Mariners’ Scott Servais on keeping team’s youth intact, what he expects from Mike Zunino and Edwin Diaz
If there’s one thing to take away from Mariners manager Scott Servais’ visit with “Brock and Salk” on Tuesday, it’s that the Mariners are looking to win now. But they’re not looking to do so at the expense of their future.
While Servais stressed the need for Seattle to take advantage of its core group of veteran players in their prime, he also spoke a lot about how much concentration general manager Jerry Dipoto and the front office has been putting on building the youth of the franchise.
“We talked about getting a little bit younger, trying to give some of the young guys that we’d acquired or coming up through the system an opportunity,” Servais said, “but along the way, our window, where we’re at right now with the core of our team, Jerry and our front office guys certainly recognized that to go out and put trades together.”
The Mariners made a flurry of moves this offseason to put together a team they think can make a real push for the postseason, and they somewhat surprisingly were able to do so without parting with three key prospects they have high hopes for – outfielders Kyle Lewis and Tyler O’Neill, and pitcher Andrew Moore.
“The most exciting thing for me, not just our team’s really good on paper, but we still have a nice little group of young prospects that we did not give up in these trades, which is really hard to do,” Servais said. “Don’t get me wrong, we gave up good players. Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte (traded to Arizona for Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger) are major league players. They’re going to have good careers. But, you know, the Tyler O’Neills, Kyle Lewis, Andrew Moores, some of our really young guys that are coming … we did not get away from that as well as adding to our major league team.”
Here are some more highlights from Servais’ conversation with “Brock and Salk”:
• As was the case last year, a lot of eyes will be on catcher Mike Zunino, who will turn 26 just before the regular season begins. The difference this time around is that Zunino is penciled in as the starter behind the plate as opposed to being assigned to Triple-A Tacoma to receive extra attention. The reason for that is that Zunino had a strong showing when he rejoined Seattle at midseason in 2016, finishing the season with 12 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .318 on-base percentage in 55 games. “We need Mike to keep moving in the right direction. I know last year we had a definite plan what we were gonna do with him as far as kinda restarting him in Triple-A and bring him up,” Servais said. “The timing was perfect – he got hot, he really carried us for a while offensively.” The Mariners also have a good piece of insurance behind Zunino in new backup Carlos Ruiz, who is known for his defensive prowess and leadership. “Adding Carlos Ruiz (was a) very important pick-up,” Servais said. “I think (Ruiz) kinda maybe goes overlooked at times, just because of the experience factor he has. … Him understanding the importance of getting to know our pitching staff, (and) I think maybe developing that relationship with Felix (Hernandez) will be huge.”
• Like Zunino, closer Edwin Diaz is a young player who will be counted on in a big role for Seattle in 2017. Diaz, who will turn just 23 in March, racked up 18 saves and an astonishing 88 strikeouts in just 51 2/3 innings last year, and the concentration for Seattle is to help him get ready to handle even more playing time in 2017 – especially considering he’ll be pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. “We will monitor those innings very closely,” Servais said of the WBC. “We really want to have a very heavy hand on him in spring training to make sure he’s got plenty of gas left in the tank because he is a wiry, thin guy.” As for whether MLB hitters are going to catch up with Diaz at full-strength, Servais didn’t seem the least bit concerned. “The league is certainly aware of (Diaz). There is no doubt (with) the numbers he put up, the strikeout numbers and kind of embarrassing some of the better hitters in the league. … He’s not just throwing hard, but he’s got deception and the breaking ball really came along.”
• The addition of the speedy Jarrod Dyson will help the Mariners field an extremely athletic and defensively-minded outfield, but Servais expects the 32 year old from Mississippi to have just as much of a positive impact as a team leader. “I’m really looking forward to having his personality in our clubhouse,” Servais said. “Just talking to him on the phone, kinda how he’s wired, the people in Kansas City just unbelievable how well they spoke of him and the relationship they had with him. Taking five or six years to get to the big leagues and now kinda working his way into a major role there, but a big, big help in our clubhouse.”
• The Mariners moved on from Taijuan Walker this offseason, but they added Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly to the rotation, and Servais believes they’re ahead of where they were at the beginning of last season. “I think on paper we’re a little bit better than we were last year at this time, that’s how I look at it. But again, it’s on paper. We gotta keep them healthy and keep it going,” he said. “Obviously we need Felix (Hernandez) to step back up. (Hisashi Iwakuma) had a great year last year. Kuma threw 199 innnings last year, I think there was only 15 guys in the big leagues who threw 200. … He may take a little bit of a step back, I don’t know. I certainly hope not. But James Paxton took a huge step forward for us last year. Where we’re at, picking up Gallardo, being able to get Drew Smyly was huge for us. Just the innings he brings, being left-handed and kinda how he does it, he is a fly ball pitcher which works in our outfield and with our outfield defense, so I’m excited about our rotation.”