ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian details impact made on Mariners and MLB from Kevin Mather’s comments
Feb 23, 2021, 2:55 PM | Updated: 3:20 pm
The Mariners are currently the talk of the baseball world and not for the right reasons.
The Mariners have been put under a microscope after comments now former team president and CEO Kevin Mather made to a local rotary club were made public. During the roughly 45-minute talk, Mather made racially insensitive remarks about players from other countries, insulted multiple veteran players, and hinted at practicing service time manipulation with the team’s No. 1 prospect, among other problematic comments.
Mather resigned his position Monday while members of the team including manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto work to repair the damage done with players.
We’ve heard from Mariners chairman John Stanton along with Dipoto and Servais since Mather resigned, but the comments have made national news and are now being discussed by players, coaches and executives across the league.
Someone who has been covering the game for a long time and is plugged into what’s happening across MLB is ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, who shared his thoughts with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Tuesday.
Kurkjian used the word “shocked” to describe his initial reaction to Mather’s comments, and went into detail how the situation impacts not only on the Mariners but MLB as a whole.
“If you hear that kind of stuff from just a normal guy on the street, you’re mildly offended, if not more,” Kurkjian said. “But when it comes from the guy runs (the team), is the voice, is the club president of a major league team, then it’s shocking that he would do that.
“It was racially insensitive, culturally insensitive, it was insulting to so many people. He was just so tone deaf through this, I’m just really surprised that somebody who’s been doing that job at that level for that long would fall into something like that.”
Let’s take a closer look at what Kurkjian had to say in regards to Mather’s comments and where they leave the Mariners and baseball.
The comments could impact CBA negotiations.
What Mather said will likely be a big part in an upcoming negotiation between the MLB Players Association and the league’s owners. The current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and its players ends after the 2021 season. The relationship is already a rocky one after contentious talks last year over pay and the amount of games to be played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Mather’s comments, he said that top prospect Kelenic did not accept a long-term contract extension from the Mariners, and that Kelenic would have began the 2021 season with the Mariners had he agreed to the offer but will instead start in the minors for at least a few weeks. This would keep Kelenic’s MLB service time clock from starting long enough that Seattle could keep him under club control through 2027 rather than 2026, a practice known as “service time manipulation” that has been a sore spot for the MLBPA. It’s expected Mather’s comments will be used as ammo in upcoming labor talks.
“The fact that it’s been made public by a club president is really going to add to the case of the union,” Kurkjian said. “And unfortunately, service time is going to be one of many, many situations and elements that both sides are going to have to deal with. I am discouraged in the moment by where it’s going because the union and the owners have a contentious relationship right now.”
Minnesota Twins star third baseman Josh Donaldson tweeted a “thank you” to Mather for making his service time thoughts public and made it clear those words would be used in upcoming negotiations.
Thank you Kevin Mather. I sincerely mean it. You just said what everyone already knew, but now we @MLB_PLAYERS have official evidence that is going to help a lot of players. Again, thank you!! Bravo👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) February 23, 2021
The insensitivity some of Mather’s comments had regarding players, especially those for whom English is a second language, may also be a sticking point for the players’ union, Kurkjian said.
“You just have to ask how representative of Major League Baseball are these comments? Is this just an isolated guy who feels this way and said it publicly, or is this how other people in the game feel?” he said. “Because if (the latter is) indeed the case, then we’re in a whole lot more trouble than we think we are.”
How are the Mariners viewed and will that hurt in free agency?
Dipoto said that Mather’s comments were embarrassing for the Mariners organization, which Kurkjian agreed with, saying it really hurts the team. He added that he doesn’t think Mather’s comments will greatly impact how the Mariners are viewed overall, however, largely because of Dipoto and Servais being well respected.
“I don’t think anyone looked at the Mariners like ‘They don’t know what they’re doing out there’ or ‘This is rampant.’ I’ve never heard that from anybody,” Kurkjian said. “But this does indeed stain their organization and they’ve got a lot of work to do to get it fixed. And the fact that (Mather) is gone already is a really good start, but now they’re working from behind and that’s not a good place to be working from when you haven’t been to the playoffs in 20 years and you’re in a division where the A’s and the Astros are clearly better, to me.”
While Mather’s comments may not greatly impact how the Mariners are viewed around the league, Kurkjian does think it could impact free agency in the future.
“I think it’s a legitimate concern,” he said.
Kurkjian said that when star outfielder George Springer left the Houston Astros to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, that move not only changed the look of the team on the field but improved the team’s standing as a destination for free agents.
“And maybe the opposite is now happening in Seattle,” Kurkjian said.
The fact that the Mariners have Dipoto and Servais should help lessen the damage, Kurjian believes.
“The good thing is I believe Jerry Dipoto is a very good general manager and a total standup guy. And I think when he speaks to a free agent, he will be able to explain what happened here, that, ‘It’s not me, it’s not the manager and it’s not our players, it was our club president and he made a terrible mistake and this is not representative (of the organization),'” Kurkjian said. “And Scott Servais is as good a guy there is in a managerial uniform these days and he’s got a great way with people and he would be able to tell a player from another team, ‘Look, this is not who we are, you’ve got to believe me.’ I think maybe those two guys can really soothe things, but to repeat, it’s going to take some time.”
Does this situation undo the Mariners’ rebuild?
After missing the playoffs in 2018, Dipoto and the front office decided to do something the Mariners haven’t done in decades, which is implement a full-scale rebuild by either trading away higher-paid top players or letting them leave in free agency while also accumulating top prospects.
Entering 2021, the Mariners have the No. 2-ranked farm system in baseball per Baseball America. But Mather’s comments showed disregard for players’ contracts with Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, and was also racially insensitive in his assessment of Julio Rodríguez’s English skills.
After all the work that Dipoto and his staff have done to create a top-ranked farm system, could Mather’s comments ruin some of that progress?
“Well, it certainly hasn’t helped things because I’m sure Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais have been on the phone for 48 hours trying to talk to all the people who were offended by what was said from (special assignment coach and former Mariners pitcher) Hisashi Iwakuma to Kelenic to Julio Rodríguez to everyone else,” Kurkjian said. “I mean, this is really bad. And Kyle Seager, I mean my goodness. You can’t find a better guy in the game than that guy and to say what you said about him was totally unacceptable also.”
Kurkjian added that the timing of everything really hurts this young Mariners team because the full squad has just reported for spring training.
“I think this sets them back,” he said, “because instead of figuring out what are we going to do here in spring training, they’re in damage control talking to the people who were offended and trying to make them feel better and somehow, I guess, trying to make sure people and players from other teams who might someday come to Seattle don’t actually believe this happens all the time, because I don’t think it does.”
Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the player below.