Mariners already identifying general manager candidates

Seattle Mariners president Kevin Mather sure works quickly. Former general manager Jack Zduriencik is freshly unemployed, and Mather has already contacted the MLB commissioner's office for a list of potential candidates that the Mariners might want to consider in their quest to become relevant in the American League West again.

Mather plans to assemble an initial list of eight to 10 candidates, get down to a short list' by the end of September and have a new GM in place by early to mid-October and hit the ground running in time for the offseason.

"One of their questions was, 'We're assuming you're looking for a younger, analytic guru, computer nerd type,' " Mather said on a conference call Friday. "I paused, and they said, 'Well, everybody else is asking.' "

When pressed for further details about his conversation with MLB's central office, Mather paused again.

"I embellished a little bit,'' he said. "But that's clearly the direction in our industry -- for the analytic, sabermetric type of GM.''

Without a doubt. Baseball is quick to hop aboard the latest trend, and general manager Jeff Luhnow's success in Houston this season has spurred competing teams to look for executives with a quantitative bent. When the Milwaukee Brewers recently bumped general manager Doug Melvin upstairs, they hired an executive search firm and gave it a mandate to find younger, analytically oriented candidates with a newer, fresher slant on roster building.

In the quest to replace Zduriencik, who failed to lead the Mariners to a postseason berth since his arrival in 2008, Mather prefers not to be pigeonholed. His main criteria seem to be: 1) experience; 2) competence; and 3) an open mind.

Mather has expressed a desire to hire an established executive who won't require a learning curve. Some media members who heard those comments Friday assumed that he's dead-set on a former general manager, which generated speculation on Twitter and in industry buzz about a passel of established executives who've run clubs with varying degrees of success.

Are Jerry Dipoto, Kevin Towers, Dan O'Dowd, Frank Wren, Ben Cherington, Kenny Williams, Jim Hendry, Larry Beinfest and Dan Jennings a long enough list, for starters?

On his conference call Friday, Mather also refused to discount established assistant general managers who've had a "heavy hand'' in their team's operations. Texas' Thad Levine, Kansas City's J.J. Picollo, the Chicago Cubs' Jason McLeod, the New York Yankees' Billy Eppler, Atlanta's John Coppolella, Washington's Doug Harris and Seattle's Jeff Kingston (who has taken over for Zduriencik on an interim basis) are among a slew of assistants who fit that description.

It's easy to get hung up on "types,'' but the reality is that successful general managers collect information from every available source and find a way to use it to their advantage. Zduriencik made a name for himself as a scout. But by most accounts, he failed at fostering an environment in which Seattle's talent evaluators believed their voices were heard and their opinions mattered. Waning morale had become an issue in Seattle, and the Mariners' next GM needs to remedy that situation by being more inclusive.

Mather mentioned the amateur draft, international scouting, sabermetrics and overseeing talent on the farm among the pivotal tasks on the general manager's daily menu.

"If you come to me as an eyes-on-the-ground scout type, that's OK, but you better be darned sure you have somebody working for you who gets the analytics part, and his voice will be loud and in your ear on a regular basis,'' Mather said. "That's critically important as this game goes forward to keep up.

"The important part, for me, is finding someone who's smart enough to know what he doesn't know, and will bring in people to help in this area or that area. I'm looking for someone who is smart enough to check all the data points.''

Within baseball circles, the Seattle job will appeal to a lot of people. The Mariners play in a great ballpark, have a healthy revenue stream from their media deal and a devoted, albeit beleaguered fan base. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz suck up a lot of the payroll space, but they're also pretty good players.

But there are caveats and potential minefields as well.

"They have expectations to win, when I would want to rebuild,'' a competing general manager said. "They have a minimal talent base in both the majors and the minors. And there's a losing culture throughout the organization. That needs a lot of work.''

The commissioner's office and the baseball grapevine might help Mather identify candidates in his search for the team's next general manager, but it's up to him to cut through the static, hire the right person and avoid a repeat of the Zduriencik era. Seattle fans can't afford the alternative.