Jerry Dipoto: Mariners’ contract offer to Jarred Kelenic didn’t come with a spot on MLB team
The Mariners’ top-ranked prospect – who the organization hopes will become a franchise cornerstone – is unhappy with his current situation.
That prospect is of course 21-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic, a top-five prospect in all of baseball.
Among the comments made by former Mariners team president Kevin Mather in his now infamous speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club was the disclosure that the Mariners had offered Kelenic a long-term contract extension that was declined, and that Kelenic would start 2021 in the minor leagues but be called up to the majors in April.
That has been seen as an admission of service time manipulation because if Kelenic is in the minors for a few weeks to start the 2021 season, the start of his service time clock would be delayed enough for the Mariners’ rights of Kelenic to be extended through 2027 rather than 2026.
On Wednesday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today published a story where he interviewed Kelenic and his agent. Those two confirmed a contract had been offered and said Kelenic had been told numerous times last year that had he signed the deal, he would then make his MLB debut. And while there were no quotes from Kelenic in the story where he explicitly said he feels he’s being punished for not signing a new deal, it is how the headline of the story read.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant for The Jerry Dipoto Show as he does at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday and shared his response to Kelenic’s comments and his side on the contract offer.
“I have not spoken with him since the article, but I did speak with him before the article and I have spoken with Jarred every step of the way through his development,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto said the Mariners offered Kelenic a contract in late 2019, and that Kelenic ultimately declined the deal. While the Mariners offered him that deal, Dipoto said that the contract didn’t come with a guaranteed MLB roster spot.
“Part of the reward of signing a major league contract is that you are put on the 40-man roster,” Dipoto said, “but there was a very clear understanding that (accepting the deal) would include a minor league assignment.”
Additionally, Dipoto said it’s been made “very clear” that Kelenic’s debut will take place when the Mariners believe he’s fully developed, as that’s what’s best for both parties, even if Kelenic may disagree.
“We don’t feel like we’ve achieved that yet for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We are not manipulating his service time. We are doing our best to develop him fully. We are truthful with our players and we’ve been very transparent through the course of development with each of them, and we have been with Jarred.”
In the interview with Danny and Gallant, Dipoto pointed to multiple young players on the Mariners’ current roster as examples of doing what’s best for prospects, even if their paths are different than Kelenic’s in terms of when they debuted.
“Frankly you can look at our roster, Kyle Lewis and Justin Dunn were added to the 40-man roster in September of 2019, we promoted them to the big leagues and we didn’t send them back to the minor leagues because we thought it was best for their development to give them that opportunity,” he said.
Kelenic also isn’t the only prospect who’s been offered a long-term deal before making his MLB debut. First baseman Evan White accepted a contract extension ahead of the 2020 season, and though he was the Mariners’ starting first baseman on opening day, Dipoto said that wasn’t handed to him just because he signed a new deal.
“We told him, ‘You’re going to have to go out there and earn that spot, but we’re going to give you the opportunity to do it,'” Dipoto said. “And on the final day of summer camp in 2020, he walked into (manager Scott Servais’) office and said ‘did I make the team?’ And he had a wonderful summer camp, he did.”
Dipoto said that the events of this week have caused the Mariners to be “painted as a villain” but that the team will work to overcome that image going forward.
“We can’t duck it, it is what it is,” Dipoto said. “We are responsible for the comments that we make, and we can only resolve it by continuing to behave the way we’ve behaved with our players and finding a way to get a little better every day in how we do that.”
Mather’s comments not only forced him to resign his position as Mariners president and CEO, but it also put the business side of baseball in the spotlight. Dipoto has made it clear that Mather’s comments don’t represent the organization or the baseball operations side of the Mariners. Dipoto also said that the business side of the team has no say in when prospects are recalled or similar moves are made and that won’t change under Mather’s eventual successor.
“The decisions on a major league roster have been and always will be left to baseball operations,” he said. “That is the dichotomy I was afforded when I was given this opportunity, and (Mariners chairman John Stanton) has been supportive of that, our ownership group has been supportive of that, and we’ve managed it that way.”
You can hear the full Jerry Dipoto Show in the podcast at this link or in the player below.