McClendon excited, prepared to lead new-look Mariners
His second stint as a Major League manager has been a long time coming
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners officially opened camp on Thursday in a new facility, with a revamped team led by a new manager, Lloyd McClendon, who said he has been gearing up for this moment.
"I haven't slept much for the last 10 days, I've been very anxious," said McClendon, beginning his second tenure as a Major League manager, early on the morning that pitchers and catchers reported. "I've been trying to prepare. It's been a very exciting time. This moment has been a long time coming, so … we're excited about it. I think my staff is ready and energized. Hopefully our players will feed off that energy."
"A long time coming" is an understatement for McClendon, who hasn't managed in the Major Leagues since 2005 when his nearly five-year tenure with the Pirates came to an end. Since then, McClendon was a member of Jim Leyland's coaching staff in Detroit, a staff that began to break up after the Tigers were eliminated by the Red Sox in last year's American League Championship Series and Leyland retired as manager.
McClendon, Detroit's hitting coach since 2007, replaced Eric Wedge as Mariners manager. But the experience he generated amassing a 336-446 record and .430 winning percentage with the Pirates should only serve to foreshadow what he may accomplish with the Mariners in the immediate future.
"I think you should get better," McClendon said, during his first gathering with the media. "I believe your past prepares you for your future. Obviously, I've had a pretty good past when it comes to baseball, starting in Pittsburgh and having the opportunity to work with Jim in Detroit. Doing the type of winning we did in Detroit, your expectations change, so to speak. It should make you better. You're a fool if it doesn't make you better."
McClendon has nothing to compare it with, but he arrived in the Northwest Valley to find a spanking,-new $15.5 million clubhouse complex that is 60 percent larger than the building that had been the spring home of the Mariners for the past 20 years. The roster is now replete with such name players as infielders Robinson Cano and Logan Morrison and closer Fernando Rodney -- as soon as the latter officially passes his physical and signs his two-year, $14 million free-agent contract.
McClendon, 55, joined the Mariners on Nov. 5 and since then general manager Jack Zduriencik added those players around staff ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners lost 91 games last season, have had four sub-.500 seasons in a row, haven't made the playoffs since 2001, and are the only team in the AL that hasn't played in the World Series. The Nationals/Expos in the National League are the only other team not to do so.
"Well we're getting better, we're getting better," McClendon said. "Jack has done a great job trying to add pieces. There are still some things we'd like to do, but we are getting better."
Asked what areas he'd like to improve in, McClendon added: "Obviously when you lose 91 games there's a lot of things you need to do better. We blew 23 saves. I believe there's another 17 games we lost in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, 15 extra-inning games. We need to improve in those areas. Outfield play was not extremely good last year. We need to become a better defensive outfielding club. My goal is simple, if you play good defense you give teams 27 outs and you have a better chance of winning. All around we've got to become a better defensive club."
The addition, as a free agent, of Cano, the former Yankees second baseman, for 10 years at $240 million, should help the Mariners in that area. Cano will also help offensively and perhaps with his leadership presence in the clubhouse, coming from a team where winning is an ethos, although McClendon is not making that a requirement.
"I'm not like a lot of other people. I don't take a lot of stock in that clubhouse leadership stuff. I really don't," McClendon said. "I know a lot of people have talked about it in the past. When you win games, the clubhouse is great. When you lose, your clubhouse is not so great. It's really that simple. I just want Robinson to be Robinson, stay healthy and do the things on the field and do them well. That's leadership for me, guys that produce. I'll take care of the locker room. I'm not concerned about that stuff."
To that end, McClendon said he has no big clubhouse speech ready as the players gather in the next few days. He'd rather address the players individually in smaller meetings.
"I'm probably going to do things a little differently than people have done in the past," he said. "I will meet with my pitchers separately, with my catcher separately, and I'll meet with my infielders separately and my outfielders separately. And the reason I do that is when you get a big group together half of them aren't even listening to you and the other half is trying to figure out when they're playing golf. I want to be able to look them in the eye and send my message, which will be a very positive message."
And one that for McClendon has been a long time coming.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.