By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE _ The Seattle Mariners fired general manager Bill Bavasi on Monday, as the team lags with the worst record in baseball after starting the season with playoff hopes.
Vice president/associate general manager Lee Pelekoudas will take over in his place.
"Change is in order," Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said in a release. "We have determined new leadership is needed in the GM position. With a new leader will come a new plan and a new approach. A search will begin immediately for a permanent GM, and Lee will be a candidate for the position."
Bavasi was in his fifth season as Seattle's GM, only once turning out a club that finished with a winning record. That was last year when Seattle won a surprising 88 games, and was in contention for a playoff spot into September.
That performance, and the offseason acquisitions of pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, caused many to believe the Mariners could overtake the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West this season.
But 2008 has been nothing but underachievement from the start. Despite being armed with a $117 million payroll, the Mariners entered Monday night with a 24-45 record. Only one other time in franchise history had the Mariners fallen 20 games under .500 sooner, and they are on pace for a team-record 106 losses.
A call to Bavasi's cell phone was not immediately returned.
"Speaking on behalf of our ownership and the entire Mariners organization, we have enormous respect for Bill, and appreciate his service to the franchise," Lincoln said.
Bavasi was hired after the 2003 season replacing Pat Gillick. He inherited an aging team that just two years earlier had won 116 games, but failed to make the World Series. He was also asked to rebuild a lagging farm system, tapped of top-end talent through various moves.
The Mariners have redeveloped their minor league system, but the major league product has struggled.
Bavasi tried flashy signings, locking up slugger Richie Sexson and third baseman Adrian Beltre after the 2004 season. While Beltre continues to be a defensive standout at third base, his offensive production hasn't come close to matching his last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he was a contender for NL MVP and hit a career-high 48 homers.
Sexson was expected to provide the pop Seattle's lineup missed. Instead, he's become the player fans most heartily boo, for his contract that pays him $14 million this season and his 485 strikeouts in four seasons with Seattle.
Bavasi has also missed with the signing of pitcher Jarrod Washburn ($37 million, 20-36 record with Seattle); an $8.35 million, one-year contract for pitcher Jeff Weaver in 2007 (7-13 record); and his signing of Brad Wilkerson to a one-year, $3 million contract before this season to be the starting right fielder, only to cut Wilkerson a month into the season.
While some fire has been aimed at manager John McLaren, in his first full season managing in the majors, Bavasi did his best to direct the criticism on the players and himself. After a loss to the Angels two weeks ago, Bavasi forced the players to sit at the lockers and speak to the media after the game for some public accountability. He locked off the team's postgame food, causing players to wonder aloud about being treated like kids.
"This is not a field managerial issue," Bavasi said that day. "This has to do with the guys in there (pointing into the clubhouse) and my office for putting them in there."
Pelekoudas is in his 29th season with the Mariners and became vice president/associate general manager in November 2005.
"Chuck and I have confidence in Lee Pelekoudas, who has been with the Mariners for many years and who is a respected baseball executive," Lincoln said.