Presumably, all Major League Baseball teams do it. Not all MLB teams have their President/CEO caught on a video recording proclaiming their team does it to an audience on Zoom. But that was exactly what happened to the Seattle Mariners when audio of President and CEO, Kevin Mather, was leaked over the weekend, leading to Mather’s resignation on Monday. The infraction? The thing all teams do? Willingly manipulate the service time of the team’s top prospects.
Among the comments delivered to the Bellevue, Washington Breakfast Rotary Club in an online meeting on February 5th, Mather made it clear that top prospects Jared Kelenic and Logan Gilbert would remain in Tacoma for the beginning of the season in order to stretch the six-year team control into a seventh season. He complained that Kelenic had refused to sign a long-term deal. Maybe Kelenic learned something from the incredibly cheap contracts the Atlanta Braves gave Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies?
If screwing over top prospects by manipulating their service time isn’t enough, Mather didn’t mind playing fast and loose with xenophobia and miserliness. For instance, on outfield prospect, “Julio Rodriguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous.” Or on the subject of Hisashi Iwakuma’s translator, “And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better when we told him that.”
Finally, he characterized long time third baseman, Kyle Seager, as “overpaid.” Seager is in the final year of a seven year $100M contract, an average annual salary that seems absurdly low by today’s standards. He will earn $18M this season. There is a club option for 2022.
The national media has focused mostly on the more xenophobic comments about a Dominican player and a Japanese player who may not be fluent in English. Also, one cannot help but be impressed by Scrooge Mather being bent out of shape by needing to pay $75K for a translator. But what Mariners fans who have not seen their team in the postseason since 2000, should be incensed about is the callous disregard for putting the best possible team on the field in order to maybe, maybe get another season of control SEVEN years from now.
In the COVID shortened 2020 season, with a ridiculously expanded playoffs, a season that saw two ballclubs make the post season with losing records, the Mariners trotted out an outfield consisting primarily of Kyle Lewis, who did win Rookie of the Year, Jose Marmolejos, and Phil Ervin, while Kelenic and Rodriguez played in Tacoma. Had the Mariners won three more games in 2020, the playoff drought would be over, young players would be coming into 2021 with big league experience, and a new culture of winning might have taken hold. The subtraction of Marmolejos and Ervin and the addition of Kelenic and Rodriguez might have reached those ends.
The counter argument is that the M’s weren’t going to a World Series. The pitching wasn’t very good. And the future is bright. But Mariners fans have been waiting for the “future” for twenty years. So, even though Mather is gone, and ownership has said all the correct things about why he is gone, fans in Seattle are left to wonder whether the team really cares about winning. But think about how awesome it will be to still have Kelenic and Rodriguez on rookie deals in 2028.