SEATTLE – Almost three years ago to the month, they convinced Seattle Mariners ownership to embark on the franchise’s first real rebuild in more than two decades with the hope it would lead to something more than ending a postseason drought, and sustained success at the highest level of Major League Baseball.
Now, after months of operating without a guarantee to return next season to see this process through, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais will get the chance to finish what they started.
On Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after a dramatic 4-0 win over the Houston Astros, the team they want to eventually surpass in the division’s hierarchy, the Mariners announced that Dipoto and Servais have been given multiyear contract extensions.
It’s the second extension for the duo and provides leadership stability in the front office and on the field that hasn’t been apparent since the late 1990s and early 2000s. After joining the Mariners before the 2016 season on three-year contracts, Dipoto and Servais were given three-year extensions in July 2018.
Dipoto also received a title bump to president of baseball operations.
Under the new leadership structure announced by Mariners chairman John Stanton after the resignation of president and CEO Kevin Mather, Dipoto works alongside Catie Griggs, who was named the team’s president of business operations July 28. Dipoto will handle baseball decisions and report directly to Stanton.
“Jerry is a creative, passionate leader with a clear vision for our franchise,” Stanton said in a statement. “Following the 2018 season, Jerry came to us with a plan for how to compete for and win championships.
“He was transparent on the difficulty, but also clear on the goals and milestones. In the 2½ years since, he has led the baseball operations group through challenges on and off the field, while executing on the timeline he laid out.”
Servais will continue to work under Dipoto, who brought him in to serve as manager in 2016 despite having no managerial experience. Their friendship and baseball “bromance” that blossomed while working for the Rockies has led to a partnership over the years.
“Scott has done a terrific job in defining our team’s culture as one that is driven by process, hard work and heart,” Dipoto said in statement. “That has allowed us to bring young, talented players to the Majors over the past three years and see them adjust and succeed as we build towards a team that competes for championships on an annual basis.
“The resiliency our club has shown in overcoming challenges on, and off, the field over the past two years have been a direct result of Scott’s leadership of the team and coaching staff.”
He is second only to Lou Piniella (840-711) in games managed for the Mariners, amassing a 419-422 record.
Since Piniella’s departure for the Rays after the 2002 season, the Mariners went through six managers and two interims – none receiving a contract extension. Servais now has a second extension.
“I am very positive about the makeup and direction of our team, in 2021 and beyond, so it’s exciting for me to look ahead to being with this group in this city for years to come,” Servais said in a statement.
“And I want to be sure to acknowledge the key role the coaches and other staff have played in the successes we’ve had here.”
The Mariners have exceeded the expectations of experts and prediction systems in 2021, playing their way into postseason relevance despite a rash of injuries and one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in MLB.
Seattle, 72-62 after Wednesday afternoon’s 1-0 win over Houston, is attempting to secure an AL wild-card spot.
Besides the surprising success of the current Mariners, Dipoto had already accomplished one of the main goals of the rebuild, reloading a barren farm system with talent through trades, draft picks and international signings.
“The Mariners goal, from John and the partnership group, our baseball operation and throughout our front office is to win championships,” Dipoto said in a statement. “We set out 2½ years ago to do everything we could to make sure we were building an organization that would compete for multiple postseason berths and championships. I believe we are closer to that goal now than we’ve ever been and am excited to continue to have the opportunity to deliver on that vision.
“The combination of a supportive partnership group, great ballpark, passionate fan base, our talented and driven baseball operations team and beautiful city gives us all the tools we need to attain our primary goal: Winning the World Series here in Seattle.”
Ranked as the worst farm system by multiple outlets, including Baseball America, before the 2018 season, the Mariners recently moved to No. 1 in those same rankings with a cache of prospects led by outfielder Julio Rodriguez, shortstop Noelvi Marte and pitchers George Kirby and Emerson Hancock, who were the Mariners’ first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020.
Dipoto was hired in September 2015 to replace Jack Zduriencik. Asked to win with a team that was heavy on veterans and payroll commitments, including Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and Hisashi Iwakuma, Dipoto was creative and profuse in roster moves in trying to supplement a roster despite having no minimal prospects in the farm system and limitations to an already bloated payroll budget.
Servais had to navigate through all the roster changes while establishing credibility with a veteran-laden team that was skeptical of the regime change and the aggressive and new-age thinking that it brought to the clubhouse and field.
In July of the 2018 season, the organization announced that Dipoto, who was operating in the final year of his original three-year contract, had received a multiyear extension. Though the team doesn’t reveal contract details, MLB sources at the time confirmed it was a three-year extension. Dipoto announced Servais’ extension two weeks later.
Two months later in organizational meetings as the Mariners faded from the postseason race, Dipoto and Servais pushed for a plan that would ultimately make the Mariners perennial contenders for the American League West title.
They wouldn’t call it a rebuild – something the franchise under past ownership would never commit to – but a “step back” that would feature the culling of experienced players on the MLB roster via trades for near-MLB ready prospects, who would make up the core of the future, one or two seasons of lowering the payroll and less-than-stellar on-field product, all with the hope of being competitive in year three and consistent contenders beyond that.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball to those plans.
The shortening of the 2020 MLB season, which was supposed to be used to gain experience and development at the MLB level for that young core, and the lost development of younger prospects due to a canceled minor league season seemed to be a logical speed bump or possible detour to that timeline.