Scott Servais has entered his fifth season as the Seattle Mariners manager, becoming the second longest tenured coach in team history. Over the team’s 44-year history, they have had 21 different head honcho’s, with only three skippers lasting more than three seasons – Servais, Lou Piniella, and the first boss man in M’s history, Darrel Johnson. It’s not that the Mariners haven’t had good managers before. Bob Melvin came in after Piniella departed for Tampa Bay and won 93 games his first year before falling 30 plus games under .500 the next season. He’s only gone on to lead the Athletics to five postseason births. Then there was Mike Hargrove who led the Indians to five straight postseasons and two AL Pennants (one over the Mariners in 1995). Eric Wedge had some decent years in Cleveland. Darrel Johnson won a pennant in Boston. Dick Williams won four pennants and two World Series before coming to Seattle. However, none were able to do much in a Mariner uniform.
Many fans view Servais as a placeholder, someone to develop the M’s young roster and get out of the way when it’s winning time. For Mariners fans who grew accustomed to the fiery styles of Piniella, Hargrove, Wedge, and McClendon, Servais’s laid back approach to managing is concerning. Even Wakamatsu and Bob Melvin seemed to lead with more gusto than Servais. He’s a player’s coach. He is a great influence for the young guys and with this new generation of players, Servais’s player friendly managing style fits just right. But when the young guys get a little seasoned, and Dipoto decides it’s finally time to add some veteran’s to push the team over that proverbial playoff hump, will Servais’ laid-back approach work?
In these last five years Servais has been able to do something that hasn’t been accomplished since Piniella’s days – establish a culture. It helps that Servais was brought on when new GM Jerry Dipoto arrived and from day one we have seen a partnership that mimics Seahawks GM John Schneider and Head Coach Pete Carroll. Seemingly in sync every step of the way, it would be fair to think Dipoto and Servais have already discussed the future and what it might look like. Servais has been unwavering in his commitment and message in his time as manager, coming close to the playoffs twice in his first three years and adjusting quickly to the unavoidable rebuild of late. With expectations soon to rise, the real question is can Servais rise with them?
His lack of experience in critical situations showed during the 2018 season. The Mariners blew through the first half of the season with a 58-39 record and were in position to end their playoff drought. The absence of Robinson Cano for a PED suspension weighed heavily on the offense, which could not sustain the blazing pace set before the All Star break. Injuries also played a huge role, causing the team to use the third most players ever in a single season. Either way you look at it, the team fell flat on their face after the break with a 31-34 mark. At one point they were 10 games up on the A’s for the final wild card spot but ended the season eight games out. Going from fourth-best record in the entire MLB to missing the playoffs was an enormous disappointment one Mariners fans won’t forget the next time the playoffs are within sight.
Servais wouldn’t be the first manager dumped after a rebuild. Paul Molitor took over a lowly Twins team after 13 years with Ron Gardenhire under the helm. Old staples slowly faded out, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Brian Dozier to name a few. Much like Servais, Molitor was caught in between the final years of a playoff caliber team and a rush of young talent. He managed the squad for five seasons before being replaced by Rocco Baldelli. The players that are now pushing the Twins to 100-plus-win seasons, are the same guys who came up under Molitor; Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario. The Twins were able to turn it around fairly quickly by adding a bunch of pieces through free agency, coupled with the influx of young talent maturing. Molitor played a huge role in Twins history and in nurturing relationships with Twins players. After his departure as manager he hung around in an unofficial role with the team, working with players during spring training, possibly waiting for another door into coaching.
If Servais isn’t the right man for the job, who is? One name to keep an eye on is former M’s third base coach, Rainiers hitting coach, and current USA baseball Manager, Scott Brosius. Brosius was with the Mariners as recently as 2018. He helped establish the Rainiers as a top-tier minor league team and was offered a contract for the 2019 Mariners season before deciding to leave for a role with USA baseball. It is clear from Brosius’s career track that he’s aiming at a major league managerial role. Everywhere he has gone he has found success and his ties to both the Mariners and Scott Servais could make a managerial transition in Seattle go as smoothly as one could hope for. He has familiarity with the players making their way to the big league squad, and perhaps he has the acumen to make those quick in game decisions that some feel Servais seems to lack. Either way, the Mariners hope to find out fast, who is the right man for the job.