Churchill: M’s skipper search, front office, AFL

It’s been nearly a month since the Seattle Mariners named Jerry Dipoto the club’s new executive V.P. and general manager. Since then, numerous decisions have been made, including parting ways with Lloyd McClendon. Dipoto has chosen to retain assistant GM Jeff Kingston, pro scouting director Tom Allison and amateur scouting director Tom McNamara. Also not returning are special assistants Ted Simmons, Duane Schaffer, Pete Vukovich, Joe Nigro and Joe McIlvane.

Over the past few weeks the rumor mill has spit out a few names in the managerial search. Alex Cora is one name that has come up in a lot of places and has been linked to Seattle. Former San Diego Padres skipper Bud Black has spoken to the Mariners, as has former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Since the start of the process, I’ve thought Tim Bogar, who has minor league managerial experience and has spent time in a scouting/front office role, may be the frontrunner. Until now.

Bogar may still be the choice but when I heard who interviewed for the position Monday, I’m sitting 50-50, both in who I’d probably pull for if I had to choose and who I think is the frontrunner for the gig.

Before I go further, it’s pertinent here to note my belief in assessing the performances of managers (extremely difficult to do on 1-2 year samples if you aren’t in the trenches with the team and staff). The same exact thing goes for candidates, ten fold. It’s impossible to grade candidates that haven’t managed in the majors (and we’ve already established how difficult that is to do) and knowing what the candidate values only goes so far in evaluating the candidate’s abilities. I liken it to a high school basketball coach trying to determine whether or not his freshman point guard also can successfully run a landscaping business. The big leagues, like for players, is a whole new animal.

Charlie Montoyo has managed in the minors for 18 seasons and spent 2015 as the Tampa Bay Rays’ third base coach. Before the Mariners hired McClendon a few years back, I had two pro scouts texting me every day to see if Montoyo was going to get a look. Word is, Montoyo is a terrific game manager, handler of the bullpen, doesn’t simply roll with the way things always have been done and has a way with players of all experience levels.

The 50-year-old was a 6th-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987 and played in four games at the major league level. He was a middle infielder who once drew 156 walks in a season, a year in which his on-base percentage was 129 points higher than his slugging percentage.

Montoyo managed every year from 1997-2014, all in the minors, the final eight in Triple-A Durham after three years in Double-A Montgomery — Tampa Bay Rays affiliates. He’s won at every level of the minors (.526 winning percentage), and winning in minor league baseball is not as easy as some may think. Montoyo managed 12 winning season versus just six below .500. The worst coming in 2004 (57-83) followed by seasons of 67-70 and 77-62.

Bogar, Cora or another candidate may get the job, but of Montoyo is the pick, it’s because he’s won so much and has a special way about it.

Expect the club to name a new skipper within the next week or so.

Arizona Fall League
Before I say anything about the AFL and the eventual performances of the Seattle Mariners participating — LHPs James Paxton, Ryan Horstman, David Rollins and Paul Fry, infielders D.J. Peterson and Tyler Smith and outfielder Tyler O’Neill — it’s necessary to point out the results in the Arizona Fall League mean very little.

Paxton is there to get in work he missed during the season, hoping to find the feel of his curveball and changeup and some rhythm to his delivery so he can throw strikes more consistently. Horstman pitched in just 11 games this season totaling 13 2/3 innings, so he’s also making up for lost time.

Peterson simply is in Arizona to find his swing, and since he’s missed time with injury the past few years, too, the more pitches he sees the better. O’Neill may be on a faster track than anyone saw on draft day but he has a long ways to go in the hitting department. He’ll be tested versus more experienced arms in the fall league.

Again, the actual results do not matter. Francisco Lindor batted just .265/.324/.429 in the AFL last year and now is a star in the making and my choice for Rookie of the Year in the American League. Deven Marrero batted .328/.443/.414 last year in the AFL and managed a paltry .256/.314/.344 line in Triple-A Pawtucket this season. The AFL is for experience, looks, refining and fine-tuning. Success means absolutely nothing, nor does a player struggling statistically. It’s a small sample — the entire season.

Having said that, Peterson is 4-for-8 with two home runs and a double in his first two starts, while Smith is 4-for-11 with a walk. O’Neill, who just turned 20 this summer, is 2-for-8 with a long ball and three punch outs.

Paxton has made two starts, tallying 6 1/3 innings. He’s yielded six hits, one earned runs and two unearned runs, one walk and five strikeouts. Rollins has allowed four hits and two runs in two innings — one appearance — and Horstman has tossed a scoreless frame. Fry got one out and then allowed two hits and a run in his lone appearance.

Programming Note
While Steve Sandmeyer and I will fire up the podcast again Wednesday afternoon, the offseason pieces aren’t coming until the week after the World Series is complete. Why? Too many things need to happen before anything put together fully can make sense. Options need to be declined or picked up, the exclusive rights period needs to come to an end (five days after the conclusion of the World Series) and some clubs need to find GMs and managers. The more information available the better prepared we all can be, including yours truly when putting together ‘Targets’ pieces and the like.

For those wondering, I do not do the ‘Offseason Plan’ thing. It’s 100 percent useless, we all know it. This isn’t fantasy baseball, nor is it a video game. What I will do is specify the needs of the Seattle Mariners, suggest trade and free agent targets, list the club’s best trade chips, present the payroll situation and react to each and every move the club makes all winter.

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Jason A. Churchill

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