BY Art Thiel 06:18PM 07/07/2019

Thiel: Servais strains to see past ’19 to future

The Mariners were beaten Sunday nearly before the anthem finished. But for a club that leads MLB in roster turnover, it didn’t really matter. The season is about “little victories.”

Scott Servais has had way too many get-acquainted meetings with new players. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Entering the weekend, the Mariners were said by the gambling site BetOnline.ag to have odds of 1,000-to-1 to win the 2019 World Series. While that will surprise no one who watched this season — particularly the 25,816 who Sunday observed the sheet-soiling first inning of a 7-4 loss (box) to the Oakland A’s at T-ball Park — the noteworthy aspect is that those odds were better than five other MLB teams.

Judged unworthy of wager and the off the board were the American League’s Orioles, Tigers, Royals and Blue Jays, and the National League’s Marlins.

That suggests that bad baseball in the AL has a breadth and depth that is ocean-like. After losing two of three to the A’s (50-41) to fall to 39-55 at the annual break for the All-Star Game, by now the Mariners also are off the odds board and adrift, no shore visible.

All of this dreariness was not only predictable, it was, as you know, by design.

So how does thousand-to-one feel to a manager four years into his first MLB managing job?

“I quit going going to the donut shop on weekends,” said Scott Servais with a sardonic grin before the game. He was speaking in manager-code for being recognized in public spaces by fans who are certain they know his job better than he does.

He is perhaps consoled by the fact that, entering the season, he had an MLB win percentage of .521, which is better than Connie Mack, Casey Stengel and Frank Robinson, to name three Hall of Fame managers.

But since the customers know best, best to avoid the customers.

More likely, he is consoled by the fact that the franchise’s step-back plan is, in his view, worth it to date. Of course, he has little choice but to cheer-lead it; anything less, and much of the remaining air is squeezed from the already wrinkled balloon.

“The average fan here at T-Mobile Park sees the won-loss record and doesn’t see that,” he said of the years-long re-stocking of inventory. “I’m fortunate enough to see what’s going on, and I’ve been in other organizations. We’re very healthy with the prospects coming on. They’re being taught what we value as an organization, things that will help us down the road.

“The Mariners are very, very healthy as an organization right now.”

By one near-term measure — prospects Jerred Kelenic, Evan White and Jason Dunn were in the MLB Futures Game Sunday in Cleveland — he has a point. And various scouting services rank the previously fallow farm system as of average fertility this year.

But Servais also is right on another point: Progress is barely visible at the job site where he works. Nowhere in baseball is the roster blender set to 11 as it is in Seattle.

When RHP Matt Wisler made his Mariners debut in the eighth inning Sunday, he was the 35th pitcher used this season — most in MLB history prior to the All-Star break, a custom begun in 1933. He was also the 53rd Mariners player, another pre-break MLB record created earlier when the club passed the mark of 50 by the 2018 Angels and 2014 Rangers.

Since 2017, the Mariners have gone through 80 pitchers, an MLB high and seven more than runner-up Toronto. Over the past three seasons combined, the Mariners have used 121 players, one more than Toronto for most in MLB.

What has all this churn wrought?

Sunday, relative newcomer RHP Matt Carasiti was the “opener” for Wade LeBlanc. After four good openers, Carasiti gave up three runs before the first out. In two-thirds of an inning, he surrendered four hits, a walk and five runs, one unearned because of a brutal error by LF Dylan Moore when he over-ran a ground single at his feet and let the ball roll to the wall.

Thanks to relief pitching and defense, the game was over nearly at ” . . . dawn’s early light.”

Despite the roster churn, the two magnum vulnerabilities obvious in spring training remain so, as the Mariners lost for the eighth time in the final 10 games before the break. Since this year is an all-but-declared extended spring training at full retail price, the outcomes can’t be surprising.

But it also is annoying for some Mariners fans, maybe even Servais.

“I’ve had more sit-down-get-to-know-you meetings than I’ve ever had,” he said of the parade of newbies general manager Jerry Dipoto has sent through his office. “A lot of turnover with new players. It takes awhile to build relationships and trust. You gotta be patient, ask a lot of questions — who’s married, (do you) have kids and dogs, where they’re from — all the stuff you do to build relationships.

“Had to do it a lot.”

But Servais was quick to deflect any notion of complaint.

I like doing it,” he said. “I take little victories each day. We may not win the game, but we’re able to coach up and teach. That’s what I love doing. As far as our (long-term) process, I feel great about it.

“I still would like to win a few more games.”

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, that seems increasingly unlikely. Two over-30 veterans who are not in the long-term picture, still-productive RHP Mike Leake and 2B Dee Gordon, are seen as likely to be dealt for prospects.

There’s also the club’s nearly institutionalized bad health fortunes. Nominal closer Hunter Strickland has missed all season, and veterans Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger missed big chunks. On the same day (Friday), the Mariners put on the 10-day injured list two of their recently more reliable relievers, Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.

Yet not all this season is bleakness.

Servais mentioned the progress of youth — SS J.R. Crawford, CF Mallex Smith, and the catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy. There’s All-Star DH Daniel Vogelbach, and two long-term starting pitchers in Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi.

Most of the rest? Guys. Just guys. Many guys.

“I understood what we were going to get into,” Servais said of the decision in October to go with extended spring training. “There would be some tough stretches.

“I think we’ve played pretty decent baseball the last 20-30 games.”

In fact, over the past 30, they are 14-16. Whoever “they” might be at a given moment.

“They” are not enough to awaken a Vegas bookie in the middle of the night, and “they” will join a Seattle legion who will have missed the playoffs 18 years in a row, during which the raggedy-ass A’s have made it seven times.

Some of “them” may not even be on the team after the All-Star break. For their replacements, Servais has a set of questions about wives, kids and dogs. Little victories.


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YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Hunter Strickland was a huge gamble. Nothing surprising in how that did not work out (Giants fan here). Everything Mariner in terms of future success will come down to the starting staff. If everyone has an ERA over 4.00 you are not going to the playoffs. So we’ll see what next year brings but again, you’re going to live and die with that starting five. They are currently 29 out of 30 teams in pitching. How much improvement will we see in one year’s time?

    • art thiel

      Kikuchi and Gonzales likely will be the only two rotation returnees for 2020, and no one in the org was planning for playoffs in 2019.

    • ColdChillin

      Besides being injured, Strickland just isn’t very good and wasn’t very good in San Fran, at least not for a while. I really didn’t understand why they gambled on him.

      • art thiel

        Spending more for a closer for a team that isn’t planning to have close games is a waste of resources.

        • ColdChillin

          Understood, but I didn’t understand why they just didnt let the young guys battle it out instead of sign some below average vet.

  • Tian Biao

    it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Servais. he’s got a front-row view of the, uh, sheet-soiling, and he knows better than anyone what a mess it is, but he has to look at it every day for four hours, and then afterwards, he has to put a happy face on, and say how optimistic he is. tough gig. I hope they keep him around for a while if things ever do turn around.

    • art thiel

      Fans love to nit-pick Servais’s bullpen decisions, but with 35 pitchers and three catchers so far, no manager can know what to expect.

  • jafabian

    It IS about the little victories right now. At first in was confusing to see Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion traded so early but it became quickly evident the payoff was to give Vogelbach more AB’s and he’s been rewarded with an invitation to the Midsummer Classic. Both Servais and Dipoto are a little ahead of the curve IMO since before the season started critics were predicting a 100 loss season and I’m not seeing that now unless they unload even more players. Being 7.5 games behind the Angels I think a realistic goal should be to not finish last in the division.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Don’t see the M’s passing the Angels with the loaded lineup the Angels have. Hopefully, Lucroy is okay. Maybe the M’s can catch the Rangers. But that’s a longshot. Trump and Ohtani maybe be the best back-to-back tandem in baseball.

      • Tian Biao

        not sure Trump could hit a 98mph heater. he could tweet about it, though.

        • Kevin Lynch

          Yikes! TROUT! I got my Trouts mixed up with the Trumps.

          • art thiel

            Oh, good. Feel free to use the software’s edit tool. :)

        • art thiel

          I’m hoping Kevin means Trout and Ohtani. Otherwise, SWAT teams will be out in force for the next Angels visit to liberal Seattle.

    • art thiel

      If they are tanking properly, they HAVE to unload marketable veterans before the deadline. I know many fans are new to this concept of deliberate badness, but that is part of the program.

      • Husky73

        Yet, they owe $40 million in 2020 and 2021 to Carlos Santana (who was on the roster ten days), Jay Bruce and Robinson Cano. They also owe huge sums to Mike Leake and Kyle Seager. The “unloading” comes at a huge price, leaving little to invest into the major league roster.

        • art thiel

          There’s no hard cap in baseball. The dead money they’re paying players not to work in Seattle creates annual operating losses that ownership can afford. The owners can invest all they want in the roster.

  • Will Ganschow

    There is an opportunity right now as I right this to pick up the other (DFA’d by Detroit) Austin Adams. Just right for this season.

    • art thiel

      My concern is that he my be confused with Ansel Adams. Good photos, but . . .

      • Husky73

        I’ll take Amy Adams. She handled “the curve.”

  • Husky73

    Very, very healthy as an organization?…The major league team is 39-55. The minor league teams are 165-157, thanks to the AA team being 18 games over .500, which is a good sign since once again, there is no help waiting in Tacoma. The M’s are stuck with huge payoffs in Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana and even Robinson Cano in the future.

    • art thiel

      Minor league team outcomes are relatively meaningless. The off-season acquisitions of prospects have improved the system, but any conclusions now are impossible. Servais is over-hyping, but hanging him by his words is 2-3 years away.

      • Husky73

        I like Servais, BUT…he is so blase…”Well, we lost 13-2, but I saw a couple of good things out there.” Piniella (and Gillick) would not stand for that. Neither would Dodgers-Yankees-Red Sox ownership. They demand excellence. The M’s leadership is content with garlic fries and bobbleheads.

        • art thiel

          Never judge a manager by the quality and nature of his post-game interviews. I can’t tell you how many times I went down to Lou’s office expecting rage, and didn’t get it. Then there were the reversals the other way.

          You don’t have to be a yeller to get across accountability and standards.

  • Chuck Henry

    Scott seems to have proven that given a few really good players he can get them to win. I mean last year they were pretty good even with huge gaps in talent. I do think they’ll get at least entertaining again by 2021. Being a big playoff contender not so much, our division is and will continue to be tough. Step back relies on things out of Mariner’s control , like the Astros suddenly getting old, Angels not improving, and the A’s suddenly shutting down operations. But if you have a team that wins a fair chunk of games every year, even if they don’t make the playoffs it’s pretty cool. It’s not just about the playoffs, it’s about quality baseball, which right now they don’t play. But the big talk about being a contender in 2021 is silly, and will only lead to disappointment. Under promise, over deliver guys.

    • Husky73

      After 17 years without the playoffs, “it’s about the playoffs.” It’s an albatross around the franchise’s neck that needs to be lifted. The Mariners are the worst thing a pro sports franchise can be– irrelevant. They need to win 90+ games, draw 2.5 million fans and win a Wild Card game and/or playoff series. I want to live long enough for them to be in— and WIN– a World Series. I’m 68. They need to hurry up. My uncle, who lived his entire life in Boston and LOVED the Red Sox, died in 2003. I don’t want that to happen to me.

      • art thiel

        The clock ticks. Your uncle’s circumstance speaks for many.

    • Steve Buckholdt

      Sorry but I must respectfully disagree. A major league baseball team should have the goal of at least making the playoffs. As much as many people did not like George Steinbrenner, he did create and support a winning environment with the Yankees. The goal every year was to win the World Series. The Mariners have never had anyone leading the franchise who set such a clear expectation. Maybe Stanton will be that guy, time will tell. Right now, the fans are still played for suckers, being charged high ticket and concession prices to watch, all too often, really bad baseball.

      • art thiel

        The largest market with the biggest ego in charge is not the fairest analogy. But the Astros are. That’s Dipoto’s aspiration. But how many 100-loss seasons are you willing to take?

    • art thiel

      “. . . .even if they don’t make the playoffs, it’s pretty cool.”

      That phrase, Chuck, is shared by enough fans in this market — green grass, blue skies, long days, mallpark — to take the pressure of the owners to win big.

      So the persistent mediocrity of this franchise rests with you and those who share your views.

      • Chuck Henry

        A team has to be ok before they can be real contenders. This franchise will never be a consistent contender. It’s not happening. And I am not a complete pushover Art, HA! I cancelled my season tickets after the Wakamatsulypse and didn’t watch them for 2 years. Here’s the problem for everyone who wants a big winner here vs dealing with fun to watch being the only thing you can hope for sir: 1. Nobody wants to play here, it’s a backwater. 2. The “fans” and local press jump on the bandwagon of saying any player that’s traded wasn’t that good anyway or was old. Which is usually bogus. 3. Houston is not going to get old anytime soon. So yes, you are correct in your criticism of my comments, but my main point is they will never be a consistent playoff team, most teams are not. If fact the majority of MLB teams suck, and you know it sir. They need to contract the league.

        • art thiel

          The thought of Seattle as a backwater is so 1980s. The real handicap here is the distance from everything else in baseball. Travel fatigue is real for the M’s and A’s, but they will never speak of it because it sounds like an excuse, and is in any event unfixable.

          The media/fan “bandwagon” is utterly irrelevant to players. On the contrary, the absence of a state income tax makes Seattle attractive in ways some fans fail to appreciate.

          As far as competition, opponents’ successes and failures are generally cyclical, and from a long-term strategy standpoint, nothing the Astros do has impact on what the Mariners do.

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      That kind of talk is sooooooo Seattle baseball fans, not all mind you but certainly enough that gives this ownership and previous ones a breather. “It’s cool to not make the playoffs” is music to this executive committees ears. As Howard Lincoln once said, it’s not always about winning, we seek to provide a true fan experience for Mariner fans, you know things like hydro races, bark in the park, bobble heads, etc, etc. Anything but a consistent quality baseball product on the field.

      Uncle Howie is gone, kinda sorta, still an emeritus member. But I believe that the apple has not fallen far from the tree when it comes to Stanton and posse. Yes they would like to win, but at what costs? Besides, with only lawyers and C.P.A.’s on the executive committee, what could possibly go wrong?

  • coug73

    If only comments would help this M’s organization win, fans would see a silver lining in what has been a mediocre organization. Tanking for respectability seems at best a 50 50 proposiition with a history of failure weighing heavily on the scales.

    • art thiel

      Saying it more simply: There’s an absence of trust.

  • Chuck Henry

    Tanking in baseball seems like a pretty nebulous concept does it not. Altuve was a undrafted free agent. Bellinger – 4th round. Yelich 23rd pick. Ketel Marte (sorry) International Free Agent. Ok, Bregman went 2nd but that doesn’t kill my entire argument darn it. What is the state of our scouting in Latin America? I know it may be news, but they have really good players that come from Latin America. Mariners, not so much.

    • art thiel

      Tanking in baseball is less about advancing up in the first round and more about shedding productive veterans for younger assets. Because there’s no salary cap in baseball, teams often get stuck with big contracts after the window of contention passes (Robinson Cano). A serious cap would reduce foolishness by owners, but the players likely will never give in to a cap during CBA negotiations.