BY Art Thiel 02:23PM 07/20/2018

Thiel: A rare move for stability with the Mariners

The Mariners average a new manager about every 2.5 years, so in extending the contract of Scott Servais, the club actually thinks it has its stuff together. Looks to be true.

Scott Servais  has the fifth-best record in MLB since the start of the 2016 season. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

To those who say manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto were awarded contract extensions too early — they have yet to win a thing in Seattle — the alternative is to screw around again with the Mariners’ baseball management, which historically has been churned like buttermilk. Only to be perpetually sour.

Servais, who as expected was given a multi-year contract extension Friday by Dipoto after he secured his own extension July 6, is the 17th full-time manager in the club’s 42 years. If you do the math, you’ll discover the average tenure of the Seattle job is slightly longer than the average tenure for the campaign chairperson of Tobacco for Tots.

For a change, the Mariners aren’t changing. They are sticking with a plan that broadly resembles what the Seahawks have with Pete Carroll and John Schneider, closer to a partnership than a hierarchy, with a heavy emphasis on player development.

Coaching instruction works best when bosses and coaches pound home the same points while the player progresses. Baseball in particular, with its years-long development before a player is major league ready, needs a buy-in that doesn’t change every other year.

“Continuity is huge,” Dipoto said Friday at a Safeco Field press conference. “Throughout the organization it’s important, but particularly in the relationship we share, that stability is critical to the development of the organizational plan.

“What we do extends so far beyond what you see on the field here at Safeco — analytics, scouting and development — and more than any manager that I’ve been associated with as a primary or secondary supervisor, Scott is in tune with all of the elements.”

It has been nearly impossible to track with data the contributions of a manager to a won-loss record, but Dipoto trotted out a stat that underscored his belief in Servais, who had no previous managerial experience at any level.

Since he took over in 2016, the Mariners have played 139 one-run games, winning 82, or 59 percent.

“That’s a phenomenal record,” he said. “It’s about good decisions and keeping the energy level high, a reflection of what he’s done.”

Asked if he felt vindicated after he was criticized for hiring a manager with no experience, Dipoto said, “I really wasn’t looking to be vindicated. It’s turned out to be fashionable (hiring rookie managers). I trust Scott the person, and as an extension, the coaching staff.

“I never had a doubt the people were right. The fact that we achieved good results is a reflection of the humans, rather than the experience others were looking for.”

Servais took no umbrage at the skepticism.

“Without having done it before, there’s going to be doubters — that’s always going to be part of baseball,” he said. “I’m still learning. You constantly try to get better. I’d like to say I’ve got it all figured out — far from it. I don’t see myself ever being that way.

You gotta be open to new ideas because the game keeps moving forward.”

A major league catcher for 11 seasons before analytics became fundamental to the game, Servais has adapted well to use of data while not being so wonkish that he can’t connect to people.

“Scott has created a culture here in Seattle that allows players to be successful,” Dipoto said in a release. “They are encouraged to be themselves, which has resulted in a loose environment, while still maintaining the focus on team above self. His leadership has also been evident through the ongoing growth and impact of one of the best coaching staffs in Major League Baseball.

“He has been the right leader at the right time for the right team and I look forward to many more years together.”

At 58-39 ahead of Friday’s home game against the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners have the fourth-best record in MLB. But eight losses in the 11 games prior to the All-Star break offered some evidence that injuries and a return to the mean for some players are legit threats for the second half.

Nevertheless, Servais has the fifth-most wins among managers since the start of 2016. Only Joe Maddon (251), A.J. Hinch (249), Terry Francona (248) and Dave Roberts (248) have more.

He’s also already the fourth-winningest manager in Mariners history at 222-199. Granted, the ranking is due in part to the flatness of the surrounding territory. But the fact that Servais and Dipoto are in solid partnership under a baseball-wise majority owner, John Stanton — unlike what Dipoto had in his previous job, where he was on the wrong side of Angels owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia — underscores the rationale for keeping together the band.

We’ve put ourselves in a great position to bring playoff baseball back to the Pacific Northwest,” Servais said. “We have a shot. The fan base is hungry.

“Put your seat belt on. It’s going to be a wild two-and-a-half months.”

It was good to have the warning. Sixteen years is a long time between Octobers, so fan coaching is mandatory too.


YourThoughts

  • Howard Wells

    securing the future via cementing the wall between past failure and hopeful results…ahh frack it! it’s a crap shoot.

    • art thiel

      The randomness of which you speak is a generalization that ignores the long relationship between Dipoto and Servais that reduces tension and friction.

      • Howard Wells

        I am humbled once again your thoughtful insights🙂 you will have me subscribing soon.

        • art thiel

          Good. Tell your friends.

  • Husky73

    Excellent opening paragraph, Art. The Mariners were at their best with Gillik and Pinella, who you wouldn’t sit next to each other at a dinner party. They were both very good in their jobs. It seems like Dipoto and Servais are personally and professionally comfortable with each other. However, I think the most positive changes for the M’s have come with the owner and the President.

    • art thiel

      You’re right about Stanton and Mather.

      It’s possible for a GM and a manager to work well together without liking each other, but it’s a lot easier the way Dipoto and Servais are doing it. Piniella was always a load for any GM because he was so impulsive. He and Woody Woodward were longtime friends, but Gillick was his own man with his own success.

  • jafabian

    Agree that history shows this is when management goes with an interim manager and prepare for an offseason managerial search. Hope this is a sign of good things to come. Somewhere wherever his SHAG unit is, Sweet Lou is giving this a thumbs up.

    • art thiel

      Piniella was twice extended by the M’s. Even he couldn’t believe he lasted 10 years in one place.

      • bugzapper

        And we couldn’t believe why he left. Because he got tired of dealing with the Twin Bobbleheads at the top.

        • art thiel

          True. Breaking news: They’re gone.

  • Alan Harrison

    Extremely well-written (so what else is new?). Right on about the ownership goals changing the goals of the organization (while profit is wanted, it used to be at secondary to winning). Also very happy to see this all happen well before the trade deadline – gives a long-term perspective to any moves instead of selling out the remainder of the farm to win this year. There’s a pretty reasonable plan in place. Great to see, regardless of what happens this year.

    • art thiel

      Giving second contracts to these guys explicitly says to players and fans that the course is charted. They can still miss the playoffs, but no one should jump off bridges.

  • bugzapper

    This column reminds me of the sign that used to hang over the bar at the Drinking Gourd in San Francisco: “Rationalization is the key to happiness.”

    The contract extensions could have waited til the end of the season. It’s for damned sure Servais isn’t going anywhere. 222-199 is barely over 50%. Lloyd McClendon’s pct for two seasons was .503. We had 116 wins once, too, but sat home when it mattered most. “Only Joe Maddon (251), A.J. Hinch (249), Terry Francona (248) and Dave Roberts (248) have more.” Yeah. And you what else they have? World Series rings.

    Call me when the artificial sweetener wears off.

    • art thiel

      Of course they could have waited. But that opens the door to bad shit, like players wondering if they need to listen to these dweebs, or just wait for the next guys. This is the first time in club history they have baseball-savvy local ownership with all the resources necessary to succeed, and a competent GM/mgr tandem with a previous relationship based on professional trust.

      You and every longtime fan are entitled to all the bitter crankiness you want to wallow in. Everyone else can try on the idea that this is something different, and accept that it’s worth providing a long-term chance.

      Yes, it’s important to learn from history. As it is important not to drown in it.

      • bugzapper

        The players on this team haven’t been here long enough to wonder if they need to listen to these dweebs, or just wait for the next guys. Besides Felix and Cano, who’s left from the McClendon Years, a mere 36 months ago? Or the Eric Wedge Is The Manager Because The Other Guy Quit In Mid-season phenomenon?

        Those “everyone else” relative newbies haven’t been here long enough to suffer the multi-generational seasons of M’s incompetence and let-down. (See: Pre-2016 Cubs fans.) Let them have their fun. The rest of us will console ourselves with pretending to be Missourians: Show us.

        This is a way better ownership group than we’ve ever had. No argument. But the M’s have a long tradition of being just good enough to put 41,000 butts in the seats, keeping the franchise flush, then blowing it when the going gets important. Reminds me of our initial reaction to spiffy new Safeco and its $120 million roof that ownership still wants to tax us for: “Flashing Ad Revenue Park at There’s a Game Going On Somewhere Down There Field.”

        Finally, remember that in 2002 P-I sports scribe Laura Vecsey moved to Baltimore, because not even she could take the lately-come-sorry M’s. And that year they won 93 game but still didn’t make the playoffs.

        You know what they say about Splenda.

        • art thiel

          You covered more ground than Lewis and Clark, pal. I didn’t remember Laura’s decision that way, but I’ll take your word.

          And 93 was pre-wild card, when making the playoffs was hard.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        I almost swallowed my tongue when you said, “we have a baseball savvy ownership” . I love your posts and you always seem to be the voice of reason, but I have to throw the bull$h!t flag on that statement. These are the same clowns from the Nintendo days, minus Chucky and uncle Howie.