Felix Hernandez and the raw emotion he showed in a press conference after he signed the deal:
“First word that came to mind was just ‘genuine.’ That was as real as it gets. That was genuine, that was sincere, it was heartfelt. This is Felix Hernandez. This is one of the many reasons that we wanted to extend him — he cares about the Seattle Mariners, cares about the city of Seattle, he cares about all the Mariner fans. He wants to be a part of this, and for a long time. It meant as much to me as anything that he believes in what we’re doing and the progress we’ve made and where he feels like we’re going to be.”