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Mariners CEO: Hargrove, GM Bavasi on 'hot seat' in '07

10/2/2006 - Seattle Mariners

SEATTLE -- So much for stability.

Mariners players thought that's what they were getting when team
CEO Howard Lincoln announced last week that manager Mike Hargrove
and general manager Bill Bavasi would return in 2007.

This, even though the Mariners went 78-84 in 2006 to complete
their third consecutive last-place season in the AL West. And even
though Hargrove just finished his sixth consecutive losing season
as a major league manager.

"I don't want to leave any doubt in anybody's mind: Mike Hargrove and Bill Bavasi are on my hot seat. And I expect that they are going to work even harder than they're already working to produce the results the fans and I think the ownership group expects."
-- Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln

"It gives you a good feeling that the front office trusts the
guys we have," veteran Willie Bloomquist said Friday, a day after
Lincoln's announcement.

But Seattle fans immediately began letting Lincoln know what
they thought of his vote of confidence.

"I've heard from some fans that are supportive and I heard from
some fans that are not so supportive. That's to be expected,"
Lincoln said.

No one has to remind Lincoln that the 2.4 million fans drawn to
Safeco Field this season represented the fourth consecutive drop in
attendance.

A day after his endorsement of Hargrove and Bavasi, Lincoln made
himself available on the field during batting practice. It was odd
-- he speaks publicly about his team just a bit more often than the
Mariners win the World Series.

The CEO then re-lit the fire under his manager and GM, which was
white-hot after Seattle went 0-11 on an August road trip to
freefall out of playoff contention.

"I'd like to see this thing through. ... I don't want to do all this hard work and have someone else reap the benefits."
-- Seattle manager Mike Hargrove

"I don't want to leave any doubt in anybody's mind: Mike
Hargrove and Bill Bavasi are on my hot seat," Lincoln said. "And
I expect that they are going to work even harder than they're
already working to produce the results the fans and I think the
ownership group expects."

When asked if he was trying to send a message to fans and the
two men most responsible for getting Seattle back to the playoffs
for the first time since 2001, Lincoln said: "That's exactly
right. You've got it."

The young, still-developing Mariners rebounded from that 0-11
disaster trip to go 22-16 the rest of the way. So Hargrove, who has
one year left on his three-year contract, was defensive when asked
about Lincoln's "hot seat" comments after Sunday's season finale.

"Do I think [2007] is my one chance? I've been doing this for
15 years. And I'm pretty good at it, too," Hargrove said, his eyes
steely and voice stern. "I will work as hard next year as I always
have.

"If it works, great. If not, then I know I've done my best."

For the usually bland Hargrove -- who last went to the postseason
while managing Cleveland in 1999 and then spent four losing years
in Baltimore -- it was perhaps his most passionate postgame talk of
a long season.

Hargrove said he, Bavasi and the baseball operations staff were
already planning the offseason.

"We're serious about getting this done," he said.

The 2006 season represented more than a nine-win improvement
over '05. Seattle found a younger, sometimes dominant closer in
J.J. Putz. Putz, 29, took the since-traded Eddie Guardado's job in
May and had 36 saves in 43 chances.

In late summer, the Mariners finally got Ichiro Suzuki to play
center field, something they've been trying to do for years.

Suzuki confirmed Sunday that he will begin 2007 in center field.
That clears a corner outfield spot for the powerful, left-handed
bat the Mariners have been craving to acquire for two years.

Suzuki will be entering the final year of his $44 million,
four-year contract. Lincoln wouldn't declare his intent to re-sign
the team's most recognizable star this winter, but he hinted at it.

"Obviously, Ichiro is a very important part of this
organization and he's been here a number of years and I think very
highly of him," Lincoln said. "So I guess the only thing I can
say is: stay tuned."

Even though Seattle needs to acquire two or even three starting
pitchers to fill voids in its rotation, there are more reasons to
stay tuned to the 2007 Mariners -- thanks to 2006.

Second baseman Jose Lopez was fighting for his job in spring
training. Then the 22-year-old became an All-Star. Lopez and
Yuniesky Betancourt, 24, are one of the league's best young
middle-infield tandems.

The Mariners got unexpected power from 34-year-old Raul Ibanez.
He signed a contract extension and then hit 33 home runs -- nine
more than his previous career high. His 123 RBI were 20 more than
his previous season best.

The much-maligned Adrian Beltre had a 16-game hitting streak in
September and a career-high 39 doubles for the season. He finished
with 25 home runs -- six more than in 2005 -- and 89 RBI.

Beltre, a Los Angeles Dodger through 2004, said Sunday that only
in the last month has he finally been comfortable in his knowledge
of AL pitchers.

Richie Sexson finished with 34 homers and 107 RBI. But he was
most proud of rebounding from a .221 average on Aug. 7 to finish at
.264. To do it, he hit .365 in September.

"To me, it's my greatest year," the nine-year veteran said.

Mark Lowe arrived from Double-A San Antonio on July 7. He then
threw a franchise-record 17 2/3 scoreless innings to begin his
career and become Putz's key, eighth-inning setup man.

Lowe, 23, is to have arthroscopic surgery this offseason on his
right, pitching elbow. But the Mariners expect him back throwing
when spring training opens in mid-February.

Hargrove and Bavasi will be there, too.

"I'd like to see this thing through," Hargrove said. "... I
don't want to do all this hard work and have someone else reap the
benefits."