Outfielder Jarred Kelenic, a top prospect for the Seattle Mariners, says he's convinced that his service time is being manipulated by the team based on comments from former team president and CEO Kevin Mather that have drawn the ire of the MLBPA.
Among multiple controversial comments made in an online video that led to his resignation, Mather divulged information about contract negotiations with Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 amateur draft, to a Bellevue, Washington, Rotary Club on Feb. 5. In the video, Mather said neither Kelenic nor pitcher Logan Gilbert would be with the major league club on Opening Day as a way to keep club control for longer.
"Money shouldn't determine when a player is called up to the big leagues," Kelenic told USA Today on Tuesday. "This should be an exciting time for baseball. We had such a negative year with COVID and everything shutting down. This is what we've been waiting for. Now, the day before spring training, this is what I have to deal with."
Kelenic and one of his agents, Brodie Scoffield, told USA Today that it was "crystal clear" that the Mariners' decision to not call him up to the majors in 2020 was based on service time after he turned down a guaranteed contract in 2019.
"It wasn't just communicated one time to me. It was told to me several times," Kelenic told USA Today. "That's the God's honest truth. It got old. ...
"I was extremely disappointed. I worked extremely hard all offseason. And last year, here you have a team that is one game out of the playoffs going into the last weeks of the season. I know for a fact I could have helped that team out. Not just me, but there are other guys who could have helped that team out. Not to be given that opportunity was so beyond frustrating. I feel that guys should be rewarded for their play, and have the best guys on the field, especially when you talk about a team that hasn't gone to the playoffs in 20 years, and your best prospects are just sitting there watching."
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, trying to do damage control in the wake of Mather's comments, personally apologized to Kelenic and then addressed all players with an apology Monday.
"Strange," Kelenic told USA Today about how Dipoto's message was received by players. "It was literally like someone farted in church. That is the exact expression on everybody's face."
Despite the apology, Dipoto denied that the Mariners were manipulating Kelenic's service time.
"I'm not sure how you construe a service-time manipulation with a 21-year-old player who has played  games above A-ball and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player," Dipoto told reporters on a Zoom call. "That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues that hasn't happened in three decades.
"While Jarred is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure that he has checked off the boxes in development because it's incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic, to make sure he has been fully developed."
Scoffield, however, says there's more than enough evidence now to prove that wrong.
"This was always an open secret in baseball," Scoffield told USA Today. "Now we have a club official on video proving it."
Seattle isn't the first team to be in the situation of deciding when it's best to start the service-time clock of some top minor leaguers, of course.
Teams have maintained that they have a right to determine when players deserve promotion to the majors, The MLB players' association filed a grievance claiming the Chicago Cubs improperly delayed the call-up of third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015 and delayed his free agency by a year until after the 2021 season.
Arbitrator Mark Irvings concluded last year that there was no proof of "a nefarious motive" by the Cubs but did not "reach the broader issue of whether a club can base a roster decision solely on the desire to delay free agency."
Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday during his daily media availability that one of the challenges for Kelenic will be remaining focused on his development and improvement with everything swirling around him.
"We often talk about players being physically ready to go to the big leagues, emotionally ready to go to the big leagues," Servais said. "Those are all things that as a young player, and certainly a very talented one, he's got something to work on every day when he comes here."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.