Mariners demote Jarred Kelenic, just as they said they would

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Seattle Mariners fans will have to wait a little longer to see the debut of top prospect Jarred Kelenic.

The Seattle Mariners hid their intentions in plain sight, and on Friday they made it official: Top prospect Jarred Kelenic won’t make the team for Opening Day.

A little more than a month after former CEO Kevin Mather was forced to resign after openly stating the club was manipulating Kelenic’s service time, the Mariners are sending Kelenic to their minor league camp, putting off his Major League debut by at least a few weeks. It’s another slight in what’s quickly becoming a fractured and contentious relationship between the Mariners and their star outfield prospect.

On Feb. 5, Mather gave a 45-minute speech to the Bellevue Rotary Club. He complained about having to pay for an interpreter for a Japanese player and criticized another prospect, Julio Rodriguez, for not speaking English. He also let slip another piece of information, that the Mariners offered Kelenic a long-term contract. When he declined, they kept him from the Majors to put off his free agency for another year.

The Mariners are sending Jarred Kelenic to their minor league camp

Teams manipulating the service time of their prized prospects is nothing new, but for Kelenic’s camp, it was still jarring. “It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,” his agent, Brodie Scoffield, told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale in February. “It was made crystal clear to Jarred, then and now, that his decision not to call him up is based on service time.”

General manager Jerry DiPoto attempted to distance the club from Mather’s comments, but Mather was still forced to resign on Feb. 22. According to DiPoto, the real reason Kelenic is not ready for the Majors is due to him playing just 21 games above Single-A in his professional career and having 751 plate appearances in the minors.

Kelenic, though, has shown this spring he’s ready to make the leap to the big leagues. He’s hitting .333 in 18 at-bats, including two home runs. His 1.256 OPS leads the club in Spring Training. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the fourth-best prospect in the league.

A player with Kelenic’s experience making an immediate impact in the Majors also isn’t unprecedented. In 2018, the Nationals called him another left-handed outfielder, Juan Soto, after he played only eight games in Double-A. Three seasons later, Soto is now a World Series champion and one of the best players in baseball.

An MLB season lasts 187 days. A player gets a year of service time after 172 days. If the Mariners keep Kelenic in the minors for just 15 days, it will delay his free agency for a year. He’ll likely join the club at some point this season, possibly later in April, but for a club that hasn’t made the postseason since 2001, treating the player who’s supposed to be their next big star in this manner certainly won’t make them any fans. The relationship between club and player is already tenuous before it’s really even begun.

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