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Drayer: Servais ready for challenge of leading Mariners through rebuild

Scott Servais discussed the Mariners' step back Tuesday at baseball's Winter Meetings. (AP)

Mariners manager Scott Servais took his turn at the microphone Tuesday evening at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas to answer questions about his now almost unrecognizable team. Since we last heard from Seattle’s skipper, general manager Jerry Dipoto has made six trades that sent away nine players from the 2018 roster, including eight of the top 12 WAR players according to Baseball Reference.

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“We made some decisions as an organization at the end of the year that we needed to go in a different direction,” Servais said. “What we were doing wasn’t allowing us to get over the hump. It’s a transition time for us but it is a point I thought we needed to make a move organizationally and we did.

“Taking a step back, I am fully on board and looking forward to the challenge.”

Like Dipoto, Servais is not measuring the state of the Mariners by win totals. The near-miss of the playoffs in their first year with the Mariners in 2015 could be regarded as respectable. The 89 wins they put up in 2018 would get them into the postseason in many years. The landscape around them has changed, however, and the view from 20,000 feet showed the goal was much farther away.

“We are looking long-term here,” said Servais. “What’s best for the organization and how do we put ourselves in the upper echelon? Look at the American League, what the Red Sox were able to do. Houston, the Yankees, what Oakland has done. Us taking the step back hopefully allows us to catch up and get above those teams in another year or so.”

With his background in player development, taking on a young team would seem natural for Servais. Having been part of one of the more successful rebuilds in the 2000s while with the Rangers helps reinforce the idea that success can be had.

“We were floundering,” he said of the 2007 Texas Rangers, a team that finished either third or fourth in the AL West for the eighth straight year, back before Houston joined the division and it was still made up of just four teams.

“We made a big trade (sending Mark Teixeira to the Braves in exchange for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia), timed that up with very good draft choices, bringing in Latin players, supplementing the system and creating some very desirable young players and allowing them to grow together.”

The result? Absolute best-case scenario – back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

“Seeing how that could all come together and how fun that is, to be a part of something like that, it excites me,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy, there’s going to be some growing pains with some younger players, less experienced guys, but it is a challenge we are willing to take on.”

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As for his players, like in previous offseasons Servais has kept in touch with them. The conversations this fall have gone beyond “How’s the family?” or “How have the workouts been?” however.

“It’s trying to get everyone to understand where we are headed and why we are headed there,” he said. “That’s part of the job and you have got to be honest with people, let them know where the expectations are and we will do that going into camp.”

And Servais’ expectations?

“To be a very competitive team in 2019,” he stated. “I’m the manager of the club and I want to win every game we can, but understand that from a bigger picture standpoint where the organization is at, I want to do whatever I can to help us to move this thing in the right direction. It’s to get into the playoffs and win the World Series. It’s not to come in sixth or seventh or eighth place. Sometimes that takes time. You need take a step back once in a while ultimately to get to where you want to go.”

Servais addresses Dr. Lorena Martin’s allegations

Servais was asked publicly Tuesday for the first time about allegations by Dr. Lorena Martin, the Mariners’ former director of high performance, of racial and gender discrimination by members of the team’s front office, specifically Servais, Dipoto and Andy McKay, Seattle’s director of player development. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’ve been in the game a long time – 31 years as a player, in the front office, working with players. My name means a ton to me, the relationships that you build, I think that is all that needs to be said at this point. MLB is doing an investigation, some of the things that were brought out, I feel very confident the truth will come out.”

And were the allegations surprising to him?

“Very surprising,” Servais responded. “Knowing my background in the game, as a player for a very long time, some of the guys I’ve played with and their background and where they are coming from and going into the scouting part of things and player development, I’ve probably made 35 to 40 visits to the Domincan Republic, helped put an academy together down there. I think people that know me, know Scott Servais, know how I am wired, understand what’s important to me. Understand what players come from and try to help them get over the hump. That’s what it’s about, how to be productive major league players, be good citizens, good people. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

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