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Larry Stone: After doing more with less in 2021, Mariners' Scott Servais deserves to manage an upgraded 2022 roster

Larry Stone, The Seattle Times on

Published in Baseball

The 2021 Mariners were a monument to overachievement, and that’s a tribute to their manager, Scott Servais. On Tuesday, Servais deserved to be named American League Manager of the Year but instead finished second to Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash.

Servais coaxed every last win out of a flawed team — well, all but the two wins against the Angels in the final weekend that would have finally put them in the playoffs. But the Mariners had won 10 of their previous 11 games down the stretch, under extreme pressure, to put themselves in that position.

It was a tour de force of managing (and also of coming through against heavy odds by the players). But with Servais having shown he can succeed in the margins, I’m curious to watch him display his acumen with a team fully equipped — and indeed fully expected — to take the next step.

Because that’s where the Mariners should be when this offseason finally ends: In the best position they have been since 2001 to achieve a postseason berth, and then see where that takes them.

It will be a turbulent winter almost certainly interrupted by a work stoppage. It’s always hard to predict the trajectory of free-agent signings, but especially so with that the labor dynamic. And ditto the trade market.

Nevertheless, the Mariners have absolutely everything they need to tweak, massage, augment and uplift a team that entered the final game of the season with a chance at a wild-card berth.

 

They have a solid talent base and a loaded farm system that appears on the verge of churning out a stream of impact players. They have enough prospect depth to formulate legitimate trade proposals for established veterans that rebuilding teams are willing to give up. They have an extremely low salary base (about $14.65 million in guaranteed contracts, plus another $26 million for arbitration-eligible players), giving them the (theoretic) freedom to add considerable payroll.

That’s why the rest of baseball is eyeing the Mariners, along with the Tigers, as long-dormant teams poised to come out of player-acquisition hibernation with a vengeance. It’s a particularly star-studded crop of free agents, and the Mariners can set their sights on the upper echelon with the financial capability of signing multiple top-level players.

They play in a division where the long-established king (the Astros) will likely lose one of their best players via free agency for the second year in a row — shortstop Carlos Correa on the heels of outfielder George Springer.

The AL West’s other perpetual contender, the A’s, is by all accounts going into full salary-dump mode. The Rangers are in the early stages of a rebuild and coming off a 102-loss season. The Angels can’t figure out how to surround their two megastars, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, with supporting talent. In other words, the path to a division title has never been more greased in Seattle’s favor.

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