As of Monday, Kevin Mather was president and CEO of a major league team with two dubious distinctions. His franchise, the Seattle Mariners, is pitiful, both currently and historically. It is the only team that never made it to the World Series and has the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports.
The Mariners have gone 19 straight seasons without making the playoffs, and they plan to make 20. We know this because Mather told the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club this month in a surprisingly frank conversation that has cost him his job.
Mather resigned Monday, an inevitable step after he stoked tensions with the players by confirming some of the union’s top complaints with owners. Making the playoffs in 2021, Mather told the Rotary Club, was “probably overkill,” but the team wouldn’t be promoting its top minor league prospects on opening day, essentially an admission that the team was manipulating their playing time. service by keeping players in the minors longer than necessary.
Mather also hinted at the kind of groupthink among owners that has largely broken trust in the players’ union.
“The industry lost $ 2.9 billion,” he said, referring to the 2020 season that was played in the middle of the pandemic, “and before any of you make faces: No, nobody cares that wealthy homeowners lose money. But we lost $ 2.9 billion last year, and we took the position that there are still 180 unsigned free agents left on February 5, and sooner or later these players will turn around and come with hat in hand. looking for a contract. “
The union’s collective bargaining agreement with the owners expires after the 2021 season. The management handed him a gun, and the players union happily handled it in a statement:
“The club’s video presentation is a very disturbing but critically important window on how the players are actually viewed by management. Not only because of what was said, but also because it represents an unfiltered look at the club’s thinking. It’s offensive, and it’s no wonder fans and other people in the game are offended as well. Players remain committed to tackling these issues at the negotiating table and elsewhere. “
Mather’s outspokenness extended to individual players. While he offered plenty of compliments, he said third baseman Kyle Seager was “probably overpaid” and would probably not return next season; left-handed starter Marco Gonzales was “very boring”; and the Julio Rodríguez gardens prospect, who is from the Dominican Republic, “is noisy, his English is not tremendous.”
Mather also poked fun at the English skills of former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who is from Japan and now works for the team: “I’m tired of paying your interpreter. When he was a player, we paid Iwakuma X, but we also had to pay $ 75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly improved; His English improved when we told him that. “
Rodríguez, who is 20 years old and speaks English well, replied on Twitter with a meme from “The Last Dance”, the Michael Jordan documentary. Rodríguez stuck his face to Jordan’s with the legend: “… and I took it personally.”
In a video conference with reporters, Mariners president John Stanton did not defend himself against Mather’s comments and said they did not reflect the organization’s beliefs. He said players’ movements were up to general manager Jerry Dipoto, not Mather.
“Jerry and the baseball team he leads make the decisions about when to call up the players,” Stanton said. “Frankly, they weren’t decisions made by Kevin.”
While that’s technically true, Mather’s elevated position obviously gave him great influence on team politics. He revealed that the team had made a long-term contract offer to outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and said Kelenic was upset that Baseball America ranked him the fourth-best prospect in the majors, one place behind Rodriguez.
“He thinks after six years, he’ll be such a star player that the seventh, eighth, ninth-year options will be undervalued,” Mather said of Kelenic. “He could be right.”
Mather was more charitable in his views on first baseman Evan White, who signed a long-term deal, despite the union’s objection, Mather added, and was promoted for opening day last July. Meanwhile, with Kelenic, Mather said the team wanted him to do Class AAA at-bats “for a month,” which would effectively set his service clock back enough to give the team an additional year of control before his agency free.
Similarly, Mather praised prospect Logan Gilbert as a “first-rotation pitcher,” but said he “won’t see him on April 1, but in mid-April.” And while the Mariners had several top prospects at their alternate training site last season, Mather said he had a better chance of being called up to the majors than they did.
“There was no chance that you would see these young players at T-Mobile Park,” he said. “We weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster, we weren’t going to start the duty time clock.”
League players like Anthony Rizzo, the veteran first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, weren’t surprised.
“Being in this game, you know what he said is true, about 99.9 percent, it happens, it just isn’t there and it’s not being said,” Rizzo told reporters. “There are stories written on it, but there are teams that manipulate the service time. There are teams that do it all the time. For him to come out and say that, it’s quite annoying and frustrating for us as players, but it’s not that we don’t know anything about what he said. It’s just that he says that, well, I’m happy that he’s in the audience now and people are seeing that he’s like this. “
Negotiations on a new collective agreement will be a battle, Rizzo said, but that too is an open secret. As Mather also told the Rotary Club: “There is currently a high level of mistrust between the union and management, and I am very concerned about what is to come in the future.”