Almost three years ago to the month, they convinced Mariners ownership to embark on the franchise’s first real rebuild in more than two decades with the hope — more than ending a postseason drought — it would lead sustained success at the highest level of Major League Baseball.
Now, after months of operating without a guarantee to return next season to see this process through, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais will get the chance to finish what they started.
On Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after a dramatic 4-0 win over the Houston Astros, the Mariners announced that Dipoto and Servais have been given multiyear contract extensions.
“I believe that this puts us in a position to achieve our mission and goal as the Seattle Mariners to win championships, and to do everything we can to win on the field,” Mariners chairman John Stanton said before Wednesday’s game.
It’s the second extension for the duo and provides leadership stability in the front office and on the field that hasn’t been apparent since the late 1990s and early 2000s. After joining the Mariners before the 2016 season on three-year contracts, Dipoto and Servais were given three-year extensions in July 2018.
“I never really doubted that we would not be here,” Dipoto said of finishing the rebuild. “It’s something that we laid out post-2018 season. And when we laid it out, we had to stay disciplined to what we were doing regardless of the outcomes. That’s what we owed the organization, and that’s what we owed the players that we were … investing this time and space in, and all the staff members that we brought on who helped us create this as a group.“
Dipoto also received a title bump to president of baseball operations.
Under the new leadership structure announced by Mariners chairman John Stanton after the resignation of president and CEO Kevin Mather, Dipoto works alongside Catie Griggs, who was named the team’s president of business operations July 28. Dipoto will handle baseball decisions and report directly to Stanton.
“It probably changes very little in terms of my day to day,” Dipoto said. “You know what the title means for me is probably direct access to John, in a way that I maybe didn’t have for a lot of the years prior. It doesn’t change the fundamentals. I’m really looking forward to doing the things that we’ve been doing in a better way as we move forward.”
Servais will continue to work under Dipoto, who brought him in to serve as manager in 2016 despite having no managerial experience. Their friendship and baseball “bromance” that blossomed while working for the Rockies has led to a partnership over the years.
“It’s huge for me,” Dipoto said. “From my position, the thing that you desire most is just to be able to take the car keys and throw them to the driver, and then get out of the way. I have that type of trust in Scott and his staff.“
Servais has managed the second most games in Mariners club history, second only to Lou Piniella (840-711), amassing a 420-422 record. Since Piniella’s departure for the Rays after the 2002 season, the Mariners went through six managers and two interims — none receiving a contract extension. Servais now has a second extension. He said his job status never crept into his mind this season.
“You guys are sick of me saying it, but my focus was: ‘Doesn’t matter. Get better,'” Servais said. “My contract really didn’t matter. I just focused on getting better — not just myself, the coaching staff and our players. Really it’s the answer to everything. It sounds simple. I got a contract extension today — doesn’t matter, I’ve got to get better.”
The Mariners have exceeded the expectations of experts and prediction systems in 2021, playing their way into postseason relevance despite a rash of injuries and one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in MLB. Seattle came into Wednesday with a 71-62 record, sitting 3.5 games back for the second American League wild-card spot held by the Red Sox and 2.5 games behind the A’s.
Besides the surprising success of the current major-league team, Dipoto had already accomplished one of the main goals of the rebuild, reloading a barren farm system with talent through trades, draft picks and international signings.
Ranked as the worst farm system by multiple outlets, including Baseball America, before the 2018 season, the Mariners recently moved to No. 1 in those same rankings with a cache of prospects led by outfielder Julio Rodriguez, shortstop Noelvi Marte and pitchers George Kirby and Emerson Hancock, who were the Mariners’ first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020.
Dipoto was hired in September 2015 to replace Jack Zduriencik. Asked to win with a team that was heavy on veterans and payroll commitments, Dipoto was creative and profuse in roster moves to supplement a roster despite having minimal prospects in the farm system and limitations to an already bloated payroll budget.
Servais had to navigate through all the roster changes while establishing credibility with a veteran-laden team that was skeptical of the regime change and the aggressive and new-age thinking that it brought to the clubhouse and field.
In July of the 2018 season, the organization announced that Dipoto, who was operating in the final year of his original three-year contract, had received a multiyear extension. Dipoto announced Servais’ extension two weeks later.
Two months later in organizational meetings as the Mariners faded from the postseason race, Dipoto and Servais pushed for a plan to make the Mariners perennial contenders for the AL West title.
They wouldn’t call it a rebuild but a “step back,” which would feature the culling of experienced players on the MLB roster via trades for near-MLB ready prospects, who would make up the core of the future, one or two seasons of lowering the payroll and on-field product, all with the hope of being competitive in year three and consistent contenders beyond that.
“It was a departure from what we’d done in the past, but we just explained what we thought to be the realities — it was an aging team, we were flawed, regardless of how well we had played that year,” Dipoto said.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball to those plans.
The shortening of the 2020 MLB season, which was supposed to be used to gain experience and development at the MLB level for that young core, and the lost development of younger prospects due to a canceled minor-league season seemed to be a logical speed bump or possible detour to that timeline they laid out.
“We certainly haven’t accomplished our goals, but we’re making great progress,” Dipoto said. “… Most of that is attributed to the emotion, the heart, the care of this team and its players. We’re still a flawed team, but we’re a flawed team that’s quickly improving with young players who are getting better every day.”