Winter Meetings Media Session – Scott Servais
New Mariners Manager Scott Servais had a busy day in Nashville Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.
He met with his fellow managers, did interviews with MLB Network and MLB Radio, and had a 30 minute Q&A with the media. It was a wide-ranging session that included questions about Scott’s approach as a rookie manager, how the lineup is shaping up and the flurry of Mariners moves this offseason. Here’s a transcript of that session.
Q. You’ve had a lot of turnover here in short order. What’s the biggest challenge with that many new faces and a new face of your own?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Well, they’re all new to me, that’s the first thing. Obviously, there’s been a ton of turnover in our roster. Change was coming. Obviously, new general manager, new field manager.
We talked about it early on, wanted to get a different look to our team. That’s what we focused on. Obviously, Jerry (Dipoto) has done an awesome job trying to go out and acquire players that fit the mold he’s looking for.
On the tough side, we’ve given up some very good players, guys that are going to go on and have very successful careers, and it may come back and hurt us at times. To get good players, you’ve got to give up good players. We’ve been aggressive. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to make trades. But we’re getting after it, and I don’t think Jerry is going to slow down any time soon.
Q. Is your lineup starting to come into place?
SS: For me, yes.
Q. A bit more on what it might look like?
SS: We’ve talked a lot upstairs, and I’ve got ideas. We’ve shared things. I had the coaching staff together in Seattle last week. We have different bodies than we had last week, as crazy as that sounds.
Looking at different options, if you look at the makeup of our lineup, we have guys who get on base. For the most part, that’s something we said we wanted to address, controlling the strike zone, being a tougher out, and trying to create more opportunities to score runs, and we’ve gone out and gotten a few of those guys.
Hopefully, there’s a few more guys on base when Nelson (Cruz) and Robbie (Cano) come up to bat and create more scoring opportunities.
Q. Scott, you mentioned the new guys. But how much contact have you had with the guys that are coming back, especially that core group of guys, Felix and Cano and Seager?
SS: Quite a bit of contact. I’ve talked to 10 to 12 players face to face, many more on the phone, trying to get a feel — let them get a feel for me, first of all, and kind of what I’m like. More importantly, listening to them and where they’re at. Everybody is at a different point in their career, and I feel it’s important where I’m at to listen to them.
That includes Mike Zunino, as well, who we consider a high end prospect who’s going to have a very successful major league career. I’ve spent a lot of time. I’ve been in Dominican talking to Nelly (Cruz), I’ve talked to Robbie (Cano), Ketel Marte down there. I met with Felix (Hernandez) and (Taijuan) Walker. I talked to a lot of guys. I learned a lot about where they’re at, and I think they’ve learned a lot on where they’re going to go.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Marte and what you see, or what you know?
SS: I’m really excited about him. I think he fits exactly what we’re looking for as far as a guy to create havoc on the bases offensively. We want to be aggressive. I think he brings some attitude or some swag to his game, which I don’t think is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. He’s very confident.
Fortunately for me, I’ve got veteran players around him and veteran leaders that can help control that at times, but I’m excited about it, and I think he’s going to be a key piece to our club. Getting in the middle of the field every day, I would like to say we know exactly what we’re going to get. We don’t. It’s young players. But I do believe he’s ready to contribute every day, and I’ve got my fingers crossed it works out.
Q. Would you like to see him do well enough to have him up at the top of the order?
SS: No doubt. I think that’s where he eventually settles in. I think he’ll let us know when he’s ready to do that every day. It may start out opening day, and it may be later in the season. We’ll see how the lineup kind of comes together as we get through Spring Training.
Q. Scott, what’s your view on platoons? I know you have one with Franklin Gutierrez and Seth Smith. Is Adam Lind a candidate for a platoon, obviously, or some type of lefty?
SS: Obviously, Adam Lind is dominant against right-handed pitching. We knew that when we acquired him. In a perfect world, you’re giving him a day off here or there against a tough lefty.
But you want to put players in positions to succeed. That’s my job. That’s the coaching staff’s job. If that means you’re going to use your entire roster, I would think somewhere else on our roster there would be a right-handed hitting first baseman to match up with him.
If not, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to play. Adam Lind is a good player, and that’s why we acquired him, and we gave up good players to get him.
Q. How much have you and Jerry talked about third time through the order effectiveness and how you might approach that?
SS: With our pitching staff?
SS: It is something to look at. I think all managers are looking at it, especially with the model the Kansas City Royals have thrown out there with their bullpen. I think it’s great if the guy you’re going to get is better than the guy who’s out there. You kind of have to look at your pitching staff and your roster and where you’re at. It’s definitely something we’ve talked about.
Q. Scott, it seems like the way managers are hired these days, it’s different from in the past. It used to be you spend a lot of time in the minors as a manager or maybe several years as a bench coach. We’ve seen more managers without previous experience get hired. As somebody who has spent time in the front office as well, why do you think this has changed?
SS: I spent plenty of time in the minors. I don’t know if you’re aware, but that’s where I’ve been the last ten years. I have not managed in the minor leagues. I have not been a bench coach in the big leagues. And I’m not the first. Lucky for me, there’s been many guys, and I could go through the list, talking to them earlier today. Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus, guys with different paths.
Mine may be more what A.J. Hinch has gone through, just coming from the front office. I think there’s tremendous value in understanding of how to put teams together and how front offices look at that. I will use that to my benefit.
The one thing I’ve not done is I have not managed a Major League team, but I’ve managed people. I think, when you look at the game and how the game’s evolved, it is about managing people and creating an environment that they feel good about coming to work every day and a certain culture along with that. That’s what I think I can bring to the Mariners.
Again, it’s about the players and putting them in a position to win. So, again, it’s been a different path, I’ve said it all along, that I’ve taken to get here. I feel fortunate, and I’m really excited about getting started.
Q. You know that relationship between the general manager and manager has always been important. Is it a bigger key even now that there’s a synergy between them maybe now because of the advent of advanced metrics?
SS: It’s important, no doubt. It’s been important as long as baseball has been going on, that relationship, because there’s going to be some rough times. There’s going to be losing streaks, disagreements, things like that. I think having a relationship, knowing how the other person really ticks and having worked with that person for a long time, it certainly helps.
My relationship with Jerry, I understand how he thinks, and I know he understands how I think. So it speeds up the learning curve a little bit when you’re looking at roster and how players are going to be put into play. The analytical part of it and what goes on in the front office, it’s important everybody is on the same page. There’s no doubt. The way the game has gone on, they’re looking for a competitive advantage, the greatest players in the world. You’re managing against the most competitive people in the world. You have to use all the resources to try to win today’s game.
Q. Jerry said that the bullpen is still a work in progress. When you look at what you have right now, do you have a closer?
SS: We’ve got guys that can close. That’s how I look at it. Quite frankly, I have been away from my room for about four hours, so I’m not sure what’s happened in the last four hours as far as speaking to specific names and roles.
I think roles will be defined by the time we open up on opening day. I think players need to know kind of where they’re at. They also have to know that that role can change based on their performance and where the team’s at and how the matchups line up.
The one thing that I’m looking forward to doing is communicating with our players, being transparent on where we’re headed and why we’re headed there. I do believe, if you are honest and open with players, they’ll adjust.
But as far as the roles are in, right now, is it clearly defined? No, it’s not. Do I feel good that we have a closer? We’ll have somebody to take the ball at the end, whether it’s Joaquin Benoit, or somebody else.
Q. Who else could it be?
SS: I’m not going there. Good try, though.
Q. You mentioned being transparent. What’s your message to (Mike) Zunino know when you approach him?
SS: My biggest thing with Mike is I was a young catcher that really struggled to get in the big leagues. I’ve been in those shoes. I wasn’t a first round pick, but I was a high pick. Understanding what goes into catching and being a winning catcher, obviously, the defense and calling the game and things you would take a lot of pride in doing in helping your team win. But ultimately, what’s on the back of your baseball card is your batting statistics, and that plays into the game.
I know how hard it is to deal with failure. I think in my conversation with Mike, it was just to try to get a feel for where he’s at at this point in his career. I’m sure a lot of people want to try to help Mike, give him ideas on his hitting or approach to hitting or where he needs to go.
Ultimately, it is his career, and he has to make the decision who he wants to listen to, why he wants to listen to them, and then go forward from there. So you need to narrow that focus a little bit. That was kind of the message I gave to him. Who is in your circle? Who is your guy that you’re going to trust? Hopefully, over time we build a relationship, and it’s people in Mariners uniforms that are on our staff that he can trust and work with and feel good about.
Mike Zunino is going to be a very good major league player. There’s no doubt in my mind, Jerry’s mind, or anyone else. It’s just when. He will let us know.
Q. Scott, you’ve been with Jerry for a good while now. You know how he operates. Does he appear even more driven by the circumstances where he left Los Angeles? Does it seem like he’s really out to prove something?
SS: No, not any more than normal. Jerry has always been driven. He’s a workaholic. He loves his job. Putting teams together and putting people together and creating a culture for everyone can learn. So not any more driven than I’ve ever seen him.
Q. Going back to Zunino a little bit, he had done some stuff at the end of the season based on stuff Edgar wanted him to do. Did he feel he was making progress on those changes?
SS: Yeah, and I’ve talked to Edgar (Martinez) a lot too about where he’s at. I think, as far as organizationally, the hitting program, the pitching program, what we’re doing at the big league level and transferring down to the minor league level is going to be huge to get all those things in place. That’s what the good organizations have. They have that synergy. That’s what the St. Louis Cardinals have. That’s what the Kansas City Royals have. I was a part of that when I was at Texas for a while.
I think getting on the Zunino thing, making sure he understands exactly what the expectations are and the changes he needs to make, but ultimately, Mike has to believe it, and it’s Mike’s career. We’re here to help him, and we’ll do everything we can, give him all the tools to be successful, and he’s going to be.
Q. Scott, a veteran manager once told me that it’s often easier for him to manage against other veteran managers, even the great ones, because he knows their tendencies.
SS: Nobody knows mine.
Q. Right. But flipping that around, how important will it be to you at all to understand other managers’ tendencies going into series?
SS: I think it’s important, knowing kind of how other teams — how the other manager is wired. You don’t know everything they’re going to do. You have a feel. You have an advanced scouting report, stuff like that.
Fortunately for me, I’m very well versed in the American League West. I’ve spent a lot of time there the last ten years. Know the clubs, know the personnel on the field. It can be important. I’m not going to downplay it, but I kind of look at it as I’m the guy they don’t know. That’s my advantage right now.
Q. Scott, you acquired (Nori) Aoki recently. Any chances of Kenta Maeda also joining?
SS: I’ll let Jerry answer that one. I’m really excited to have Aoki. I think he’s going to be a great fit in our club. He’s a guy gets on base, can play a lot of different positions in the outfield. Great fit for our team. I’ll let Jerry talk about the other stuff.
Q. Scott, I’m from Baltimore. So I got to see Nelson Cruz for a year there under Buck Showalter. Do you see him as predominantly an everyday outfielder, or do you think he should DH a good portion of the time?
SS: I think it’s a combination. I do know that Nelson’s numbers were much better when he played in the field, his offensive numbers from last year. He wants to play in the field. I also want him to play every day. Knowing that the travel in Seattle is rough, there may have to be a few more DH days, and we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Nelson is a big part of our time. I have a relationship with him from our days in Texas. I talk to him a lot. I’m looking forward to him helping me lead and take care of some things in the clubhouse.
Q. With the types of things you guys have been doing, it looks like a team that wants to win now. Is that an added pressure on you as a first time manager?
SS: I think those guys that I had lunch with today, those other 29 managers, we all have pressure to win. So these jobs, like somebody told me right after I got a chance to manage, was there’s only one thing guaranteed, and that’s your compensation. The opportunity and the chance to lead an organization is never really guaranteed. It’s always tied to winning and the progress moving forward.
Seattle has not won in a long time. And the expectations there, they’re high, from ownership and team president and the fans. They should be. It’s time. It’s time to win. Jerry knows that we’re going to have to do something a little bit different with our roster and how we play to get a different result. That’s why he’s doing it.
Q. So Chris Iannetta is a guy you’re familiar with. What makes you believe he can have kind of a bounce back year after a tough year?
SS: Chris does some things that I really appreciate in the fact that what he does — calling the game, working with the pitching staff, really, really important. He did not have a typical Chris Iannetta season last year. He had a rough start to the season is what happened, and he got buried early. It happens to players. It certainly happened to me in my career.
I think you look at a major league career, not a lot of guys play ten years in the big leagues. Chris has played a long time. You’re going to have two or three bad years and two or three good years. Kind of what happens in the middle is who you are. Chris had a rough year. That’s why we were able to get him at the price point we’re at. We have an opportunity.
I talk to Chris a lot. I talked to him yesterday. I look at Chris. Leonys Martín, similar type player. We’re hoping for a bounce back year. That’s how you’re able to get those guys.
Q. Steve Clevenger, you know a little bit about him. Your thoughts and Jerry’s thoughts. You gave up a good package for him.
SS: I have some thoughts on Steve. I have not seen him a lot. I do know it’s probably more offense than defense. We like the left-handed bat and how that fits the matchup with Chris going forward there. Get a chance to know him better in Spring Training, but our scouts liked him, liked the bat.
Obviously, I’m a catching guy. I have a background there. He’s got some things to tighten up defensively, but he should be a good fit for our bullpen.
Q. More like an ex-catcher, (Jesus) Montero, I know time is ticking on his opportunities. Do you think he can bounce back?
SS: He will not catch. He’ll be first base, bat. There’s a spot for him on our club. He needs to perform well during Spring Training and going forward into the season. We’d really like him to be able to mash those left-handed pitchers. That would be great. I think he knows what’s ahead of him.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk much with (Robinson) Cano? How’s he doing health-wise?
SS: Health-wise, Robbie is great. He’s working out off-season. Talked to him a number of times. Manny Acta, the third base coach, has a good relationship with Robbie. Manny is in the Dominican and will be touching base with him frequently.
Robbie is a good spot. He does know he got off to a slow start last year. He had a great second half, playing injured, but great player. Lucky to have him. Going to be a big part of our team going forward.
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