SAN DIEGO — In past years, it would have been foolish for Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais to get too comfortable projecting who might be on his roster even for spring training.
Given the ridiculous amount of yearly player turnover instigated by general manager Jerry Dipoto, it was almost impossible to plan until pitchers and catchers reported.
But after last offseason’s “step-back” rebuild plan was initiated and the massive roster turnover that followed — trading older players for a slew of younger prospects — the churn has slowed. A forgettable 69-93 season was a predictable start as the team began this slow transition.
Now with some expected roster moves made this offseason, Servais can start looking at a possible roster, a starting rotation, the core pieces of the bullpen and his everyday lineup.
“Obviously it’s been a quiet winter meetings for us,” he said at his scheduled media session on Tuesday. “We knew that coming in there wasn’t going to be a lot of action. We like the young group we have. We’re going to let that young group mature and go forward together. I don’t anticipate a lot going on here.”
A major proponent of starting this rebuild, Servais will now get to manage young players that are expected to be part of the future, not stop-gaps trying to bridge from the old to the new.
“I’m really, really excited about what we’re doing going forward,” he said. “We can look back to where we were a year ago. The organization made a decision that we needed to step back. We traded away a lot of great players, and in return we got a ton of really good young players. Now the key is to be disciplined, let those guys play out and mature.”
Of their projected position players, only third baseman Kyle Seager, second baseman Dee Gordon, right fielder Mitch Haniger and center fielder Mallex Smith have played multiple full seasons at the big-league level. Gordon, Seager and Austin Nola will likely be the only players on the roster age 30 or older. And Gordon could be traded by spring training.
With all that inexperience, there will be some highs and plenty of lows.
“The key for us is to be patient with these young guys,” Servais said. “You gotta let them play and run together. There are going to be bumps in the road, but I’m super excited where we are headed. Having spent two days last week with 50 of our players along with veterans in the same room talking about where we’re going in the future, it’s a pretty exciting time.”
Servais was also asked about Daniel Vogelbach’s production that decreased dramatically in the second half of the season. Vogelbach slashed .244/.379/.519 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) with 11 doubles, 20 homers and 48 RBI over the first three months (79 games played). From July 1 to the end of the season, he posted a .162/.290/.338 line with six doubles, 10 homers, 28 RBI, 36 walks and 78 strikeouts.
“Couple different reasons,” Servais said. “I think to stay at the level he was at was going to be hard. He had a great first half. I think the league adjusted. They went after him a little differently in how they attacked him.”
It happens to many young hitters. The league adjusts first.
“Information,” Servais said. “Your weaknesses get exposed, and I think what you struggle with, you have to make an adjustment. It took Vogey a while to make that adjustment. So big learning year for him as well.”
Servais saw Vogelbach at the Mariners’ recent leadership summit and said he looked to be in good shape.
“He was forced to play a lot of first base,” Servais said. “I thought he got much better at first base. Probably did better than any of us anticipated he could do, but he’s a DH. I think that’s what he is. He’s a bat. I think he learned a lot from it. He will be better for it. But the league made adjustments to him, no question.”
Did he wear down?
“I don’t know about wear down,” Servais said. “It’s not just the physical, it’s the mental. I don’t think people give that enough credit. When you’re out there and grinding, it’s easier when things are going good. When you struggle you put more pressure on yourself, and hopefully he learned a ton from it.”
Servais hopes the addition of pitching coach Pete Woodworth will help with the development of pitchers like Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn as well as several other pitchers that worked with him at Double-A Arkansas last season.
“Anytime you gain trust with a player, it’s the first hurdle you have to get over before they will buy into what you sell,” Servais said. “Pete has that with them, along with Logan Gilbert. Excited Brian DeLunas goes back into our bullpen. He spent a lot of time with them last year, too, as he was traveling around in the minor leagues. I think it will help those guys and speed up their growth and progress. We will go as fast as our pitching takes us. If you’re looking at our rebuild, that’s one way I would look at it.”