SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners arrive as ‘hungriest team’ Servais has ever had in spring

Feb 20, 2024, 2:49 PM | Updated: 4:03 pm

Seattle Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Mitch Haniger high fives J.P. Crawford after hitting a home run for the Seattle Mariners in 2021. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais always looks forward to the first full squad day of practice in spring training, and Tuesday did not disappoint.

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The vibes were good, the sun was shining, and the group was assembled for the most part already with a great number of players traveling to Peoria early to get in extra work.

As he does every year, Servais addressed the full squad and members of the organization who will help them throughout the season with an address that encompassed everything from introductions to setting the tone for what is to come.

“It’s fun, it’s exciting,” Servais said. “It also gives me an opportunity to reflect back on the different things we’ve focused on or where we were at as an organization and how we have grown. We’ve come a long way, we really have, but we have a long ways to go yet.”

Mission not accomplished in the eyes of the manager and returning players.

“Certainly last year we left with a very sour taste in our mouth,” he said. “We did not accomplish what we set out to do and that was get back in the playoffs and experience what we did in ’22. I think this is the hungriest team I have ever had in a spring training. This team is wired a little different based on what they went through last year, and we’ve made some additions and those guys are hungry as well. And that’s a good thing.”

Servais and others in the front office have had a hand in getting the players to this spot. The bitter feeling of unfinished business under normal circumstances would be expected heading into spring training after just missing the playoffs in the previous year, but normal circumstances went out the window when the offseason took a turn and spending was reduced from expected levels due to financial concerns. That could have been a distraction in the clubhouse this spring had Servais not had visits with a number of key players throughout the winter.

“The conversations were different this offseason,” he said. “The conversations started with a direct message from me based on the things we were doing early in the offseason, but as you listen to players you can understand they are in a different spot. Then it really picked up when you start checking in after the first of the year, what their workouts are looking like – it is a focused group. It is a credit to them, they are taking their offseasons very serious.”

A leader returns to the fold for Mariners

Servais points to bringing Mitch Haniger back to add to a strong core as a move that helps set the tone. A player that others in the clubhouse called “Their Champion” when he was with the Mariners before, Haniger is one that has always drawn eyes when it comes to setting a high standard. For his part, Haniger embraces the opportunity to do more than lead by example.

“For me, I think I’m at the point of my career where I used to try to pick the brain of the guys who were in my shoes and so I think it is more about going out of my way and making guys feel comfortable enough to engage in a conversation,” Haniger said. “I think encouraging that is a good thing. You might not like what I say, it might not work for you, but at least you are learning more about yourself even if you disagree with it because then you are believing what you believe even more.”

The new players will quickly learn and some will contribute to the clubhouse leadership. They will also learn about expectations, which can be simplified down to four letters printed the walls and t-shirts: “DMGB.”

Doesn’t matter, get better. Simple message with much behind it.

“The No. 1 thing you want to give players is structure,” explained Servais. “I think we have done that. You give as much clarity to why we do what we do so they understand what’s coming. Then you try to be as consistent as you can be and not maybe change the message from week to week or year to year. If you do that, I think you give players a ton of freedom. They know what to expect. Now they have the freedom to just go play. I think if your mind is free, you can play a little faster. Things just happen for you. That’s the goal. I think we are getting there. I know we have been very consistent, I know we are very clear in our message and what we are doing and the structure is certainly there. The fact you have so many guys who have heard the messaging, they buy in. It’s all about our players holding each other accountable.”

A lot can happen in a season. A lot has happened before the season, but on Feb. 20, the Mariners appear equipped to do that.

Haniger confirmed that his goal for the season remains what it has been the past six years – to win the World Series. And when asked what he sees in the 2024 Mariners clubhouse that could help him reach that team, he upped his intensity and lowered his voice.

“Just a solid team,” he said. “I was telling (Mariners general manager) Justin Hollander on the field this is the first time I showed up to spring and have been like, ‘Really good pitching, good lineup, good defense.’ Where in the past I would always show up and be like, ‘Man, we are going to hit this year and I don’t know if we are going to get anybody out,’ or, ‘We are going to pitch really well, we better score some runs.’ But now it just looks top to bottom, we are just a good team. Now we have got to go prove it.”

More on Seattle Mariners spring training

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Could Mariners still add Matt Chapman to ‘complete’ their roster?
Drayer’s Preview: Has Seattle Mariners’ lineup improved enough?
2024 Mariners spring training radio schedule on Seattle Sports

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