Jarred Kelenic is frustrated, but the Mariners say they have stuck to their plan

Jarred Kelenic shared his frustration with the Mariners’ handling of USA Today. (Getty)

On Sunday, the MLB Players Association addressed comments made by now-former Mariners team president Kevin Mather in a statement. posted on social media.

On Wednesday, it was Jarred Kelenic, the top-ranked Mariners prospect, who finds himself in the middle of a problem that will be at the forefront of the upcoming collective agreement negotiations between MLB and MLBPA, who spoke alongside his agent Brodie Scoffield. in an interview with USA Today.

What is at stake is the Mariners’ decision not to call the 21-year-old to the majors in 2020 and the reasons given by Mather in his now infamous speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club that hinted at the manipulation of service time.

Kelenic, a No. 1 outfielder in the Mariners ‘farm system in MLB Pipeline, was among a group of 15 prospects who were assigned to the Mariners’ alternate training site in Tacoma last year. Teams were allowed to keep a pool of 30 active players on these sites to be available in case the Major League team needed them. According to Mather’s comments, prospects like Kelenic and pitcher Logan Gilbert were there to continue their development work, not to be available to the Major League Baseball club should the need arise.

“We brought in 18, 19, 20 year old kids who would never have seen T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium if it weren’t for COVID,” Mather said. “As devastating as 2020 was for player development and improvement, we took a chance and brought in kids, our high-level prospects, and we really got to know them. They received high-level instruction in Tacoma.

“The risk was that if our Major League team had had a COVID outbreak or injuries, and we had to call the people from the taxi squad, we were a little short on players because there was no chance that you would see these. young gamers at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man list. We weren’t going to start the service clock. There were all kinds of reasons why, if we had an injury problem or a COVID outbreak, they might have seen my big belly in left field. You wouldn’t have seen our young players, our prospects, play at T-Mobile Park. The risk was worth it. “

With the 2020 minor league season canceled, the Mariners and other clubs added prospects to their rosters of alternate sites to make them work. The Seattle group included Kelenic, Gilbert, Julio Rodríguez, Noelvi Marte (who had yet to play a game in the United States), George Kirby (who had been under strict restrictions in New York during the shutdown) and three draft picks from 2020, including first-round Emerson. Hancock.

Finding space for their prized prospects to land jobs seemed like a worthy priority, and the Mariners weren’t the only ones doing it. But saying the words that they wouldn’t see the big leagues, that’s a different matter. For those who were far from the seniors, that made sense. Kelenic, who was closer, saw it differently.

“I was very disappointed,” Kelenic told USA Today. “I worked very hard throughout the offseason. And last year, here is a team that is one game away from the playoffs in the final weeks of the season. I know for a fact that I could have helped that team. Not just me, but there are other guys who could have helped that team.

“Not having that opportunity was more than frustrating. I feel like the guys should be rewarded for their game and have the best on the field, especially when it comes to a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 20 years, and their best prospects are sitting there watching. “

Personally, a bigger issue for Kelenic is his belief that he would have been called up last year if he had signed a long-term deal with the Mariners, but he has yet to do so because the team can guarantee a full six years of club control in your current contract. waiting until the end of April to start its service clock. In Mather’s talk on Rotary, he described the proposed deal as a “six-year deal for substantial money with options to go further.”

“Jarred was told that if he had signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,” Scoffield told USA Today. “It was very clear to Jarred, then and now, that their decision not to call him is based on length of service.

“There is no question that if he had signed that contract, he would have been in the majors.”

Before COVID hit, there was little doubt that Kelenic would have been in the majors at some point in 2020; at worst, a September call, at best perhaps mid-May or June. As it was, the MLB season was limited to 60 games with Kelenic assigned to the alternate site, where, as he told USA Today, he was frequently reminded of what perhaps he could have been.

“They didn’t tell me just once. They told me several times. That is the honest truth of God. He got old, ”he said in reference to being called to the majors if he signed an extension.

When Mariners manager Jerry Dipoto met with the media Tuesday morning, the day before the USA Today article was published, he declined to discuss the contract offer, saying it was unfortunate that be made public and that any discussion about contracts between the Mariners and their players. it must remain among them. Kelenic’s development plan? That is another matter.

“This is not a scenario where we haven’t talked to Jarred Kelenic about his development, and he could say the same about Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh,” Dipoto said. “We are very open in the way we talk to our players and tell the truth, and sometimes they like it and sometimes they don’t. All of our players know what their path is, what their development plan is like and we are very direct in how we share it.

“Jarred Kelenic has played 21 games above A-ball. He is 21 years old, he is already on the fast track. Whether or not we offered you the contract is irrelevant to your pattern of development. We have the desire to fully develop our players. We are not going to do anything unprecedented that drives the development of a young player to the point where we feel that he is not ready for an opportunity and that it goes beyond the physical part and what he might see in a spreadsheet. “

Dipoto went on to explain his opinion that the Mariners’ handling of Kelenic has not been an example of manipulation of his service time.

“We have talked about Jarred Kelenic in this light for some time and I am not sure how a manipulation of serve time could be interpreted with a 21-year-old who has played 21 games above the A-ball and has yet to achieve. 800 plate appearances as a professional player, ”he said. “That would be an unprecedented run to the major leagues for a high school recruit. That hasn’t happened in three decades, and while Jarred is a tremendously talented player, we want to make sure he’s checked the boxes in development because it’s incumbent on us not just for the Mariners’ sake, but also for Jarred Kelenic’s benefit to make sure it’s fully developed and do the best we can. “

For reference, Kelenic has accumulated 92 plate appearances in 21 games over High-A. Mike Trout played 91 games over High-A with 412 plate appearances prior to his MLB debut, and Bryce Harper had 37 games and 147 plate appearances. Indeed an elite company, although Kelenic is expected to be elite. As such, he has never been shy about sharing his faith in himself like he did last month in a press session.

“If you asked me last year if I felt like I was ready to be in the big leagues, I would have said yes, but I would have told you I was ready two years ago,” Kelenic said then with a slight smile. . “It is a moot point. This year it will be the same mindset and hopefully get a spot on the list and help the team win. “

However, it appeared that there were no faint smiles during her interview for the USA Today article. While Kelenic is not directly quoted as saying that, Kelenic is supposed to feel like he was being punished for not signing the Mariners’ deal. If he had signed the extension last offseason, he and his agent claim they would not have left him at the alternate site.

This is most likely true, but not on grounds of punishment.

In 2020, everything changed dramatically. Because the regular 162-game season has been reduced to 60, each day of duty counted as roughly 3.5 days in a typical year. So if Kelenic had signed the contract he was offered, of course he would have been with the Mariners. They would have taken whatever they could get from him because of the situation.

Mather’s comments on the handling of Kelenic and others on the alternate site, as well as the arrival dates of the top prospects, will no doubt be used by the MLBPA as Exhibits A, B, and C in upcoming collective bargaining negotiations. Before that, the Mariners could very well be facing a complaint from the union. If that’s the point, it remains to be seen how Mather’s comments play against Dipoto’s numbers and plan, but one thing’s for sure: the problem in baseball isn’t going away.

It was a surprise not to see the length of service addressed in the previous collective agreement. He will be, and for the sake of the game he should be, front and center this time.

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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