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Finding new manager No. 1 priority for Seattle

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SEATTLE (AP)

(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By TIM BOOTHAP Sports Writer

Another offseason. Another Seattle Mariners managerial search.

By now, the Mariners should be adept at this process. They'll spend the early part of this offseason hiring their eighth manager or interim manager since 2002.

Yet the indictment of the franchise that came from manger Eric Wedge's decision not to return for 2014 might be the most damaging they've ever received after Seattle went 71-91. Wedge essentially quit on his chance to continue with the Mariners' rebuilding process rather than stick it out with what he considered an untenable situation with a poor working environment where visions were not equal and commitment was lacking.

They were blunt statements from a manager firm on his principles and not known as a quitter. And they leave the Mariners in a tenuous state going into another offseason where the fan base and general interest continues to erode.

''I wanted to see this thing through but there were factors involved that became obviously clear to me that were not going to allow that to happen,'' Wedge said last week after notifying the team he wasn't returning. ''I had to make the decision I made and now I'll move on to the next adventure and hopefully I'll get an opportunity to manage again. That's something I hope to do.''

Wedge was brought to Seattle to shepherd a young franchise in the hope of recreating the kind of success he had in helping rebuild Cleveland into a contender. But the rebuilding never seemed to end in Seattle, where there was a constant influx of young prospects and some veterans failing to meet expectations.

Ultimately, Wedge failed to receive the assurances from management - CEO Howard Lincoln, President Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik - that everyone was on the same page in regard to how the Mariners were going about the rebuilding plan.

Wedge finished his three seasons in charge 213-273. Seattle went a 12th straight season without reaching the playoffs and continued to look up at Oakland, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West standings.

Whoever Seattle brings in to replace Wedge will have to be convinced they'll be given time. Zduriencik is believed to be under contract for 2014, but his status beyond next year is unknown because the team has gone silent other than confirming he'll return.

On the field, Seattle has plenty of hope but very few certainties going forward. Rookies Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino showed flashes of major league ability, but also suffered the swoons expected of young prospects summoned to the majors probably before they were ready. Those three, along with third baseman Kyle Seager, are the likely anchors of Seattle's lineup going into next season.

''It was a tough year. We didn't get where we wanted to, but there is a lot to like with this team,'' Seager said. ''I think there is a good nucleus here, a good core to continue to move forward and can definitely feel good going into next year.''

Justin Smoak may have finally solidified himself as the everyday first baseman after hitting .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs, but Seattle's outfield is a mess.

As remarkable as Raul Ibanez was in 2013, he is not a long-term option for Seattle as designated hitter or in left field. Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley showed only flashes that they can hit with the needed consistency to be locks for the lineup. Franklin Gutierrez remained an injury risk.

Seattle will also need to make decisions on whether to bring Ibanez back - the 41-year-old said he'd entertain playing another season in the right situation - or if they can afford to re-sign designated hitter Kendrys Morales after he hit .277 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs.

About the only situation with any certainty is the starting pitching. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will be at the top of Seattle's rotation with youngsters James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez battling to fill out the back end. Seattle could use a veteran No. 3 starter as a bridge between the established players and the younger ones, and they need to find consistency in the bullpen.

On his way out, Wedge was thankful for the commitment his young team made.

''Their effort, their work, their preparation it's been a given,'' Wedge said. ''You don't ever take it for granted and when you see it done each and every day, and a lot of that is a credit to our coaches, too, you get into your routine and stick to it and hope it pays off in this game.''

Tagged: Mariners

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