Mariners President Kevin Mather spoke to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club on Feb. 5. What he said started a firestorm on social media on Sunday, and he has since apologized for what he said in the video.
Here is a transcript of the Zoom call following his introduction.
MATHER: Good morning. Thanks for having me back. I can only assume there are fans amongst the BBRC since every spring, either Jerry Dipoto or I come over and give a preview, and the questions this group asks are of the highest quality.
I thought I’d ramble a little bit and then throw it out there and answer your questions. My next meeting is at 10, so as people drop off, I will answer questions until we’re done.
Really three topics, I’m going to touch briefly on 2020 and what the 2020 experience was, briefly tell you what 2021 looks like because my guess is that will change and then end on a high note, I’ll tell you about the team and where we think we are.
2020, a terrible year financially. We played 60 games, no fans. We actually had forest fire smoke was so bad that we ended up playing five of our 30 home games on the road. But I’m reminded of two things. One, no one cares if wealthy sports team owners lose money. Shut up and move on. And No. 2, I’m reminded of a Tiger Woods putt. Those of you that are golfers know what I’m talking about. It’s on a commercial now on television it’s TPC Sawgrass. And Tiger Woods hits this long putt down the hill, and the announcer says, “That’s pretty good.” Long pause, and he says, “Better than most.” And then the putt falls in the hole and the crowd goes crazy. Why do I think of that “Better than most” commercial? It’s because the Mariners, as bad as our year was financially in 2020, we were better than most. And I attribute that to luck. Better lucky than good. It was a low year. We were at the very bottom of our rebuild, step-back cycle, so our payroll was as low as it was going to get, thank goodness. And we also have a television deal with ROOT sports, and we punch well above our weight on the television deal. We had 60 games, and we per game got a lot more than we probably deserved compared to other similar-sized markets. Terrible year financially, but we did better than most of the other professional sports teams.
Second thing and last thing I’ll say about 2020, when we decided to play 60 games, every team was allowed 60 players to bring to summer camp. It was a spring training summer camp. You were going to have 26-28 players on your major league roster, and you were going to have 30-32 players on your taxi squad And the protocols, they got tested every other day. They weren’t in a bubble, but they were in a bubble. And the taxi squad was the same way. They were down in Tacoma at Cheney Stadium, but they were in a bubble and tested every day. We made the decision, when we invited the 60 players, we made the decision to invite 15 prospects. Our top prospects were all in Tacoma. Summer camp was 30 days and then Tacoma was a 60-day practice/exhibition game. We brought 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids who never would have seen T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium if not for COVID. As devastating as 2020 was on player development and getting better, we took a risk and brought kids in, our high-end prospects, and really got to know them. They got high-end instruction in Tacoma. The risk was, if our major league team had had a COVID outbreak, or injuries, and we had to call people up from the taxi squad, we were a little short on players because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park. 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 would have had an injury problem or a COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our young players, our prospects, playing at T-Mobile Park. The risk paid off. We had a great year in development for 15 of our prospects. As the season went on, other general managers around the league realized they missed an opportunity and they went to the commissioner and asked to expand the taxi squads, add 10 more people to the taxi squads. The commissioner pondered it for a few days and concluded it wasn’t worth the risk. So I would like to thank Jerry Dipoto and our baseball department, but on the bright side of 2020, we did better than most of the clubs as far as player development.
Thank goodness 2020 is behind us, let’s move on to 2021. I’m going to end this the same way I started. I’m embarrassed to tell you that spring training starts on Feb. 17. Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona, the state with the highest COVID infection rate in the union, but on Feb. 17, pitchers and catchers will report. There is a new spring training schedule coming out. Don’t buy your plane ticket quite yet. One, the schedule’s going to change, and two, it is not clear that we can have fans in Peoria, Arizona.
Seventy-five players will be invited to spring training. No minor league spring training until the major league team leaves to start the season. So minor league spring training will start in April after the major league team comes to T-Mobile Park. Reduce the risk of infection. Our opening day is April 1 here at T-Mobile Park. We will play a 162-game season, as normal as normal can be. Our interleague opponent is the National League West. There will be no expanded playoffs, no designated hitter in the National League, no seven-inning doubleheaders, no runner on second base in extra innings. Yes, the union and Major League Baseball could not come to an agreement to push the season back. We tried to push the season back a month so that the players would be vaccinated coming out of spring training end of April, start the season in early May, play a 154-game season. We could not come to an agreement, and that I will end 2021’s introduction by saying that is also embarrassing.
Finally, on a high note, I’m going to talk about the team. We think we are in a fantastic spot. We believe the American League West is on its way down. We believe the Mariners are on their way up. This could be a lot of fun for a lot of years. 2021 is probably a stretch as far as making the playoffs, but a few highlights.
At first base, we have Evan White. Gold Glove first baseman. He struggled at the plate last year statistically, but the analytics department will tell you that he is a fantastic hitter, and he hit the ball hard and had a lot of bad luck snakebites last year. He’s going to be a good hitter. Don’t worry about Evan White.
Dylan Moore will be at second base or our utility player, perhaps left field in April. We are trying to sign a second baseman as we speak.
J.P. Crawford is a Gold Glove shortstop.
Kyle Seager, this is probably his last season as a Mariner. He will, and I’ve already told him, he will be a Mariner Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. And last year he seemed to find the Fountain of Youth, had a fantastic year. We expect the same in 2021.
We traded with the Padres last July and picked up a catcher named Luis (Torrens). Luis (Torrens) is a fantastic catcher. He’s young. He’s controllable. And he had such a good breakout with the Seattle Mariners that our minor league catcher of the future, Cal Raleigh, decided to stay. He was going to go home at the end of September, and he decided to stay and go down to Arizona and work in the camp, because he realized that his playing time might be shortchanged by Luis (Torrens).
We picked up Ty France in the Padres trade. Third base/DH/second base/first base.
I really want to get to remind everybody of Mitch Haniger. Mitch Haniger was an All-Star in 2018, was off to a great start in 2019, had a devastating injury, has been out for ’19 and ’20. He is healthy. He is in the best shape of his life. He will be in right field and I have no doubt an All-Star in 2021. Mitch Haniger has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder as we talk about our prospects and these young kids. He’s mentioned more than once, “What about me?”
In center field, we have Kyle Lewis. He was the Rookie of the Year last year. Kyle Lewis is a great human being, and Kyle Lewis will push himself to get better.
On the pitching staff, we have Marco Gonzales signed to a long-term deal. Marco Gonzales is very quietly, very boring, but Marco Gonzales might be the second- or third-best left-handed starter in the American League. He has very quietly put up fantastic numbers.
Justus Sheffield is also a starting pitcher for us. He would have been the Rookie of the Year last year if not for Kyle Lewis taking the award from him. I enjoyed whispering that in his ear as we made a presentation on the field last September.
(Yusei) Kikuchi, our Japanese pitcher, was much better last year. His numbers didn’t show it, but he will be one of our starting pitchers.
We will run a six-man rotation like we did last year, and we are in the process of trying to sign yet another starting pitcher in the next week or so.
We’ve made several additions to our bullpen.
On the minor league side, Jarred Kelenic, we’ve been talking about him for a year and a half now. He will be in left field in April. He’s a 21-year-old player who is quite confident. We offered him a long-term deal, six-year deal for substantial money with options to go farther. And after pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he has turned us down, and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself. He thinks after six years, he’s going to be such a star player that the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-year options will be undervalued. He might be right. He might be right. We offered and he turned us down.
On the mound in April, you won’t see him on April 1, but by mid-April you will see a young man named Logan Gilbert. He’s the real deal. He’s a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and I can’t wait to see him at T-Mobile Park.
I mentioned Cal Raleigh. Cal Raleigh is our catching prospect. He will be here some time in 2021. He’s a switch-hitting catcher that we really think very highly of him, and Luis (Torrens) will probably share the duty for the next six years.
And then finally, in the San Diego trade, we picked up a young man named Taylor Trammell. Taylor Trammell, the first time I met him, I thought he was in the wrong field. He looked like a tight end for the Seahawks. He’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Chiseled. But he’s an outfielder that will be here in 2021, probably back half of the season.
The point of all this is, we have young players, very highly thought of young players that will be here in 2021, and as they learn and grow, we think the back half of 2021 will be better than the front half of 2021. Before I close, prospects. Prospects. We started the step-back plan in August of 2018. We have gathered prospects. It’s been an expensive and I know painful process for our fan base. But we have, in the top 100 Baseball America — now when you’re lousy in your minor leagues, you dismiss Baseball America and say, you know, we’ll see what happens kids change, kids grow up — but since we have six of the top 100, we don’t dismiss it. We speak quite highly of it. There’s 30 teams in baseball, and the Mariners have six of the top 100. I can do the math on that. We’re doing quite well. We actually have two in the top 10. These players arrive in ’21, ’22, ’23, which gets to my point. I think this is going to be a lot of fun for a long time.
We will offer long-term contracts. We did a long-term deal with Marco Gonzales. We did a long-term deal with Evan White. When I say long-term deal, he had not played a game in Major League Baseball, and we signed him to a $24 million contract, overpaying him in Year 1, 2 and 3. Fair in Year 4, 5, and 6. And then, if he’s a superstar, we have the option to exercise and keep him in Years 7, 8, and 9. Weep not for Evan White, but if he’s a superstar, we’re only gonna pay him $15, $16 million a year. On the free agent market, he might get $22, $24 million a year. So we took the risk in the early years, and he took the risk that he’s a superstar in the later years of his contract, and he’s probably underpaid. He took a lot of heat for signing that deal. The union really pushed back and said, “Don’t do it.” But I like Evan White. He’s a nice young man, and he made the comment, he said, “I have $23 million guaranteed. That changes a person’s life. I’m signing the deal. And if I’m good and they pick up my options, I’ll have $55 million guaranteed. That changes my family, my grandkids’ lives.” I like the young man.
We will offer more long-term deals. And there’s a certain pitcher that I won’t mention, who was in the bullpen at T-Mobile Park during our summer camp. And this was reported by one of the coaches. The players were sitting around talking about Evan White and, you know, he made a mistake signing this long-term deal and da-da-da. And this particular pitcher, who is going to be here in 2022, he said, “If somebody offers me $23 million guaranteed, find me a pen as fast as you can. I’m signing.” So we’re going to do that. Our ownership is committed. We’re eager to sign these players up. We’re willing to take that risk. Some we’ll win on, some we’ll lose on, but we’re going to try to get three or four more players signed on these long-term deals over the next two years.
Finally, in closing, I think we’re on the verge of something special. I know our fans have been patient, I know our fans are frustrated. They have stuck with us. They have been loyal, and they deserve a winning team. We’re going to get there. And it’s not going to be a one-year — we’ve got talent stacked up and spread out at various ages and levels in our minor leagues that we think we can consistently win. We also have an ownership group that is committed to winning, and they will spend money. When we need to go get a starting pitcher or a free agent left fielder, we’ll go do that. So we’re very much looking forward to delivering to our fan base.
I’ll close with: the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. Good for them. Fantastic. And they had a heck of a parade. Bob opened with the story of the Twins and the World Series. We had a parade in Minnesota, and when you win a World Series, it’s a month-long process. There’s a best-of-five series, best-of-seven series, best-of-seven series, and it goes for a month. So when we win the World Series, as much as I liked the Seahawks parade and them winning the Super Bowl, that parade will look like a neighborhood Fourth of July parade, because when we win this World Series, we’re going to do it right and I’m looking forward to delivering.
With that, this group always has great questions. Best process if for me to read them or do you want people to just speak up? I’ll do anything you want. I’m available all morning.
(THIS IS WHEN QUESTION ANSWER PERIOD BEGINS.)
QUESTIONS: Kevin, what about getting to go to games? And if people can go to games, are they going to have to wear masks for three or four hours outdoors?
MATHER: It’s a question I don’t know the answer to. We have worked closely with the city, the county, the health officials. The Seahawks tried to get fans for their playoff game. And I told my staff, I said, “Let’s just hold their coat and stay out of this one.” And they were not able to do it. We have designs. Socially-distanced T-Mobile Park will hold 9,870 fans. The real question is, do we have to stay away from the field? Do we have to be back six rows? And those are pods of four. I’m afraid one of the issues the county is going to have us do, at least in April, and perhaps May, is the pod of four has to be from the same household. And how do we enforce that? We’re working closely with the county health officials. Some ballparks will have fans. Texas, Florida, they will have fans. And not as socially distanced as perhaps we will be at T-Mobile Park. The state of California, we don’t think they’re going to have fans all year. So we’re working on it. My best guess is small in April, bigger in May, bigger in June, perhaps big crowds in July, August, and let’s hope in September we’re pushing for a playoff spot and we have big crowds in September. That’s my guess, that it’ll phase in, and my guess is a mask will probably be mandatory in the first half. But that’s all, you know, I’m still hoping to have fans in Arizona. And that’s the end of the month. We wish. We really wish. We talked to the national health officials. I’m not supposed to say his name, but the commissioner talked to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci. And if we could have pushed spring training back a month, Dr. Fauci thought that the players would be vaccinated before they left at the end of April, and we could start early May and have our players vaccinated. We could not come to an agreement on that.
QUESTION: Kevin, what was the players union’s position on why they didn’t want to move back spring training?
MATHER: That’s an interesting question. The players are worried that they won’t get paid. We offered to play 154 games. There would have been some doubleheaders on Saturday, and they would have been seven-inning doubleheaders on Saturdays. Play 154 games, we will pay them for 162 games. We’ll pay them for all of them. There is a chance — the commissioner can cancel the season. He can cancel games, he can cancel the season, he has that authority. Let’s say the South African COVID virus, which is getting people’s attention, that comes to the United States, takes over and we have to shut down. Airplanes are grounded. At that point, the commissioner is going to have to cancel at least a certain number of baseball games. And as he told me the other day, he said, “If we played a 10-game season, and I tell the owners that they have to pay the players for 162 games, I better have my resume updated.” The players wanted guaranteed 162 games and the commissioner basically said that’s a nonstarter. “I can’t take that risk.” 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. Good question. I could go on and get into more details on that.
QUESTION: What are the odds we see (James) Paxton or (Taijuan) Walker?
MATHER: It’s a good question. Paxton has surprisingly not signed. We are of the opinion, the industry lost $2.9 billion dollars, and before any of you make faces — no, nobody cares that rich owners lost money. But we lost $2.9 billion last year, and we have taken the position that there are 180 free agents still out there on Feb. 5 unsigned, and sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over and come hat in hand looking for a contract. We think Walker is one of them. James Paxton made $12.5 million last year, and his agent has told us that he’s going to make more in 2021. Interestingly, we started a conversation with Paxton yesterday, and it is for substantially less than he made (in 2020). There’s a chance. We’re having conversations. And Walker thinks he’s going to get a three-year deal. I don’t think he’s going to get a three-year deal, and there’s a chance he comes back as well. When I said we’re looking to get another starting pitcher, you just named two that we are in the early stages of talking to, but Feb. 17 is fast approaching.
QUESTION: I’m a little confused about the Kelenic kid. My recollection is that he’s a top rookie we’ve got out there, top prospect we have out there, and I’m a little confused about your statements about him earlier. It sounded like he wasn’t happy with contract opportunity long term. Is he in the system, is he going to be in the system, or is, is he actually gone, or going?
MATHER: He’s in our minor league system. He’s only had — in 2019, we promoted him to Double-A. He is a very good player. And quite frankly, we think he’s going to be a superstar. We control his major league career for six years. And after six years, he’ll be a free agent. We would like him to get a few more at-bats in the minor leagues. 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, and then he’ll be a free agent. He won’t commit beyond his free agent years. I wouldn’t say he’s unhappy, he appreciates the offer, he just refused to sign it. He thinks he’s going to be that good. And he thinks he will be a very well-paid player after six years, and I think he might be right. Hopefully with us. But, we’ll see where we end up. He’s not unhappy. I guess I would say he’s unhappy that he hasn’t played at T-Mobile Park, but he thought he should have been in left field at T-Mobile Park three years ago. I mean, he does not lack confidence.
STATEMENT FROM MODERATOR: Kevin, I would like to just close the meeting here before we turn it back over to the group for questions. I’m sure there are going to be more questions. So Kevin thank you for your presentation again today. It’s always interesting to get an update from you on how the favorite team is doing out here. So, in honor of your presentation, and through the generosity of Cashman Consulting and Jeff Cashman, we are donating 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to Harvest Against Hunger.
MATHER: Thank you and thank you for your interest. We really appreciate that there’s an interest out there. We think we’re in a really good spot, and we’re excited about the future. And I’m really looking forward to next spring when I tell you who we signed and how many games we’re gonna win.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks to all the guests who joined us again today for the contribution again to the (inaudible). I know it’s been a tough year for the Mariners, and I think this quote is really appropriate to all of us: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And this is a very famous quote from Yogi Berra, so hopefully the road that we take will be better for all of us, 2021 and beyond. So with that we are adjourned. And I’ll turn it back over to you guys for more questions.
QUESTION: Despite all the obvious trying times in 2020. You shared that one story about the young player saying, “Hey, you know give me $23 million and I’ll sign.” Can you think of any other positive leadership stories that came out of a weird year in a weird season?
MATHER: Marco Gonzales has really taken a leadership role. Good story in 2019, we had a veteran pitcher, that we have since traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks — if you want to figure out who it is — who had a, you know, attitude. He’d been around. He’d been there, done that. And our bullpen coach was talking to the starting pitchers, this was in spring training, he was talking about, you know, when you go out and throw your bullpens, you know, it’s only 20 pitches, let’s make sure it’s quality, and he was giving this speech. And the pitcher who’s no longer with us kind of rolled his eyes and said, ‘Don’t tell me how to throw my bullpens.’ And as the meeting broke up, Marco Gonzales, with the help of a couple bullpen guys, pushed this particular pitcher into the locker and said, ‘Listen, if you want to be a (expletive), be a (expletive), but be a (expletive) quietly.’ And, you know, for a young kid to do that, good for him. Good for him. It’s hard for a pitcher who only performs every fifth or sixth day to take a leadership role, but Marco has really kind of owned that.
Kyle Lewis, for being a rookie, will be a leader in our clubhouse. And I have to compliment, you know Kyle Seager, is a veteran player. He’s probably overpaid, but his attitude, and this has been a tough couple of years where we traded veterans and came in with young kids who are learning, and Kyle Seager has stayed positive and has had a tremendous attitude. There’s been several times, that’s why I whispered in his ear that he’s going to be a Mariner Hall of Famer because it’s got to be some tough years for him, but he’s been positive, he’s been upbeat, and it’s really been fun to watch him grow.
QUESTION: Kevin, tell us about Julio Rodríguez.
MATHER: Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous. But, him and Kelenic are very good friends. He’s a year behind Kelenic. He will probably be here in — everybody says 2021 — he won’t be here until 2022 or 2023. A fantastic kid. Really big on social media. He loves to get out in front. He loves the Mariners. And between him and Kelenic, we think we’ve got an outfield that will be as good as any in baseball for the next six years. He’s the real deal. He’s ranked higher than Kelenic, which, as I said, Kelenic doesn’t lack for confidence. Kelenic is not happy that he’s the fifth-highest prospect on Baseball America, and Rodríguez is the fourth-highest prospect. Little things like that bother Kelenic.
QUESTION: Kevin, it’s pretty clear that you’re pretty frustrated with the union. What other things, what other issues are out there that are keeping you awake at night?)
MATHER: I worry about our fans. I worry about, you know it’s, we need to make it easy for fans to come to T-Mobile Park, and I’ve really challenged my operations department, my concessions, my merchandise. If they’re coming to T-Mobile Park, they shouldn’t have to stand in line to spend money with us. They shouldn’t have to stand in line to get into the building. We need to get better at big crowds. Part of it is the rules have changed since 9/11, you know, magnetometers and we’re gonna bury big bollards out in the sidewalk so that a truck can’t drive into the stadium. The rules have changed and we have to pay attention. We have to make it easy for fans to come to the ballpark. I worry about the neighborhood. You know, we have employees that show up at 4:15 and leave at 10 o’clock at night and there’s not enough parking, so I can get away with charging $30, $40, $50 to park in my tiny little parking garage across the street, so I don’t let my employees park there. I have them park down on the other side of CenturyLink (Lumen Field). Well, CenturyLink it’s not, but I’ll call it CenturyLink. And so I hire police to escort them to their cars as they check out, punch out, they walk in groups and they’re escorted with police. We’ve got to do something about our neighborhood. I worry about, once this is behind us, getting people to come to T-Mobile Park is, it’s going to be critical. My parking guy is talking about socially-distanced fans, the 9,000 I talked about, and he wants to have all these management people back to run the parking garage. I said there’s going to be, for 9,000 people, there’s enough parking around the ballpark, you’re going to open the gates and say park for free for crying out loud. Stop it. But little things like that, that we have to do to entice fans to come back down and experience the fun and joy of gathering at T-Mobile Park.
QUESTION: Hey, Kevin. As there’s been a lack of fans or fans not being able to attend the game, what’s happened to the season ticket holders?
MATHER: It’s remarkable how many season ticket holders left their money with us. I had to point out to the bank, in the next year, here’s our forecast for next year, we’re required to give them the budget. I said, ‘I’m not expecting the season ticket holders to pay me in advance for the following year.’ So, there’s going to be a little bit of a cash need. As we start the season, we will likely offer them seats, socially-distanced seats, and they will use up their credit. My suspicion is they won’t be able to use their entire credit because of socially-distanced requirements. But our season ticket fan base, it’s remarkable. We gave them a 15% discount in ’21 if they left their money with us, and a shockingly high percentage did. And we’re very appreciative.
QUESTION: What about, Kevin, the changes in the minor league organizations around baseball and the fewer teams? What does that mean for the Mariners, and also the new status of the Everett franchise and their relationship with the parent club?
MATHER: Minor League Baseball went through a dramatic change. We went from some teams had six or seven minor league teams. We went to four per club. It was, you know, we tried to negotiate it with the Minor League Baseball. We owned 51%, you didn’t ask this, but we owned 51% of the Modesto Nuts. The reason we own 51% of the Modesto Nuts is we were sick and tired of playing in lousy facilities. So we bought 51% so we could then move our minor league affiliate there. It was things like that that drove the change in Minor League Baseball. We had the choice, they called us and asked if we wanted to stay in Everett. Everett was a short season (club). They started in the middle of June and ended in September. The short season teams are now gone. They asked us if we wanted to stay in Everett. We quite frankly liked the owner in Everett. We thought he was a good person, we liked the location of Everett. We don’t particularly like the facility called Everett. We talked to the owner, we could’ve gone to Spokane, we could’ve gone to Vancouver, British Columbia. The problem with Vancouver is you run into visa problems, particularly when you bring kids from Venezuela and the Domincan (Republic) and try to get them across the border for a three-game series.
MATHER: And I’m about to watch your facial expressions because not only is the replay here to stay, we will have an electronic strike zone within two years. The umpire behind home plate, the home plate will be called by a machine. There will be a home plate umpire who is there to, he’ll have a piece in his ear, so that just in case the ball bounces through the strike zone and the machine calls it a strike, he can overrule that. But the electronic strike zone is coming. It’s pretty hard to argue that the technology doesn’t exist to do that. They’re within millimeters now of every pitch. Heck they know the spin rate on every pitch that’s thrown. And everybody’s analyzing the data on all of that. So it’s there, it exists, and they’re going to use it. And we just have to get better at the replays. When we have a replay it’s got to be done quickly and move on. It can’t be a two minute stop of the action.
QUESTION: Baseball today has a lot of players from other countries. Obviously from the Caribbean and Venezuela, but also now Korea, Japan, etc. What do clubs or baseball in general do to help these players learn English if they don’t already know it?
MATHER: Some clubs are better than others. Twenty years ago, we had signed a 16-year-old kid in the Dominican, we’d send him to a dumpy old academy with no hot water and a lousy rock-filled field. And then when he was 18 or 19, we’d send him to Peoria, Arizona, and put him up at the Hampton Inn, and give him $30 a day. He doesn’t even know how to make change. Thirty dollars a day for per diem, and surprise, surprise they’d get in trouble because they wouldn’t know how to speak the language or how to make change or even buy a dinner. That’s all changed. We have an academy in the Dominican now, our Venezuelan and Dominican kids are there for several years. Eleven months of the year. English is taught, English classes are mandatory. High school diplomas are mandatory. And life skills, here’s a dollar bill, here’s a quarter, here’s a $5 bill, here’s how it works. Really critically important, as much as their skills as a pitcher or a hitter or a shortstop, critically important skills so they can survive and thrive in the United States, which is what we’re ultimately hoping they do. Some teams better than others. I’d like to think we’re on the front edge of that. We’ve got a really nice academy.
As far as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, those players are typically older. They don’t come over as 16-, 18-year-olds, they come over as 28-, 30-, 32-year-olds. We typically, it frustrates me. For instance, we just re-hired (Hisashi) Iwakuma. Iwakuma was a pitcher for us for a number of years. Wonderful human being. His English is terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, and he came to us, and we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on in the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training. And I’m mean to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. Because 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. His English got better when we told him that. But we, for the older players from the Far East, we have an interpreter that travels with them. For the younger Dominicans, Venezuelans, Caribbean players, we really invest in them at a young age before they get here. Good question. It’s important.
QUESTION: A couple questions, Kevin. One relating to pitchers and one relating to the draft. On the pitchers, I know you went to the six-man rotation last year. That seemed more logical because of the nature of the season. You say you’re going with six this year. Do you see this as something that’s of the future? And along those lines, what do you see with these, the relievers starting games like I think Tampa Bay does and others? And then the second area, which you might cover is, last year’s draft was, what was it? Eight rounds, six rounds?
MATHER: Five rounds.
QUESTION: Instead of the 30 or 40 or 50, whatever it’s been in the past. What do you see happening with that going forward and what’s the impact?
MATHER: I think, well, one of the reasons we reduced the number of minor league teams is we’d have a 40-round draft simply to staff a roster. The days of finding a fireballer from, you know, Bumbleduck, North Dakota, in the 39th round, and he turns out to be Cy Young, those days are over. There’s too much video. Scouting now, a lot of it is done on video and the players send stuff in. As we get closer to the draft, for the high-end players, we’ll go see them. But, as a general rule, a lot of the scouting is now done electronically with videos. That’s one reason we reduced the number of teams, because why are we spending all this money when — and I apologize, I don’t know the stats, but I did at one point — after the fifth round, the chances of making the major leagues over the last eight years are, you know …