Inside the Clubhouse: Kevin Mather said the quiet part loud

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Inside the Clubhouse this week: Kevin Mather said the quiet part loud, Lorenzo Cain could be big for Milwaukee and more.

The Seattle Mariners were gifted Jarred Kelenic. They’re somehow finding a way to possibly screw it up.

In a 46-minute, tone-deaf rant to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club in a video call on Feb. 5, now-former Mariners CEO and President Kevin Mather made discriminatory remarks about former Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and Dominican prospect Julio Rodriguez. He said Kyle Seager was “probably overpaid.” He referred to Marco Gonzalez as “boring.” He revealed that Kelenic, the team’s top prospect, was informed that he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster after rejecting a six-year contract extension with options, a statement that has drawn ire from the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.

Mather, who resigned this week, has left the team in damage control mode. Mariners chairman and managing partner John Stanton and general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke to the team in Peoria, Ariz. and apologized to players, coaches and staff. Salvaging those relationships could take weeks or months. But Stanton and Dipoto are also tasked with convincing people that these views are not reflective of the organization.

But really, manipulating service time is an issue that has long spanned throughout Major League Baseball. Mather was just the only one dumb enough to say it out loud.

Kelenic, the 21-year-old prized outfielder, told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he believes he is the latest victim of service-time manipulation. Kris Bryant filed a grievance against the Chicago Cubs alleging that the team manipulated his service time in 2015, though MLB arbitrator Mark Irvings ruled in favor of the team. Other recent known examples include Marco Gonzalez, former Houston Astros outfielder George Springer and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes, with one agent saying: “I’m pretty sure (Fernando) Tatis Jr. is the only one who wasn’t f**ked with.”

“He wasn’t fired for acting in the atrocious manner that he was describing. He was fired for admitting it publicly,” another agent said. “This is someone being thrown out of power for merely talking about how a team actually operates. An ultra senior executive stroking his ego to some local wealthy heavy hitters in a rotary club by divulging how the ‘sophisticated businessman’ profits while running a ball club.

“The takeaway here is that the SYSTEM is toxic and the individual was merely letting us in on the secret.”

Dipoto denied that the team manipulated service time, saying that Kelenic has only played 21 games above Single-A. But citing games played following a season in which zero minor-league games took place is a flawed argument (and while rare, that jump isn’t unprecedented as we have seen with Bryce Harper and Juan Soto). Besides, Mather bluntly admitted that Kelenic would not open the season with the Mariners, only to be called up in late-April when his free agency would be delayed by a full season, further illustrating the service-time element.

“The reason I was so disappointed and frustrated about this whole thing,” Kelenic told Nightengale, “is that everybody already knows there’s a gap between the front office and players. When something like this comes out, it makes that gap bigger.”

The Mariners must now decide whether to follow through with their plan of keeping Kelenic in Triple-A to start the season or to carry him on the Opening Day roster without a contract extension in place. Holding Kelenic in the minors, only to call him up shortly after delaying his free agency, would immediately be met with a grievance from his agents, Brodie Schofield and Chris Amezquita, and the MLBPA.

How baseball can prevent service-time manipulation from happening in the future figures to be a focal point in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Three agents agreed that coming up with a solution will be complicated. But in a negotiation that figures to be tense as frustration between players and owners intensifies, Kelenic told Nightengale he’s aware that he could be the “poster boy” in these talks.

In the meantime, Kelenic insists that he will not let this become a distraction. But in peeling back the curtain, Mather risked ruining the Mariners’ relationship with the player who is supposed to be the face of the franchise for the next decade.

He also shouted out loud one of baseball’s biggest secrets.

Lorenzo Cain return a boost for the Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers’ offseason revolved around improving their up-the-middle defense, highlighted by signing Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong. But some in the organization view the return of Lorenzo Cain as arguably their most important offseason acquisition.

Cain, 34, opted out of the 2020 season amid growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. He revealed to Andy McCullough of The Athletic that the passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash in January 2020 and the murder of George Floyd also contributed to his decision. He used the time away from baseball to reconnect with God and spend time with his three kids: Cameron, 7; Jayden, 5; Landyn, 4.

At his best, Cain is a difference-maker in center field. He won his first Gold Glove in 2019. Team executives are optimistic his defense will remain elite, though he admitted that his legs are “not where I want them to be.” He averaged at least .287 in each season from 2014-2018 before a down season in 2019 in which he slashed .260/.325/.372 in 148 games.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell referred to the Cain and Wong additions as “incredibly significant” for the team’s up-the-middle defense. The Brewers have expressed interest in free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who would further improve their run prevention unit while giving Counsell another option in the outfield. But even if they don’t sign Bradley, Stearns and Counsell believe that the Cain and Wong additions will be enough to keep the Brewers in contention in the National League Central.

“Lo’s return is obviously a huge shot in the arm for us,” Stearns said, via McCullough. “This is a guy who has the reputation, and rightfully so, as one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball. Adding him back to the middle of our diamond makes a huge difference.”

How Fernando Tatis Jr. deal compares to other pre-arbitration extensions:

I was curious how Fernando Tatis Jr.’s historic 14-year, $340 million contract extension compared to other pre-arbitration extensions. Here is a look at some of the recent examples:

Fernando Tatis Jr.: 14 years, $340 million.

Buster Posey: eight years, $159 million.

Mike Trout (first one): six years, $144.5 million.

Ronald Acuña: eight years, $100 million.

Alex Bregman: six years, $100 million.

Andrelton Simmons: seven years, $58 million.

Blake Snell: five years, $50 million.

Christian Yelich (first one): seven years, $49.5 million.

Rougned Odor: six years, $49.5 million.

Eloy Jimenez: six years, $43 million.

Anthony Rizzo: seven years, $41 million.

Corey Kluber: five years, $38.5 million.

Ozzie Albies: seven years, $35 million.

Jose Ramirez: five years, $26 million.

Kolten Wong: five years, $25.5 million.

Jose Altuve (first one): four years, $12.5 million.

Around the Horn:

  • I enjoyed this story from Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic on Shohei Ohtani, his visit to Driveline and his mission to “own his career.”
  • The Los Angeles Angels are in talks with free-agent pitcher Jake Odorizzi, as Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported. One source stressed, however, that Odorizzi is only one of the options the team is exploring.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks continue to institute pay cuts to baseball operations, player development and business side employees, according to sources familiar with the situation. The cuts are of varying degrees, with some being “significant.”
  • Lindsey Adler of The Athletic spoke to Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole about how MLB’s labor tensions are a useful preview for next winter.

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