PEORIA, Ariz. — It appears that general manager Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners might avoid having to make the highly scrutinized decision of whether to put Jarred Kelenic on the opening-day roster for the 2021 season.
On Saturday, the team released a medical update announcing that Kelenic, No. 4 in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects, underwent an MRI earlier in the morning that revealed a strain to the adductor muscle in his left knee.
“While disappointed that Jarred will be sidelined, we are relieved that the long-term outlook is positive,” Dipoto said in the news release. “We all look forward to seeing him back on the field in the near future.”
The Mariners didn’t initially announce the severity of the strain. It was later confirmed that he suffered a Grade II strain (on a scale of I-III). Most medical websites list a Grade II strain as a three-to-six week recovery. An orthopedic surgeon in Tacoma said that it could be similar to an oblique strain, where it could be two weeks or two months if there are setbacks in the recovery.
Kelenic doesn’t agree with such recovery times. In a message, he said he’ll be back in seven days.
He suffered the injury in his first at-bat of Friday’s game vs. the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. He hit a rocket one-hop groundball to the right side of the field that was mishandled, but as he exploded out of the batter’s box toward first, he felt a tweak in his knee.
After beating the throw, Kelenic stood behind the base and appeared to be in discomfort. Head athletic trainer Kyle Torgerson and manager Scott Servais immediately went to check on the prized prospect. There was a lengthy conversation, and Kelenic tested the knee with some running. Servais didn’t want to take any chances, wanting to remove Kelenic from the game, but the young outfielder lobbied for one more at-bat, which Torgerson deemed acceptable.
Kelenic played two more innings in right field and made one more at-bat, flying out to center.
He met with the team’s medical staff Saturday morning and the Mariners decided to have him undergo the MRI.
Even if Kelenic were to return at 100 percent as early as two-to-three weeks — and it would be unwise for him or the Mariners to rush him back and risk further injury — there might not be enough time to push for the opening-day roster.
This also solves the service-time manipulation debate that has raged since summer camp of last season when the Mariners opted not to put Kelenic on the opening-day roster or call him up at any point during the 60-game season.
With the agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association giving a full year of service time despite only 60 games, Kelenic would have earned three days of service time for every day of that shortened season. From a financial standpoint and the Mariners’ rebuilding plan, putting Kelenic on the 2020 opening-day roster would’ve accelerated his free agency year to after the 2025 season.
Each MLB season consists of 187 days. If a player spends at least 172 days on either the active roster or injured list, he qualifies for a full year of service time. So if the Mariners wait out the 15 days and call him up, on April 16, then he doesn’t qualify for a full year of service time. A player reaches free agency with six years of MLB service time.
By not putting him on the 2020 opening-day roster and not calling him up during the season, the Mariners set themselves up to push Kelenic’s free agency back two years to after the 2027 season.
Kelenic and his agent, Brodie Scoffield, felt he should’ve been called up in 2020 particularly given the team’s roster setup, poor outfield play and the team’s unexpected playoff contention.
They said Kelenic was told in a meeting with Dipoto and Servais at the end of summer camp that he would not be called up under any circumstances in 2020.
Former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather, in his how now infamous Zoom meeting with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club, admitted as much in his comments talking about the top prospects being stuck at the alternate training site in Tacoma last season. He also admitted as much in off-the-record conversations about Kelenic and his service time.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Scoffield told USA Today that the Mariners offered a quid pro quo to make his MLB debut in 2020 when they offered him a long-term MLB contract in January to buy out his arbitration and early years of free agency.
“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.”
Kelenic also verified Scoffield’s assertions: “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.”
Dipoto has disputed those sentiments on multiple occasions, saying that Kelenic was only guaranteed a spot on the 40-man roster, which is a requirement of a MLB contract.
Kelenic said recently he plans to use the Mather comments as motivation.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m a very driven person as it is. Having said that, you know, something like this comes up, and I think you can look at it one of two ways: One, you can sit and pout about it, or you can use it as motivation and let it drive me even more. That’s kind of where I’m at. Each and every day I’m letting this drive me.”