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Sunday, August 20, 2006 - Page updated at 01:08 AM

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Larry Stone

The next Mariners manager will be ...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

With the pennant race no longer on the itinerary for the Mariners and their fans, it's time to move straight to the recrimination portion of our program.

Unless, of course, the Mariners borrow from the Dodgers' playbook and follow this stretch of wretched performances with, oh, 17 wins in 18 games.

Anyone see that coming? Me neither.

What you can't help but see is the train wreck unfolding before our eyes, ensuring that this season, while marked by some positive developments, will be deemed another setback.

All that remains, after their massive divisional fold (still, alas, a work in progress), is to see just how ugly it gets — and who pays the price.

If there's one truism throughout the annals of baseball, it's that heads roll when teams lose. And the Mariners are losing spectacularly, historically, ceaselessly.

Cause and effect: For the third time in four years, the M's could be looking for a manager this fall.

Thumbs up

Francisco Cordero, Brewers: Since coming over from Texas in the Carlos Lee deal, Cordero has rescued the shaky Milwaukee bullpen, converting his first eight saves without allowing a run.

Thumbs down

Seattle Mariners: Got to give the local squad the collective downturned digit for its stunning collapse in the AL West race. At least "Wait 'Til Next Year" time arrived later this year.

Ex-Mariner of the week

Arthur Rhodes, Phillies: With Tom Gordon struggling (6.75 ERA since the All-Star break) and shut down with shoulder inflammation, the Phillies turned to Rhodes to be their closer. In his first four games, the Phillies never needed him.

Quote

"I thought we were going to have to go to smoke signals." — San Diego catcher Rob Bowen, on the difficulty in giving signs to vision-impaired Jake Peavy, who hopes a new set of contact lenses will cure the problem.

There will be plenty of time to debate if such a move is warranted (although the "con" camp is losing steam with each loss). What might be more useful at this stage, as the clamor for change reaches a crescendo among a disgruntled (indeed, apoplectic) fan base, is to look at who might be out there to bring in.

Besides Seattle's Mike Hargrove, at least four other managers are particularly vulnerable this winter — Dusty Baker of the Cubs, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies, Frank Robinson of the Nationals, and Felipe Alou of the Giants. The rift between Florida's Joe Girardi and owner Jeffrey Loria could lead to a change there, and the San Diego media was buzzing this week about the future of manager Bruce Bochy.

The market for replacements, thus, figures to be a competitive one.

Baker, no doubt, would be immediately linked to the Mariners, having left little doubt in 2002, when he cut ties with the Giants, that he was interested in the Seattle job.

But the Mariners didn't interview him then, when Baker was coming off a pennant, and so it's hard to envision strong interest now, when he is coming off a horrible season that has damaged his stature.

Fair or not, Baker has a reputation for overworking pitchers, which is going to make front offices leery, despite his three Manager of the Year awards and glittering record of success, pre-2005.

Lou Piniella's name is another that is sure to come up. But despite the romantic notion of bringing back the most popular and successful manager in team history, it doesn't seem to have much traction.

At this stage of his career, Piniella is not interested in a rebuilding job or a developing team. He would have to be convinced that the Mariners could win now, and management would have to erase any bad feelings lingering from his 2002 departure. It's a longshot — every team with a vacancy is going to put Piniella No. 1 on their list — but fun to ponder.

The strongest in-house option is Dan Rohn, the longtime Tacoma manager now serving in the nebulous role of "administrative coach." He interviewed for the job in 2002, when the Mariners hired Bob Melvin, and has worked with most of the young players in the system.

Among current managers, Bochy would be a highly appealing choice if he were to become available. A column last week in the San Diego Union-Tribune raised the notion — posed by anonymous players — that Bochy and general manager Kevin Towers are being set up to fail to justify an offseason housecleaning.

Bochy is signed through 2007, but if the sentiment of San Diego management is really for change, then they might be willing to grant the Mariners permission to talk to Bochy, arguably baseball's most underrated manager. It would be a good fit.

With Jim Leyland thriving in Detroit, the role of manager-in-waiting, emeritus, goes to Tom Kelly, winner of two World Series with Minnesota before the team hit hard times in the late 1990s. Kelly stepped down as manager after the 2001 season and has seemed content in semi-retirement. If any job could tempt him back, it's believed to be the Cubs, where his former Twins boss, Andy MacPhail, is now in charge. But he'd definitely be worth an inquiry.

An intriguing wild card is Bobby Valentine, who still has three years left, after this one, on the extension he signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines after winning the Japanese title last year.

Valentine, who ended his playing career with the Mariners in 1979, can be a load, but he is a dynamic, successful manager. According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, Valentine has an out clause in his Chiba contract to pursue a major-league job, but he is exceedingly popular and well-paid in Japan. Any team wanting Valentine would have to pony up big-time — not the Mariners' style for a manager.

Among current major-league coaches, Bud Black is definitely a name to tuck away. The Angels' pitching coach is highly regarded, has learned under one of the best (Mike Scioscia), and is ready to manage. In the past, he has turned down managerial overtures from the Indians and Dodgers, among others, because of family concerns, but with his kids now older, those are reportedly no longer a factor. Black has local ties, having been raised in Longview and drafted by the Mariners in 1979. Another good fit.

Former major-league managers sitting out there without jobs include Art Howe, Bob Brenly, Terry Collins, Jerry Manuel, Don Baylor and Larry Bowa. Possible candidates with Mariners ties include long-time coach John McLaren, a finalist for several recent jobs; White Sox coach Joey Cora; and Yankees minor-league manager Luis Sojo.

Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez has become a hot managerial commodity, as has White Sox Class AAA manager Razor Shines, heading for the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

There are naturally others who could emerge as well. As the Mariners continue their march of doom, the next question is whether Bill Bavasi will still be around as general manager to make the decisions.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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AL West W L Pct. GB Div. Streak
y-LA Angels 100 62 .617 --- 36-21 Won 1
Texas 79 83 .488 21 30-27 Lost 1
Oakland 75 86 .466 24.5 26-31 Lost 5
Seattle 61 101 .377 39 22-35 Won 3

y - clinched division, x - clinched playoff berth

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