PEORIA, Ariz. — In past interviews, outfielder Jarred Kelenic was always controlled in his responses about his eventual major-league debut and the reasons it hadn’t happened. But it was clear from his tone, body language and words that he wasn’t pleased with the situation.
His agent, Brodie Scoffield of Klutch Sports Management, has grown more furious with the Mariners by the minute. It started before last season with what he felt was a lowball contract-extension offer that would have bought out Kelenic’s salary-arbitration years and his first year of free agency. It included club options for the years beyond and did not offer an opt-out clause.
The anger grew when the Mariners informed Kelenic after summer camp in July that he would not be called up to the big leagues under any circumstance in 2020. Kelenic and Scoffield understood it was because of service-time accrual, delaying his timeline to free agency.
Players receive major-league service time for each day spent on the 26-man roster or the MLB injured list. It is used to determine when players are eligible for arbitration as well as free agency, which is why tracking it is so vital to players and organizations.
Scoffield shared his thoughts and frustration to The Times early in the shortened 2020 season, but he preferred to speak only on background and not go on the record for logical reasons.
But Kevin Mather self-immolating his employment as Mariners CEO and president during a now-infamous speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club, in which he verified the team’s service-time stance it took with the prospect in 2020, allowed Kelenic and Scoffield to voice their frustrations without repercussions.
In the days after Mather’s comments, Kelenic and Scoffield spoke with USA Today for a story that came out Wednesday morning. And they had plenty to say.
“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,” Scoffield said in the story. “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.”
Said Kelenic: “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.”
Multiple calls since Sunday to Scoffield have not been returned. Kelenic declined interview requests set up through the Mariners.
Dipoto was asked about the story Wednesday morning in an interview with KJR 950-AM.
“I’m sorry that Jarred feels that way he said,” Dipoto said. “We feel that is the furthest thing from the truth. Our primary concern with all of our players is developing them to the best of our ability. We’ve laid out a plan for Jarred. We’ve been very transparent and sharing that with him along the way. As I’ve said to players for years: ‘We owe you the truth, and sometimes you may not want to hear it, but we owe you the truth.’ And we’ve been very truthful with Jarred along the way. What I know about the truth is that everybody wants it, but sometimes they don’t want to hear it. That is my general perception here.”
Mather’s comments about Kelenic’s status and the contract extension were at times complimentary and other times had the feeling of derision.
“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,” Mather told the Rotarians. “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.”
Mather’s comment about inviting the top prospects to participate in summer camp and work out at the alternate training site provided the ammo for Scoffield and also the MLB Players Association.
“We brought 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids who never would have seen T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium if not for COVID,” Mather said. “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.”
With Mitch Haniger injured and Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop at the alternate training site, Kelenic’s camp grew more upset with each game that the Mariners started utility infielders such as Tim Lopes or Sam Haggerty in the outfield or even waiver claim Phillip Ervin in the corner outfield spots. Kelenic was easily one of the best outfielders on the Mariners’ 60-man player pool last season. That much was evident in summer camp.
“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.’’
Mariners chairman John Stanton said Dipoto had final say in baseball decisions such as Kelenic’s call-up. Dipoto defended the Mariners’ position in a video conference Tuesday.
“I’m not sure how you construe a service-time manipulation with a 21-year old player who has played just over 20 games above A-ball and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player,” he said. “That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues that hasn’t happened in three decades.”
The most recent player to do that was Alex Rodriguez with the Mariners in 1994. Bryce Harper was close to reaching the big leagues that quickly.
“While Jarred is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure that he has checked off the boxes in development, because it’s incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners, but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic, to make sure he has been fully developed,” Dipoto said.