Mariners CEO Kevin Mather under fire for comments, releases statement

Feb 21, 2021, 10:10 PM | Updated: 11:04 pm
Mariners Kevin Mather...
Kevin Mather has been Seattle Mariners team president since 2014. (AP)

The Mariners became a prime focus of the baseball world Sunday as a Feb. 5 speech given by team president and CEO Kevin Mather to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club came to light.

Zoom footage from the event was posted to YouTube by the BBRC and shared Saturday night on Twitter. The video was taken down by Sunday afternoon, but not before copies and transcripts were shared online, including by Lookout Landing.

The 45-minute video featured Mather giving an approximately 20-minute opening statement then taking questions from the Zoom audience for the remainder of the recording, which ended abruptly. Over the course of the program, Mather addressed a number of topics in a manner that drew reaction from fans, players, agents and members of the national media.

Sunday night, the Mariners released the following statement from Mather:

I want to apologize to every member of the Seattle Mariners organization, especially our players and to our fans. There is no excuse for my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my terrible lapse in judgment.

My comments were my own. They do not reflect the views and strategy of the Mariners baseball leadership who are responsible for decisions about the development and status of the players at all levels of the organization.

I’ve been on the phone most of the day today apologizing to the many people I have insulted, hurt, or disappointed in speaking at a recent online event.

I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have caused to the Seattle Mariners organization.

In the visit with the BBRC, Mather’s opening statement included a rundown of how the pandemic-shortened 2020 season impacted baseball financially, stating that the Mariners fared better than most but that it was still “a low year” for the club.

“We were at the very bottom of our rebuild step-back cycle, so our payroll was as low as it was going to get,” Mather said. “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 per game, we got a lot more than we probably deserved compared to other similar sized markets. Terrible year financially, but we did better than most.”

Mather went on to tout the Mariners’ plan to bring as many young players as they possibly could to their alternate site in Tacoma last season. In all, 15 prospects were invited to participate. Since there was no minor league season, this and a small pitching camp they held in North Carolina were the only ways to get prospects work. What they would not get, however, was the opportunity to join the big league club, as Mather revealed in the speech.

“As devastating as 2020 was on player development and getting better, we took a risk and brought our high-end prospects in, really got to know them. They got high-end instruction in Tacoma,” he said. “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 had an injury problem or COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our prospects playing in T-Mobile Park.”

This, along with comments that predicted the MLB debuts of top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert in April, was interpreted as service time manipulation, which is sure to be a central topic in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association. Those aspects of Mather’s speech drew the attention of at least one player agent.

Mather heaped praise on a number of players throughout the conversation, but in some cases gave insights that were concerning to those involved.

“Kyle Seager, this is probably his last season as a Mariner,” Mather said of Seattle’s third baseman, who is entering the last year of his contract. “He will, and I’ve already told him, he’ll be a Mariners Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. Last year he seemed to find the Fountain of Youth, had a fantastic year, and we expect the same in 2021.”

Julie Seager, Kyle’s wife, appeared to respond on her Twitter account.

Top prospect Julio Rodriguez weighed in fairly quickly on this statement:

“Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined,” Mather said. “He is loud. His English is not tremendous. Everybody says he’ll be here in 2021. He won’t be here ’til 2022 or 2023. A fantastic kid. We’re 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 or seven years. He’s the real deal. He’s ranked higher than Kelenic.”

Worth noting, Rodríguez is incredibly proud of his English and the Dominican Republic native has gone so far as to host “Vibin’ with JRod,” an interview show on the Mariners’ YouTube channel this winter. He conducts all interviews in English including this one thankfully, as the interviewer does not speak Spanish.

Rodríguez wasn’t the only person whose English was brought up by Mather, who said “it frustrates me” as he started to discuss Hisashi Iwakuma, a former All-Star for the team who recently returned to the franchise as a special assignment coach. Mather went on: “For instance, we just re-hired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, he came to us, we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training. And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. 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.”

In addition to the comments above, Mather discussed a six-year contract offer that was turned down by Kelenic, called the fact that spring training would not be delayed a month “embarrassing,” and repeatedly called catcher Luis Torrens “Torres.” He also said that Torrens along with prospect Cal Raleigh would likely be behind the plate for the Mariners for the next six years, which would most likely would be unsettling news to Tom Murphy, who just Saturday expressed gratitude for the Mariners bringing the best out of him after coming over from the Rockies.

Discussing a potential James Paxton or Taijuan Walker signing (both players were still free agents when the speech happened) is great information that no doubt was appreciated by the intended audience. Admitting the Mariners had “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 with hat in hand, looking for a contract,” are words that would not be appreciated by any player, however.

Participating in events like the Rotary Breakfast is not uncommon for Mariners executives or front office members. It’s an opportunity to connect with the community and in so engender goodwill and interest. While extra insight or inside information is often shared at these events, a little information can go a long way. In the case of the Feb. 5 speech, Mather not only by his own admission needed to apologize to numerous people, but overstepped the limits of what would be beneficial for the organization. By the reaction seen online Sunday, a great amount of damage has been done.

The Mariners are expected to release a statement Monday morning.

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