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Friday, September 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mariners stay on their tack

Seattle Times staff reporter

Probable starters


Today vs. Texas, 7:05 p.m., FSN: LH Ryan Feierabend (0-1) vs. RH Vicente Padilla (14-10)

Saturday vs. Texas, 1:05 p.m.: RH Felix Hernandez (11-14) vs. RH Kevin Millwood (16-11)

Sunday vs. Texas, 1:05 p.m., FSN: LH Jake Woods (6-4) vs. RH Robinson Tejeda (5-4)

Howard Lincoln understands that the city's baseball fans are upset about the 2006 season.

The man carrying the title of the team's chief executive officer is himself ticked off that the Mariners will finish last for a third year in a row. He knows some fans are mighty miffed at a letter he sent to season-ticket holders Thursday, confirming that general manager Bill Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove will be back in 2007.

But Lincoln doesn't agree that directing anger at either man through pink slips is the way to go. He feels the slow progress made by the Mariners won't be sped up by changing those at the top right now.

"Let me be clear," Lincoln said by telephone Thursday afternoon. "I am disappointed with what's happened this season. I am tired of seeing the team lose."

That's why Lincoln admits that, as of last month, he still hadn't made a firm decision about what direction the team should be taking. Seattle was mired in an 11-game losing streak in mid-August, there were daily calls for the heads of both Bavasi and Hargrove, and season-ticket holders were threatening to cancel.

"I can't pinpoint a specific date when we made the decision," Lincoln said. "But I had to say that immediately following the 11-game [losing] streak I had great concern. Nevertheless, I was feeling that it was wise to wait to see how things played out in late August and in September."

With the team 20-15 since the losing streak ended, there was "no sense changing horses in midstream," Lincoln said.

Bavasi is in his third year as the team's general manager, Hargrove his second as field boss. And both were already under contract for 2007. The team usually doesn't go public with its intention to keep the status quo, but Lincoln felt the futures of both men needed to be addressed.

"I felt that, given the speculation that was out there in the media, that it was important that we communicate clearly where we thought they stood and the decision that we had made."

The letter sent out by Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, the team's chief operations officer, seems to indicate that this isn't about the team padding its season-ending win total with meaningless September victories. It was more about how those games were being played, win or lose.

It was about whether the Mariners were willing to play hard on a daily basis for Hargrove and, by extension, the GM who put the club together.

Lincoln and Armstrong were clearly convinced that this was the case. Hargrove is complimented in the letter for being "uniquely equipped to lead a young team.

"His experience in developing and dealing with young players is one of the reasons we hired him in the first place. And we have watched as Mike has kept all of his players — veterans and young players alike — focused and playing hard every day of the season."

The letter added that the team did "bounce back from a tough August" — in which Seattle fell out of contention by losing 11 in a row — "and played hard through this month."

The letter also lauds Bavasi's achievements in areas of scouting and player development. It mentions that 19 of the players on the team's 25-man roster were either products of the farm system or originally signed by the Mariners.

"We believe they are the right people to lead us to the next level," the letter states of Bavasi and Hargrove. "We have great confidence in their abilities. In our view, continuity of leadership is extremely important at this time."

The letter concludes by stating that the team's ownership will "continue to provide the necessary financial resources for the club's success."

But Lincoln wouldn't say whether that means a payroll increase is forthcoming for a squad that opened the season with an $88 million budget for players. The Mariners will likely need to fill two spots in the starting rotation, and Lincoln agrees with Bavasi that pitching is the No. 1 offseason concern.

There is talk of the Mariners pursuing Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, a costly venture since several other squads, most notably the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, are also expected to make bids.

"I will say," Lincoln said, "that we will be exploring all options."

Note

• The Mariners' new Class AA affiliate will be the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, a Southern League team in Jackson, Tenn. The Mariners signed a two-year agreement with the Diamond Jaxx. The San Antonio Missions had been the Mariners' Class AA team since 2001.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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