The Mariners are in damage-control mode following CEO Kevin Mather’s resignation in the wake of a bizarre video interview that brought considerable backlash on the organization. General manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais called the entire situation “embarrassing” when meeting with the Seattle media this week (link via The Athletic’s Corey Brock). Dipoto sought to distance the organization from Mather’s comments, repeatedly emphasizing that Mather was just one individual and that his views were not shared throughout the organization.
Mather, of course, not only all but admitted to service-time manipulation of the organization’s top prospects but also called Marco Gonzales “boring,” said Kyle Seager was “overpaid” and in his last season as a Mariner — it’s not clear whether Seager expected to return after the conclusion of his current contract — and made disparaging comments about being required to pay translators for Japanese players while also slamming top prospect Julio Rodriguez’s English-speaking skills in unprompted fashion (among many other bizarre and at-times troubling comments).
Mather indicated within his interview that top outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic rejected a long-term contract offer, and he only narrowly stopped short of plainly stating the manner in which they planned to delay his MLB debut to gain an extra year of team control. Mather stated that Kelenic would not be on the Opening Day roster, regardless of spring performance, but that he’d be in the Majors by the end of April. It’s true that most teams do this, but public admission of this nature is fuel for a grievance from the MLBPA and only further fans the flames in the looming collective bargaining talks.
Unsurprisingly, Mather’s comments didn’t sit well with Kelenic’s camp. Agent Brodie Scoffield and Kelenic himself spoke to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale yesterday, and both parties indicated that Kelenic would’ve been in the Majors last year had he been willing to sign the extension offer put forth by the Mariners prior to the 2020 season.
Scoffield told Nightengale it was “made crystal clear to Jarred” that the decision to keep him at the Mariners’ alternate training site for the 2020 season was driven by service time. “There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues,” said Scoffield. Kelenic himself agreed, saying it was the “God’s honest truth” that fact was communicated to him multiple times. “It got old,” said Kelenic.
While Dipoto clearly wanted to distance himself from as much of Mather’s commentary as possible, he pushed back on the notion that the Mariners have set out to deliberately game the service-time mechanism.
“I’m not sure how you construe service-time manipulation with a 21-year-old who has played 20 games above A ball and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player,” said the GM. That’s a rather dubious assertion, however. First and foremost, using games played is a clearly flawed benchmark following a year in which zero minor league games took place. Secondly, Mather’s blunt acknowledgment that Kelenic would not open the year with the Mariners but would be up in late April only further underscores the service-time element of the situation.
Despite all the negative attention surrounding the situation and his palpable frustration, Kelenic emphasized to Nightengale that he is wholly committed to the Mariners organization. Citing a love of the fans, the city of Seattle and his teammates, Kelenic said: “If anything, I’m more motivated to bring a World Series championship to Seattle.”
It should also be stressed that the door on a potential extension with the Mariners isn’t closed as a result of this public unpleasantness. Scoffield tells MLBTR that he and Kelenic would still listen to new proposals from the Mariners, should they want to put together another offer. Whether a middle ground can ultimately be reached can’t be known at this time, but at the very least Mariners fans should be heartened that the relationship by no means appears fractured.
Specifics of the Mariners’ original proposal aren’t known, but not all contracts for pre-MLB players are created equal. Kelenic’s teammate, Evan White, inked a six-year, $24MM deal before making his debut — a very similar pact to the one signed by Philadelphia’s Scott Kingery. White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez and center fielder Luis Robert, on the other hand, signed six-year pacts worth $43MM and $50MM, respectively, before making their own debuts.
The question for the Mariners now is whether they’ll try for a new deal, stay the course by keeping Kelenic in Triple-A to open the season, or bite the bullet and carry him on the Opening Day roster even without a long-term deal in place. Calling him to the Majors shortly after his service time has been sufficiently held down would be, after all of this attention, one of the more brazen examples of service manipulation in recent memory. Kelenic already spoke to Nightengale of how the now-former CEO’s comments “widened the gap” between the front office and the locker room, adding that Dipoto’s attempt to smooth things over with the players was “strange” and not particularly well-received.
It’s an ugly situation all-around. However, while Gonzales acknowledged to Brock that Mather’s words were “hurtful and personal” for a lot of the clubhouse, himself included, there could in some ways have a unifying effect on the clubhouse. “Sometimes common goals can unite you,” said Gonzales. “…Sometimes a common enemy can do the same, if not greater.”