The Seattle Mariners franchise has made waves the past week, but not in a good way. Now-former club president Kevin Mather made a fool of himself while talking for upward of 45 minutes to a Seattle-area rotary club and the video leaked online last weekend. Among the many issues with his comments were him straight-up admitting — and freely discussing — service-time manipulation. Mather has since resigned, but the aftermath lingers.
The latest? Top prospect Jarred Kelenic believes the club has been punishing him for not signing a club-friendly contract extension. Via his agent to USA Today:
“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,” said Brodie Scoffield, who represents Kelenic. “It was made crystal clear to Jarred — then and now — that his decision not to call him up is based on service time.
“There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues.”
From Kelenic himself (also to USA Today):
“It wasn’t just communicated one time to me. It was told to me several times. That’s the God’s honest truth. It got old.”
Now, this situation isn’t anything like the now-famous Padres extension with Fernando Tatis Jr. Kelenic hasn’t played above Double-A. No, instead, the most likely offer was probably somewhere in the ballpark of what the White Sox have given outfielders Eloy Jimenez (six years, $43 million) and Luis Robert (six years, $50 million) before the respective debuts of either.
Kelenic, 21, was the Mets’ first-round pick in 2018 out of high school and was dealt to the Mariners in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal. He played 117 games in 2019 between Class A, Class A-Advanced and Double-A, hitting .291/.364/.540 with 31 doubles, five triples, 23 homers, 68 RBI, 80 runs and 20 steals.
Kelenic is widely considered a top-five prospect in baseball. Last November, our CBS Sports prospect expert R.J. Anderson wrote the following on him:
Kelenic probably would’ve made his big-league debut in 2020 with a normal season. Alas, he’ll have to wait until 2021. Kelenic has the means to make up for lost time; he’s an advanced hitter who should contribute across the triple-slash categories. He has a simple, in-control swing that nonetheless permits him to generate easy, above-average power. Kelenic isn’t going to win a Gold Glove in center field, in all likelihood, but he’s playable there and may improve. As an added bonus, he should be able to steal a handful (or two) of bases a year as well.
Despite the departure of Mather, the Mariners’ front office, specifically general manager Jerry Dipoto, denies holding Kelenic back for anything other than baseball reasons. Again, via USA Today:
“I’m not sure how you construe a service-time manipulation with a 21-year old player who has played (21) games above A-ball,” Dipoto said on a Zoom call, “and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player. That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues that hasn’t happened in three decades (since Alex Rodriguez in 1994).
“While Jarred is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure that he has checked off the boxes in development because it’s incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners, but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic to make sure he has been fully developed.”
Mather did discuss Kelenic’s decision to turn down the Mariners offer in his rotary club Zoom call, saying the Mariners offered “substantial money” but “in his words, he’s going to bet on himself.”
Regardless of Dipoto’s salient points here, the ballclub has now lost the benefit of the doubt. As noted, the aftermath of Mather’s comments linger and we’re all left believing that Kelenic and his agent have legitimate beef.