SEATTLE – On the day he received his contract extension – just a few weeks ago – general manager Jerry Dipoto said he couldn’t imagine doing his job without Scott Servais as the Mariners’ manager.
Now, he won’t have to consider that possibility.
On Friday, Dipoto announced he had given Servais a multiyear contract extension to remain the team’s field manager. Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.
“It was probably the worst-kept secret in the game. If I got mine, he was going to get his,” Dipoto said. “As I said at my press conference, there was really never a time I envisioned doing this job without him managing. He knew that. We had a number of discussions. We thought this was the appropriate time, we had to work through some detail, but I don’t think he envisioned not being the manager. It’s about as easy as a discussion or negotiation gets.”
Dressed in his uniform, Servais was eager to get back on the field and start preparing for the second half of the season, starting Friday evening vs. the White Sox.
“What a day,” Servais said at a press conference that also featured Chairman John Stanton and CEO and President Kevin Mather. “To get the opportunity to stay here in a Mariners uniform is awesome. It’s been a crazy 2 1/2 years. We’ve had some ups and we’ve had some downs.”
It’s been mostly ups in his third season as Mariners manager.
Before Friday’s game against the White Sox, the Mariners held a 58-39 record, the fourth-best record in the major leagues, and a three-game lead over the A’s for the second wild card. They are on pace for a 97-win season and a postseason berth.
“We’ve had a great first half,” Servais said. “I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead of us in the next two 2 1/2 months. We’ve put ourselves in a great position. We’ve talked about bringing playoff baseball back to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve got a shot. It’s not going to be easy. And that’s the focus I want on the remainder of this season, not on this contract, but how good can we be.”
Servais, 51, is the first manager to receive a contract extension since Lou Piniella received contract extensions in 1996 and 2000. After Piniella departed for the Rays, the Mariners cycled through six full-time managers – Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Don Wakamatsu, Eric Wedge and Lloyd McClendon and three interim managers – McLaren, Jim Riggleman and Daren Brown – while the organization struggled to win consistently.
In the midst of his third season at the helm, Servais, 51, has already become the fourth-winningest manager in Mariners history at 222-199 (.527).
This success wasn’t necessarily guaranteed or even expected. Servais had never been a manager on any level in professional baseball when Dipoto chose him to be the Mariners’ 20th full-time manager over Dave Roberts and Tim Bogar, who also interviewed for the job. Dipoto took a fair amount of criticism from some national media about the decision. Does it provide some level of vindication?
“I really wasn’t looking to be vindicated,” Dipoto said. “Now it’s turned out to be fashionable. It’s kind of the thing to do. It was trusting people. I said it when we were in this room a couple of weeks ago, I trust Scott the person, and as an extension, the coaching staff, and what we’ve been able to build here. To that extent, I never had a doubt that the people were right. The fact we’ve been able to achieve good results is a reflection of the humans on the other side rather than the experience maybe others were looking for.”
Initially, Servais was bothered by the criticism but moved past it quickly with the rigors and demands of the job becoming the focus.
“Certainly understand, anytime you get an opportunity like this, there’s only 30 of these jobs,” he said. “Without having ever done it before, there’s going to be doubters out there. That’s part of it. That’s always going to happen in baseball. That’s what makes baseball really unique, the fact people are going to question, ‘Are you ready for this challenge? Can he handle this?’ I’m still learning. I look forward to learning, whether it’s about our players and how to prepare and how to beat the opponent, I’m constantly trying to get better at this. I’d like to say I have it all figured out – far from it, and I don’t ever see myself being that way, because you’ve got to constantly be open to new ideas. The game keeps moving forward, you have to stay up with it. It’s been fun.”
Servais has a willingness to adapt, embrace analytics and understand the modern player, which Dipoto finds vital.
“Scott does things a little bit differently than maybe a traditional manager would have done when he and I played,” he said. “There’s always change and change is not a bad thing. What you see today, when you look across at the 30 major league managers at their level of experience, number of years on the job or even what they did prior to the seat they currently hold, it’s no longer that traditional slow plod through the minor leagues. It’s learning how to deal with today’s player, it’s learning how to connect with them on different levels and allowing them to express themselves. Scott embraces all that.”
Servais has read his fair share of coaching books and leaned on the advice of former Red Sox manager John Farrell and current Astros manager A.J. Hinch – both of whom moved from the front office to the field – to shape his strategy. But it’s pretty simple.
“It’s about the players,” he said. “I allow players to be who they are. I’m not trying to cookie cut any players or want them to try and change their game a whole lot. Let people come in and be who they are and let their personalities come out. I wasn’t always that way. But I think over time I’ve learned. My own kids have helped me learn that. And the end of the day, it’s about putting people in a good spot where they can perform, have fun and feel good about going to work every day.”
Since 2016, Servais has the fifth-most wins of any manager; only Joe Maddon (251), Hinch (249), Terry Francona (248) and Roberts (248) have more wins over that span. The Mariners won 86 games in his first year as manager (2016), prior to an injury-plagued 2017 that saw the team limited to 78 wins.
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