As he held different positions in the front office of various organizations, Scott Servais was building a portfolio of experience he hoped someday would land him back on the field as a manager.
The test has arrived for Servais. It’s time to see if the Seattle Mariners’ new manager can take those experiences and help end the longest playoff drought in baseball.
“First thing is to let the players know how much I care about them as people,” Servais said. “Got to earn their trust. I’ve got to build equity with them otherwise they’re not going to really buy into what we’re doing.”
Servais begins his first spring training in charge of a major league club later this week when the Mariners pitchers and catchers report to Peoria, Arizona. He’s inheriting a Seattle roster that underwent a massive offseason overhaul with 17 new additions through a series of trades and free agent acquisitions by new general manager Jerry Dipoto.
Those moves were made with an eye on what Servais saw as the important attributes Seattle needed to contend in the AL West, which the Mariners believe they can do in 2016. They needed to be more athletic in the outfield. They needed a revamped bullpen. They needed to emphasize on-base percentage and devalue home runs. They needed to use the spacious dimensions of Safeco Field to their advantage.
That led to a dizzying offseason of changes, built around the core of Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. But getting all the new pieces on board with those that remain from the previous regime won’t be a simple task.
“This is going to be much different than what we’ve seen in other camps, and there’s a reason. We’re trying to get a different result,” Servais said. “I think if you want to get a different result, you’ve got to do something different.”
Here are things to watch as the Mariners pitchers and catchers being spring workouts on Saturday:
FIFTH IN LINE: Four spots in the Mariners’ rotation are mostly settled. Hernandez is the ace. Taijuan Walker is the burgeoning star with huge upside. Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley are the steady veterans. Then there is the fifth spot. Right-hander Nathan Karns and lefty James Paxton are the likely favorites. Karns was acquired in one of Seattle’s big offseason trades, coming over from Tampa Bay, where he was 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA in his first full season in the majors in 2015. Paxton has flashed signs of being a star, but has been unable to stay healthy. Paxton has started just 13 games in each of the past two seasons.
RIGHT AT FIRST: Adam Lind will see the majority of time at first base. But his career splits against left-handed pitching have Seattle searching for a right-handed hitting complement. Once-prominent prospect Jesus Montero could be an option. Seattle signed former All-Star Gaby Sanchez to a minor league deal. The curious unknown could be Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee, who signed a minor league deal after hitting 31 home runs last season in the Japan Pacific League.
CLOSE IT OUT: Of all the moves Seattle made in the offseason, the one that could provide Servais the most security in his first season could be the addition of Steve Cishek. Cishek saved 73 games combined for the Marlins in 2013-14 before falling apart last season. Cishek struggled early in the year with Miami before regaining some consistency after being traded to St. Louis at midseason.
Cishek is being given the closer role and the rest of Seattle’s revamped bullpen structure is based on him holding that position. The Mariners would like to see some signs in spring training that there won’t be any need for alterations.
MARTE'S MATURATION: One of the few bright spots among Seattle’s youngsters last year was the season of shortstop Ketel Marte. In 57 games, Marte hit .283 and played capably at shortstop. Now he goes into spring with the expectation that he will be the Mariners’ everyday option at shortstop for most of the season.
Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 19
Position players report: Feb. 24
Spring training opener: March 2 vs. Padres
Mariners opening day: April 4 at Rangers
Mariners home opener: April 8 vs. Athletics