On Wednesday morning, Bob Nightengale of USA Today published a story detailing the frustrations Jarred Kelenic and his camp have had with the Mariners over the past year and change.
A little over a year ago, Kelenic and his agents, Brodie Scoffield and Chris Amezquita, engaged in contract extension talks with the Mariners, a timeline confirmed by Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Those talks didn’t lead to a deal, Kelenic instead electing to bet on himself and his future. Suffice to say had he signed the deal, the Mariners would have had him playing in T-Mobile Park in 2020. Instead, he stayed at the Alternate Training Site to “further his development”.
Scoffield believes Kelenic’s service clock was manipulated throughout the entire 2020 season. After all, Kevin Mather’s comments entirely aside, if the team was willing to sign him to an extension last offseason, they clearly believed he was ready, or at least close to it, to contribute at the big league level.
“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.”
That’s unequivocally true. Had Kelenic signed that deal, the Mariners would have had no reason to keep him at the Alternate Training Site. It’s essentially the exact same circumstance as Evan White from a year ago.
But Kelenic didn’t sign the deal. And because of that, he didn’t debut. And he was certainly made aware of where he could have been last season.
Said Kelenic, who spent last year in the Mariners’ alternate camp: “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.’’
Was service time manipulation taking place in 2020? If you believe Kelenic was one of the three or four best outfielders in the organization, then the answer is probably yes. As a reminder the Mariners’ outfielder in 2020 consisted of Kyle Lewis,
outfielder José Marmolejos, the faint wisp of Mitch Haniger cologne, and a hodgepodge of infielders and castaways scuffing up their pants.
“I was extremely disappointed,’’ Kelenic said. “I worked extremely hard all offseason. And last year, here you have a team that is one game out of the playoffs going into the last weeks of the season. I know for a fact I could have helped that team out. Not just me, but there are other guys who could have helped that team out.
“Not to be given that opportunity was so beyond frustrating. I feel that guys should be rewarded for their play, and have the best guys on the field, especially when you talk about a team that hasn’t gone to the playoffs in 20 years, and your best prospects are just sitting there watching.’’
Service time and the arbitration system are broken. It incentivizes teams to keep players down in the minor leagues longer than they need to be. If you want to consistently field the best 25-man roster you can, this system inhibits teams from genuinely doing so. Jarred Kelenic is next in line with the Kris Bryants and Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s of the world. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last.
Mather’s comments entirely aside, Jerry Dipoto has been consistent in his rhetoric surrounding Kelenic, and to be entirely fair, there are justifiable reasons to allow his development to continue.
“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).
Whether Dipoto genuinely feels this way or not, his cards were exposed with the contract extension leak, as well as Kelenic’s quotes. That’s out there now. We know the team believed enough in Kelenic to get him to the big leagues in 2020.
As far as 2021 goes, the pressure probably falls at the feet of the Mariners front office right now. There will be calls for Kelenic to open the year in left field at T-Mobile Park. But Kelenic will still have to prove over the course of spring training that he’ll be so good immediately that three weeks of AAA-ball wouldn’t benefit him.