With three weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Peoria for 2021 Major League Baseball spring training in Arizona, Scott Servais is on the verge of beginning his sixth season as Mariners manager.
He is the second longest-tenured manager in club history, behind only Lou Piniella, who managed for 10 seasons (1993-2002). Piniella was at the helm for 1,551 games, amassing an 840-711 record. Servais has managed the second most games with 708 (a total that would’ve been higher without the COVID-19 pandemic), compiling a 348-360 record. Some of the losing record can be attributed to the Mariners’ decision to go into a rebuild after the 2018 season. He posted a 248-233 record in his first three seasons (2016-2018) and a 95-127 record since.
Now heading into the third year of the rebuild and also the final year of a three-year contract extension that reportedly features a club option for next season, Servais finds himself trying to show growth not just in the development of young players, but also in terms of performance and wins and losses in his oft-mentioned “results-based business.”
“Really, it’s the first time coming to spring training as a group where it’s really nice to have the core of our group (remain) the same,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of turnover (in past seasons) as we’ve looked to get better in different areas. This is a group that we are really excited about. It’s a group we can grow with.”
In the final days of the 2020 season, Servais expressed the belief that the team this year would compete for a postseason spot. But the organization hasn’t supplemented the roster to the level that many expected. In recent weeks, he’s been much more careful in listing his expectations for the upcoming season.
Tuesday, he met with media members on a Zoom call as part of the Mariners’ Virtual Baseball Bash. It likely was his last availability until that first report date, which sources indicate will be Feb. 17.
“Right now, we’re all systems go on a normal start date for spring training,” he said.
“Things change daily based on things that show up on the internet, different letters and all this other stuff,” he said. “Later this week, there’s a call with the major league managers with the commissioner’s office, and I’m sure we’ll find out more at that time. But we’re lining up physicals for the first day of pitchers and catchers like we normally would.”
Here’s a few notable comments from the hourlong session.
*** Servais said he believes there’s still a possibility that general manager Jerry Dipoto will add veteran players via free agency. The Mariners have acquired a handful of pieces but have been quiet on the free-agent market with rumored payroll limitations.
“It is an ongoing process,” Servais said. “Everybody’s seen how the offseason has played out with free agent players and the lack of movement there has been around the league. Things are starting to pick up here in the last six, seven days, and a few more guys are signing. There’s still a lot of really good players out there — veteran guys that can help stabilize a young group like we have and be contributors. There’s no stone unturned when it comes to Jerry and looking at ways to upgrade our ballclub.”
And yet, he offered similar comments to Dipoto downplaying the need for them.
“I say all that knowing that we still want to give our young players every opportunity to grow,” Servais said. “That is a focus for us. We’ve got a lot of good young players and we’ve got more coming. There are ways to incrementally improve your club. I don’t think we’re done.”
*** Servais confirmed they will still use a six-man rotation even with Marco Gonzales seemingly showing his displeasure with the plan in a recent media session.
“Why would you ask that question?” Servais said with a chuckle. “Yeah, we are going with a six-man rotation. And certainly, I’m staying in-tuned to all of our players and where they’re at with it. I know Marco has some reservations about it. I totally understand where Marco was coming from. Marco is one of our best competitors that we have, and he wants to be out there every day. That’s just how he’s wired. I don’t have a problem with that at all, but what we’re trying to do here is make a decision that’s best for the group, best for our organization going forward with what we have today.”
Servais said he doesn’t think the Mariners will be the only team with a six-man rotation.
“I’ve talked to people in other organizations, and they’re considering it too,” he said. “They probably will do it at some point throughout the year to protect their guys. You have to remember we came off a 60-game season. Our guys threw 60 to 70 innings, and now you’re trying to bump them up to, hopefully, in the 180-range. That’s a big jump.”
He mentioned the extra day aiding in development and not just health.
“The numbers don’t lie, he said. “Guys perform better, their stuff is crisper and sharper. I think it’s absolutely the right way to go for us, based on how we’re built right now. That’s the plan going forward. Will that change down the road? It may. But with what we have going into spring training … I think it’s the right way to go. I know it’s the right way to go.”
*** Although all the rules for the 2021 season have yet to be finalized, Servais is planning/hoping on a 26-man roster without a 13-pitcher limit. He referenced the upcoming managers’ meeting with the commissioner.
“Early indications are that they will back off that, so it’ll be up to individual teams to put your roster together anyway you would want to,” he said. “That’s the way it should be in my opinion. I think it’s ridiculous that people would say, ‘You can only have this many players or this many pitchers.’ It should be up to the teams.”