Mariners fire McLaren; bench coach Riggleman takes over

SEATTLE -- John McLaren is the latest member of the Seattle Mariners to get cut loose. He probably won't be the last.

On the day McLaren was fired as manager, Seattle executives said they agree with franchise cornerstone Ichiro Suzuki that players should also be jettisoned from the team with the worst record in the majors.

After beginning the year with playoff expectations, the Mariners are now in the midst of what appears to be a lost season. They fired general manager Bill Bavasi this week and followed by dismissing McLaren on Thursday.

Bench coach Jim Riggleman was promoted to run the team, starting Friday night in Atlanta. He became Seattle's fifth manager in six seasons.

"We hadn't shown any improvement for the last couple of months. In fact, we were probably regressing," interim GM Lee Pelekoudas said. "To give the players a chance to improve ... we thought a different voice was needed."

The Mariners are 25-47, 17½ games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West and "in quicksand," said president Chuck Armstrong. The team seems likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season and could become the first team with a $100 million player payroll to lose 100 games.

"Well, if you think about it, if nothing changes things will continue to be the way they are," Suzuki told The Associated Press through a translator late Wednesday night, 11 hours before Seattle fired the 56-year-old McLaren, Suzuki's friend for a decade.

Lee Elia, called back from part-time advising earlier this month at age 70 to replace fired Jeff Pentland as hitting coach, takes Riggleman's old job as bench coach. Jose Castro, who had been a roving minor-league instructor, is the new hitting coach.

The likable, folksy McLaren was an assistant for 21½ years in the majors before he took over as Seattle's manager last July when Mike Hargrove abruptly quit. McLaren went 68-88 in less than a full season on the job.

McLaren was the second manager in the majors to be fired this season -- the New York Mets dismissed Willie Randolph this week.

Suzuki did not seem surprised to hear team CEO Howard Lincoln recently declare that no player was off-limits to a potential deal.

"To me, I think that's just the normal way things should be," Suzuki said.

This is the first time Lincoln has hinted Suzuki, too, could go. Any move would have to get past majority owner Hiroshi Yamaguchi in Japan, less than a year after he approved a $90 million contract extension for Suzuki.

Armstrong said Suzuki "has let me know of his feelings," concerning the need for shedding underperforming players.

"He's probably disappointed, like all of us," Armstrong said.

Yet Suzuki said he isn't disappointed, frustrated, surprised or even numb at how badly his heralded team with a revamped rotation and veteran lineup has flopped.

"I'm beyond those kind of motions. I've surpassed those emotions," he said. "I don't even know if I'm to a point where I can tell if that's how I feel."

The perennial hit machine has also been part of the problem. A career .331 hitter, he is batting .291, 11 points lower than he's been this late in the season since he arrived from Japan in 2001.

Yet a clearly downcast Suzuki refused to acknowledge this is the lowest he's been with Seattle.

"The last few years have been somewhat similar," he said flatly.

McLaren did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone by The Associated Press.

When asked Wednesday night if he was worried about his future before yet another loss, to Florida, the mostly sunny McLaren laughed.

"You know, it's business as usual for me," he said, with a hint of emotion in his voice and eyes. "I come out here with the positive attitude, ready to grind. It's a new day. Not happy with where we are, but I know where we want to go."

Now Suzuki and the marooned Mariners get the more serious, 55-year-old Riggleman -- and a notice that anyone could be next out of Seattle.

The team appears poised to eat the $7.8 million remaining on endlessly slumping slugger Richie Sexson's $14 million contract, which ends after the season. Punchless designated hitter Jose Vidro also seems destined for release.

Yet both Sexson and Vidro were on the flight to Atlanta on Thursday.

"I would expect more player moves," Armstrong said.

The 55-year-old Riggleman is a former manager of the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs who McLaren added to his staff last winter.

"Jim's a serious man. He's not a guy looking to have fun," Pelekoudas said.

Pelekoudas wouldn't answer whether McLaren was too nice and jovial for an already soft team.

McLaren became Seattle's accidental manager when Hargrove suddenly resigned midway through last season as the Mariners were making a surprising run at the division title. Under McLaren's lead, they stayed in contention into late August before a nine-game losing streak doomed them.