New Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is certainly building an interesting core around him, both in the Mariners’ front office and in the clubhouse. Some of his recent hires, however, appear to be somewhat questionable, especially his choice for the team’s manager.
Thursday, the Mariners introduced the former assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, Scott Servais, as their new skipper. An interesting choice, but Dipoto was clearly looking for someone he knows he can trust, even at the expense of managerial experience.
He interviewed quite a few candidates, including Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoya, former catcher Jason Varitek, who is now a special assistant to the Boston Red Sox, and Phil Nevin. The only candidate with any kind of managerial experience was Nevin, who has managed in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system.
Then comes the announcement that he’s hired his old ally and friend from the Angels, who was once a catcher but otherwise has only worked in front office positions, as the new manager of the Mariners.
He hasn’t fully dismantled the team’s coaching staff and front office. Dipoto has kept around some staff that was there prior to his arrival, namely famed Mariner Edgar Martinez as hitting coach, Chris Woodward as the team’s infield coach as well as assistant GM Jeff Kingston, amateur scouting director Tom McNamara and pro scouting director Tom Allison. Yet he is still in the midst of creating an organization all his own.
The decision to hire Servais seems a little dubious, being that Servais is one of his oldest friends. Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, made a similar mistake a few years back when he hired his old friend Bob Geren to manage the team. The A’s went 334-376 under Geren, finishing at .500 only once. Just because someone might be a close confidant doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be good at managing a baseball team without any prior experience.
The Miami Marlins allowed their GM, Dan Jennings, who had only held front office positions, to manage the team in 2015. The Marlins finished 19 games out of first place. Jennings is now back in his old position and the Marlins are on the market for a manager.
Of course, it has been a trend lately to hire rookie managers. The Washington Nationals hired Matt Williams, the Detroit Tigers have Brad Ausmus, the Milwaukee Brewers have Craig Counsell and there are quite a few more. Even managers like the Cincinnati Reds’ Bryan Price and Los Angeles Dodgers’ former manager Don Mattingly, among others, had only coaching experience on their resumes. As you can see in the names above, the results have been mixed.
That strategy has worked in some instances but not in most. The Tigers had one of their worst seasons in years under Ausmus, and having a rookie manager is why the Washington Nationals are currently interviewing candidates of their own for next season. The only team this still-trending strategy has seemed to work for is the Texas Rangers and manager Jeff Banister. Yet, still, they were eliminated from the postseason in the ALDS.
Of course DiPoto had nothing but praise for his new skipper.
“Through the course of the 20-plus years I’ve known Scott, I’ve come to see him as one of the most complete, well-balanced and inclusive baseball people in the industry,” Dipoto said.
That may be true, but does he know how to manage a ballclub? I guess we will have to wait until next season to find out.
A couple of Dipoto’s other hires have been somewhat questionable as well. When he was hired, the impression given was that he had a plan and crew in place to take over the farm system and the player development department, areas in which the Mariners must improve if they want to be able to compete. All their top picks over the last few seasons have been busts, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seager.
Yet just this week, he hired former sports psychologist for the Colorado Rockies, Andy McKay, as his new farm system director despite the fact that McKay has no experience working in a front office or any previous connection to Dipoto. The whole situation just seems a bit out of the ordinary.
However, the team is now Dipoto’s to run in anyway he sees fit. His approach appears unproven, and somewhat unconventional, but it may work for Seattle. The 2016 season should tell us if Dipoto’s unusual approach to building his staff will work or not. When you take over a team sitting on an MLB-long 14-year playoff drought, sometimes “unconventional” is the only way to go.