Peoria, Ariz. — Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais stood in front of his team Thursday for his daily meeting and asked, “Where’s the new guy?”
It’s a wonder half the room didn’t stand up and say, “Right here.”
On this day, this particular new guy was Chase De Jong who arrived in Seattle Mariners spring camp that morning as the bounty of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s 14th trade since the last baseball season ended. De Jong, a 23-year-old pitcher who came from the Dodgers, raised his hand and said, “Here I am.”
In a room full of new faces, he’s the newest but he’s hardly alone. Dipoto’s 14 deals are a record for any offseason in the last 20 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nobody else in baseball made more than eight this offseason.
The result is a 40-man roster for the Mariners that looks drastically different than it did just five months ago. Of those 40 men on Seattle’s roster today, 18 of them were in a different organization last year. That includes some bigger names, like Jean Segura, Drew Smyly, Jarrod Dyson and Yovani Gallardo, all of whom figure to be an integral part of the team in 2017, and some younger players such as De Jong, Zac Curtis and Shae Simmons.
So when the Mariners got together for the first time this season, it was as much like the first day of school as it was the first day of baseball. Sure, the stars were still there — Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, but around them was a room of new faces.
That doesn’t mean just getting to know each other on the baseball field, but off it too. Baseball players spend long days together for eight months of the year. Nine if they’re good enough. So turning over half your roster also creates a human resources challenge, how do you bring all these new personalities together?
“It makes it a little easier with this many new guys because there are a lot of guys in the same boat as you,” says Chris Heston, the 28-year-old pitcher acquired in a December trade with the Giants.
Better to be one of the 18 news guys than one of three new guys, right?
“If you’re the only one,” says Gallardo, the veteran pitcher acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in a January trade, “it makes a little tougher.”
Having so many new people has meant the Mariners have gone to extra lengths this spring to get to know each other. The pitchers went out to Escape The Room, one of those use-your-brains-to-escape type of attractions that are popular these days. Veterans on the team have been sure to organize dinners.
“You need to know your teammates,” says Robinson Cano, the team’s star second baseman, fingered by teammates as one of the guys who has tried to facilitate some team building. “You want to know who you have and where they come from. As one of the leaders of the team, I just want to make sure we have good chemistry and we get along.”
A post shared by Edwin Sugar Diaz???? (@sugardiaz44) on Feb 22, 2017 at 2:37pm PST
Players initiate some things, but the coaching staff does too. In his morning meetings, Servais frequently brings up one of the younger players on the Mariners roster and has him introduce himself to his teammates. He’ll talk about where he’s from, what his hidden talents are, things like that. It’s a pretty standard team-building exercise that happens at professional conferences and retreats, but it works in baseball clubhouses too.
That’s how Tyler O’Neill, the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect this season, recently found himself playing the “Lord of the Rings” theme song on a keyboard in the middle of the clubhouse. He mentioned his talent during his get-to-know-me session and, a week later, was giving a performance.
Beyond the orchestrated moments, getting to know the new Mariners also just takes an everyday effort to be social. Same as any workplace.
“If you’re at breakfast and or lunch, sit down at a table where you don’t know the guys and shoot up a conversation,” says relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, who signed with the M’s as a free agent.
“Seems like Jerry did a good job,” Rzepczynski says. “We’re having a lot of fun and the team is doing well.”
It’s a small sample, but the Mariners are 5-2 this spring after a loss to the Texas Rangers on Friday. In the loss, new guy Mitch Haniger homered and new guy Jarrod Dyson had an RBI triple. Score two for the new guys.
The newest guy, De Jong, he’s still getting comfortable with the Mariners but knows that will subside soon enough.
“At our core, we’re all ball players,” he said. “We all come from similar walks of life. We’ve all been playing this game for a while. There are common denominators between everybody in here and you just gotta do the communicating to figure that out.”
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –