Servais: Mariners looking for 'more consistent' offense

December 6th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- As Scott Servais on Monday spoke publicly for the first time since the Mariners’ end-of-season press conference, adjacent to him in the massive ballroom at the Winter Meetings sat Dusty Baker.

Houston’s 73-year-old manager again discussed the validation of winning his first World Series, one that required three grueling games in the American League Division Series against the Mariners that were the Astros’ most challenging en route to the title. Seattle’s skipper, meanwhile, was asked how long the sting of the season-ending defeat in the 18-inning marathon lingered.

The manager media sessions were coincidentally scheduled to broadcast Servais and Baker simultaneously, but it was hard to ignore the proximity of one manager optimistic about a repeat and the other outlining how they plan to dethrone their division rivals.

“We went through a very competitive series with them at the end of the year,” Servais said. “You're basically one swing of the bat at the end of each game from winning it. You have to win the division, no question about it.”

Yet as the Mariners’ roster is constructed currently -- after the additions of second baseman Kolten Wong and corner outfielder Teoscar Hernández -- do they have enough to catch the champs, who last year won the AL West by 16 games?

“I believe we do,” Servais said. “It doesn't mean I don't want to add to it. Every team is going to continue to try to add, whether it's role players or different guys who can add something to your lineup. Really, what we're talking about is offensively for us -- it’s more consistent [offense], is what we're looking for. I feel good about our team. I like the moves we made so far. Teams are going to continue to make moves this offseason, but the games are played in April. They're not played in January or December.”

The Mariners arrived at the Winter Meetings having addressed two big needs, and though they’d like to add another impact bat -- corner outfield is the clearest fit -- how they orchestrate that acquisition could be the difference between their lineup going from improved to daunting.

Seattle has long coveted Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, a 2021 All-Star who hit 51 homers combined the past two years, but sources have said throughout the offseason that Pittsburgh went from a sky-high asking price to not fielding offers at all on the switch-hitter, instead opting to build around him.

However, Reynolds recently requested a trade, which could perhaps motivate the club to move him. Even so, the cost would be massive, and after the Mariners graduated their best prospects to the Majors or used them in trades, their prospect capital isn’t as valuable as it once was -- and perhaps not enough for Reynolds.

The Cubs made 2022 All-Star Ian Happ available at last season’s Trade Deadline, but the asking price was so steep that he stayed put. Now, the Cubs have reportedly shifted their focus to extending Happ.

Oakland’s Ramón Laureano is an intriguing option, but his best attribute (defense) has experienced a steady decline and he bats right-handed. Japanese free agent Masataka Yoshida, a left-handed hitter, is another interesting option, one who crushed Nippon Professional Baseball pitching for .335/.447/.561 (1.008 OPS) worth of production last year, with 21 homers, and the Mariners have a long history of success with Japanese players who make the leap to MLB.

“I think there's still a lot of really good players out there in free agency,” Servais said. “I think how we're wired, we're always looking to make trades and upgrade. So now it's a point of looking at the combination of pieces.

“I think one thing that served us really well last year, we're really versatile. A number of guys can play different positions, which really helps me when you're putting lineups together and trying to keep guys fresh. If there's somebody that can play some outfield, play some first base to help out if Ty France needs a break, things like that, looking to help there.”

The Astros lost free agent Justin Verlander to the Mets on Monday, but their lineup already received an upgrade by adding 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu at first base. They’re also meeting with three-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras in the coming days, firmly with their foot on the gas in win-now mode. The Rangers gave a Texas-sized contract to Jacob deGrom at $185 million and say they’re not done.

Seattle’s surroundings are getting better -- and the club recognizes the need to keep improving.

“We extended Luis Castillo in September and were out ahead of it a little bit there,” Servais said. “[Julio Rodríguez] is locked up for quite a while. So we've been out ahead of some of those things, but the division is going to be very competitive. To get deeper in the playoffs, you've got to go through Houston. I talked about it in the last playoffs -- you have to go through Houston.”