LAS VEGAS — Scott Servais wasn’t going to say much about the situation, but knew that he would have to answer questions about it when he sat down to the table in the interview area of the media workroom
Every MLB manager does a media session at the winter meetings, Servais had the last spot of the day on Tuesday evening at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino.
After a few preliminary questions about the multiple roster moves that general manager Jerry Dipoto made this offseason as part of the organization’s plan that they are calling a “stepback,” Servais was asked about the allegations of racist behavior made by Dr. Lorena Martin, the team’s former high performance director, toward the organization, but also specifically him, Dipoto and director of player development Andy McKay.
“I’ve been in the game for a long time. It’s been 31 years as a player, in the front office working with players and doing a number of different things, my name means a ton to me and the relationships that you need to build,” Servais said. “That’s all that really needs to be said at this point. MLB is doing an investigation into some things that were brought out. I feel very confident that the truth will come out. The focus now is getting ready for 2019. That’s what we are spending our energy towards and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Servais was asked how surprising the allegations were when they surfaced.
“Very, very surprising,” he said. “Again, knowing what my background in the game is as a player for a long time, some of the guys I’ve played with and their background and where they’re coming from, and then going into the scouting part of things and player development, I probably made 35-40 visits to the Dominican Republic and helped put an academy together down there. I think people that know me, that know Scott Servais and how I’m wired understand what’s important to me. I’m trying to help them get over the hump. That’s what it’s about. How to be productive Major League players, be good citizens and good people. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
Sources said the investigation by Major League Baseball in Martin’s accusations is on-going. But there has been no time table set for its conclusion.
The rest of Servais’ session was about baseball and the Mariners. He admitted that the Mariners roster is still very much evolving and that Dipoto could continue to make significant changes to it before pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 11.
“I guess one way to put it, Jerry has been shopping for the groceries, and I take the recipe and put the soup together,” he said. “It’s been an active offseason. People have followed us, what’s going on, we made some decisions in the organization at the end of the year, we probably need to go a different direction, where we’re at and what we were doing. It wasn’t allowing us to get over the hump and get in the playoffs. We’ve been aggressive. We’ve moved some really good players. We’ve gotten some really good young players back in those deals. It’s a transition time for us, but it’s at a point where they thought we needed to make a move organizationally and we did.”
Not all managers embrace rebuilding and the patience needed for development of younger players, but Servais seems to be a believer in the new plan. His background in player development is an asset in the process.
“Absolutely I’m on board, there’s no question about it,” he said. “When you talk about the season we had last year, and what we’ve done the last three years, the fifth best record in the American League, but it hasn’t been good enough. We haven’t been one of the best five teams in the season to get over the hump and get in the playoffs. It’s about getting in the playoffs, getting to the World Series and winning it. We haven’t been able to do it. Taking a step back, fully on board and looking forward to the challenge.”
Taking a step back won’t lower his expectations for the 2019 season. Regardless of the front office plan, his approach is simple.
“Be a very competitive team in the 2019,” he said. “I’m the manager of the team, I want to win every game we can. But where the organization is at, I want to do everything I can to move this thing into in the right direction. It’s to get in the playoffs and win the World Series. It’s not to come in 6th or 7th or 8th place. Sometimes you have to take a step back.”
Admittedly, it could be different with so many new players and the expected infusion of young talent.
“We do have new bodies coming in, people that have not had the Mariner uniform on,” he said. “It’s getting those guys to understand what we’re about. I have to be myself. That doesn’t really change if you’ve got veteran players or younger players. But to be a little more patient and more educated, I guess as much as anything, letting guys understand why we do what we do. And showing them how we can help them get the most out of themselves, to help us win a few more games.”
With Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano no longer with the team, Servais is turning to other players to take on leadership roles. Dee Gordon is a candidate.
“I think Dee has talked about that and he wants to be more involved,” Servais said. “Taking some of the young guys under his wing, so to speak. He actually called me one night, this is early in the offseason, and we had just made the Paxton and Zunino trade. He said, ‘Skip, it looks like we’re going younger.’ I said, ‘Very perceptive, Dee, you’re on it.’ And he said, ‘Maybe we should take a few guys under our wing.’ I said, ‘Be a mentor? ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about,’ So he gets it. He’s on it. Certainly all players that have been in the league for a while, they had people help them along early in their career. I think it’s important that the veteran players understand where they’re at and give back a little bit. When you give a little bit more it’s amazing how much you get and Dee understands that.”
The Mariners believe that Gordon’s return to second base on a full-time basis after being asked to convert to the outfield before last season will allow him to have a bounceback season at the plate.
“I think it helps him a lot, knowing he’s going to be at one spot,” Servais said. “He came in with an open mind, worked his tail off and gave center field a really good shot because he knew it was best for the team. Obviously we had to make the change early in the season with Cano being out. But Dee handled it great. Going back into second. But at the end of the year and we started flipping him back and forth, it was hard. Especially with the success he’s had at second base. He was willing to do it for the betterment of the team. He’s excited to go back, going into camp, knowing where he’s going to play, and get back to being a typical Dee Gordon season.”
While the roster is far from set, Servais confirmed that Felix Hernandez will be in the starting rotation to start the season. The Mariners don’t have great starting pitching depth in the organization. The one-time Mariners’ ace is in the final year of his contract and will earn $27.5 million this season.
“Felix has gone through a lot in the last three years, since we’ve been here,” he said. “You haven’t seen the vintage Felix Hernandez, for a number of reasons. Injuries, lack of focus or just not producing like we’ve seen in the past. It’s a big year for Felix, he’s going to get the ball and be in our rotation. It’s a contract year. He’s really, really competitive. He’ll be ready to go and we’ll give him an opportunity to go out there.”
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