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
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. It’s quite possible league officials may also have a few words with Mather considering how he discussed such topics as prospect service time, in regards to how 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 pre-career 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.”
Mather is very optimistic about his team’s core of young talent and he believes “we’re on the verge of something special” as the Mariners approach the end of their rebuild. While Mather repeatedly praised his players during the speech, his overall breakdown of Seattle’s roster carried more than a few awkward moments. Mather continually referred to catcher Luis Torrens as “Luis Torres,” he described longtime third baseman Kyle Seager as “probably overpaid” while also citing Seager’s clubhouse leadership, and (in particularly problematic fashion) mentioned how star prospect Julio Rodriguez and former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma reportedly have or had difficulties speaking English, complaining about the cost of paying for a Japanese interpreter for Iwakuma. Rodriguez has already responded to Mather’s comments with a pair of pointed tweets.
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.