FEB. 22, 3:02pm: Mather has resigned, Divish was among those to tweet. As part of a statement regarding Mather’s resignation, Mariners chairman John Stanton said: “There is no excuse for what was said, and I won’t try to make one. I offer my sincere apology on behalf of the club and my partners to our players and fans. We must be, and do, better. We have a lot of work to do to make amends.” Stanton added that he’ll serve as acting president/CEO until the team finds a permanent replacement for Mather.
2:17pm: The MLB Players Association has released a statement about Mather: “The Club’s video presentation is a highly disturbing yet critically important window into how Players are genuinely viewed by management. Not just because of what was said, but also because it represents an unfiltered look into Club thinking. It is offensive, and it is not surprising that fans and others around the game are offended as well. Players remain committed to confronting these issues at the bargaining table and elsewhere.”
FEB. 21, 10:20PM: Mather issued a public apology, stating “I want to apologize to every member of the Seattle Mariners organization, especially our players and to our fans. There is no excuse for my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my terrible lapse in judgement. My comments were my own. They do not reflect the views and strategy of the Mariners baseball leadership who are responsible for decisions about the development and status of the players at all levels of the organization.
“I’ve been on the phone most of the day today apologizing to the many people I have insulted, hurt, or disappointed in speaking at a recent online event. I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have caused to the Seattle Mariners organization.”
7:25PM: In a video speech given to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club on February 5, Mariners president/CEO Kevin Mather discussed a number of topics surrounding his team and the upcoming season at large. The speech was posted to YouTube earlier today and later removed, though not before several outlets (including Grant Bronsdon and Kate Preusser of the Lookout Landing blog and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times) took note of several eyebrow-raising statements made by the Seattle executive.
Speaking with an unusual (and rather shocking) amount of openness, Mather made multiple comments that are sure to gain the attention of Mariners fans, players, and the players’ union. The most problematic remarks concerned how star prospect Julio Rodriguez and former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma reportedly have or had difficulties speaking English. Asked to tell attendees about Rodriguez, Mather began with, “Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud, his English is not tremendous.” Rodriguez has already responded to Mather’s comments with a pair of pointed tweets.
In response to a separate question, Mather went on a tangent about Iwakuma, saying:
“For instance, we just re-hired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, he came to us, we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training. And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better, his English got better when we told him that!”
While Mather also praised Rodriguez, Iwakuma, and other players during the speech, his overall breakdown of Seattle’s roster carried more than a few awkward moments. For instance, Mather continually referred to catcher Luis Torrens as “Luis Torres,” and he described longtime third baseman Kyle Seager as “probably overpaid” while also citing Seager’s clubhouse leadership.
It’s quite possible league officials may also have a few words with Mather considering how he discussed such topics as prospect service time, noting that the Mariners didn’t intend to promote any of the top prospects working out at their alternate training camp last summer.
“There was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park,” Mather said. “We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster, we weren’t going to start the service time clock. There were all kinds of reasons that, if we had an injury problem or COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our prospects playing in T-Mobile Park.”
It isn’t any surprise that the Mariners or any other team are looking to gain as much extra team control as possible over their young players, with this tactic most often manifesting itself in a prospect’s debut being delayed just long enough so the club can gain an extra year of control over the player, or delay their chances of reaching Super Two eligibility (and another year of arbitration). Front office executives couch these decisions under a nebulous guise of saying that a prospect needs more seasoning in one aspect or another of his game, with the prospect suddenly being ready as soon as the service time threshold has been passed. The MLBPA was already expected to pursue ways of addressing this loophole during the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations, and Mather’s comments figure to be the union’s clearest evidence yet that teams are engaging in service-time machinations.
This coming spring, Mather implied that both star outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic and pitching prospect Logan Gilbert would have their debuts delayed. “We would like [Kelenic] to get a few more at-bats in the minor leagues,” Mather said. “Probably Triple-A Tacoma for a month, and then he will likely be in left field at T-Mobile Park for the next six or seven years.” As for Gilbert, “you won’t see him on April 1st, but by mid-April” he will be on Seattle’s active roster.
Kelenic was offered a contract extension of six years in length, Mather said, plus multiple years of club options. This has been the standard model for most teams when making long-term deals with players who have yet to debut in the big leagues, and the Mariners reached such a deal themselves with Evan White back in November 2019.
Mather didn’t seem to have any hard feelings about Kelenic’s decision to reject the offer, and he also gave credit to White for taking an extension, saying the first baseman “took a lot of heat for signing that deal, the union really pushed back and said, ’don’t do it.’ ” Mather added that the Mariners will continue to offer similar extensions “to…three or four more players…over the next two years,” saying “we’re eager to sign these players up [and] we’re willing to take that risk. Some we’ll win on, some we’ll lose on.”
Mather also made some candid comments about Seattle’s pursuit of free agent pitching, as his speech took place before the team signed James Paxton. The CEO mentioned that the Mariners were in talks with both Paxton and Taijuan Walker, noting that Walker “thinks he’s going to get a three-year deal. I don’t think he’s going to get a three-year deal.” As it turned out, Walker essentially did get a three-year contract from the Mets in the form of a two-year pact with a player option for 2023 that will pay Walker at least $20MM in guaranteed money and potentially as much as $25.5MM.
Speaking of the free agent market in general, Mather said that Major League Baseball “lost $2.9 billion last year, and we have taken the position that there are 180 free agents still out there on February 5 unsigned, and sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over and come with hat in hand, looking for a contract.”
In terms of the season itself, Mather said he was “embarrassed” that Spring Training was beginning as scheduled, and that the league and players couldn’t come to an agreement on delaying both spring camp and the season itself by a month. “There is a high level of distrust between the union and the management currently, and I’m very worried about what’s coming in the future,” Mather said. The Mariners are hoping to have a “small” number of fans in attendance to begin the season and then gradually increase to nearer to full capacity by September, but Mather said that the situation will all depend on local health officials and the state of the pandemic.