Bo Porter never got to crack any champagne. His two years as the Astros’ manager were miserable, as the team went 110-190 under his watch while trudging through a very transparent rebuild. The fruits of that teardown manifested a year later, when Houston won 86 games, but A.J. Hinch had already taken over as skipper before winning a World Series two seasons later.
Rick Renteria didn’t pop any bubbly, either. He went 73-89 in his sole season as the manager of the Cubs, who also endured a five-year reconstruction. But like a starter with Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, Renteria was replaced by Joe Maddon just as Chicago found its form in 2015. Maddon and the Cubbies won a World Series the next year.
Baseball-reference.com predicted 81 wins for Paul Molitor in his first year as the Twins’ manager, 66 in his second, 83 in his third and 77 in his fourth. He exceeded expectations in three of those seasons. Before this year, baseball-reference.com predicted 101 wins for the Twins, for which they’re ahead of pace — but Rocco Baldelli had already taken Molitor’s job.
Imagine driving a Datsun as your company car for years, then being let go just as they upgrade to Teslas. This is often the fate of an MLB manager forced to brave the rugged terrain of a rebuild.
Some, like Kansas City skipper Ned Yost, survive and eventually thrive — but most get fired before their team catches fire. So what might this mean for Mariners manager Scott Servais?
There hasn’t been a hallmark achievement for Servais since he arrived in Seattle four seasons ago. The Mariners finished 10 games above .500 in 2016, six games below. 500 in 2017, 16 games above .500 last season, and are 11 games below .500 now.
On one hand, you could say that last year’s team finished 12 games better than projection models predicted, and would have been good enough for the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons. But on the other hand, you could say the Mariners are three months away from missing the postseason for a major-American-sports-leading 18th straight year.
So what happens if the M’s struggle again in 2020 and fans grow more impatient? Is Servais a built-in scapegoat whose ouster would appease the angry masses?
It’s possible. Tensions boil when a team is drowning in L’s, regardless of whether that was part of a long-term plan. But I also get this feeling that, as long as general manager Jerry Dipoto is around, Servais will be, too.
Fact: Dipoto put the future of the franchise on himself when he declared the Mariners were going to “step back” in 2019. He tore down most the team in the offseason, has taken out of a few walls since opening day, and is relying on his prospects’ development and chairman John Stanton‘s checkbook to resurrect the franchise.
If this team doesn’t improve over the next couple of years, few are going to blame it on in-game decisions by the manager. They’re going to blame it on the GM’s misguided vision or ownership’s parsimony.
Fact: Servais isn’t a typical skipper. After his playing career ended, he spent 10 years in the Rangers’ and Angels’ front offices before putting on a uniform in Seattle. He isn’t a get-off-my-lawn grump defying new-wave thinking. He seems to be a guy Dipoto trusts to help carry out his vision, which was evidenced by the contract extension he received last year.
What this likely will come down to is clubhouse control and team-wide buy-in. A manager’s job in 2019 is different than what it was 20, or even 10 years ago. They still fill out the lineup cards and man the between-the-lines strategy, but the front office seems to wield more influence than before.
What Servais must do is manage frustrations and egos while the Mariners get through the slog. And he has to make sure younger players such as J.P. Crawford, Shed Long or whoever gets called up fosters an environment where winning is the expectation — even it isn’t the norm.
Scott had a strong connection with Nelson Cruz when he was here, and seems to have the same with other key players such as Mitch Haniger.
If he continues to form productive bonds, he’ll likely be on board if this rebuild comes to fruition over the next few years. But if he somehow loses the clubhouse, the team will likely lose him.