Jarred Kelenic is a future star for the Mariners, who have not been to the playoffs since 2001. The centerpiece of the trade in which Seattle dumped Robinson Canó’s salary on the Mets, Kelenic came to spring training this year, got a real, not just happy-to-be-in-camp uniform number, 10, and then went out and went 6-for-18 with two homers and seven runs scored in the Cactus League.
MLB lists Kelenic as the No. 4 prospect in the game, with an ETA of 2021. The Mariners currently have their best player, Mitch Haniger, in right field, unanimous 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis in center, and projected replacement-level 25-year-old Jake Fraley in left.
Naturally, the Mariners decided on Friday night that Kelenic needs just a little bit more seasoning in Triple-A, and reassigned him to minor league camp.
Three weeks or so ought to do it, just enough time to make it not clear-cut service time manipulation, while gaining Seattle an extra year of Kelenic’s labor before he can reach free agency.
The practice is nothing new, to the point that Kevin Mather basically admitted to it in his infamous Rotary Club chat, but it has become particularly grotesque, especially as teams who are blatantly tanking already exploit the collective bargaining agreement’s provisions to make themselves even worse, screwing over both players and fans in the process. There is no viable baseball explanation for Kelenic not to be on the Mariners’ opening day roster, but plenty of capitalist explanation for it around the league and specifically here with a team that hasn’t exactly seized the means of run production over the last two decades.
At least when the Rays sent down Wander Franco, the 20-year-old top prospect in baseball, he had gone 6-for-30 in the Grapefruit League with six strikeouts and no walks. Tampa Bay is the defending American League champion, in a tough division, and Franco hasn’t yet played above A-ball as a result of the pandemic wiping out last year’s minor league season.
Bobby Witt Jr., on the other hand, went 11-for-38 with three homers for the Royals this spring. The No. 2 pick from the 2019 draft just isn’t quite ready for the majors, though, and while shortstop Adalberto Mondesi actually is one of Kansas City’s better players, second baseman Nicky Lopez is not. The Royals would be a better and more interesting team with Witt and Mondesi as a double play combination. And they will be. Just, y’know, not at the very start of this season.
Catcher Joey Bart going 11-for-24 with two homers and center fielder Heliot Ramos going 14-for-35 with three dingers in the spring couldn’t convince the Giants to give them the jobs that are expected to be theirs for the next seven years minus a few weeks. Alex Kiriloff made his major league debut in a playoff game last year, and got a hit, but he’s not going to be in Minnesota to start the season, even though the Twins don’t have an actual starting left fielder.
Major League Baseball wonders why interest in their product is flagging, or at least perceived as such. Maybe it has something to do with deliberately dampening the much-anticipated start of the season by burying exciting young talent.
It’s definitely smart for these teams to assure themselves another year of potential star players in their prime, but it’s not good business to give a middle finger to those players and the fans who want to see them play, and want to see their favorite teams actually try to put the best possible lineup on the field and maybe win some games. As Baseball continually futzes around the margins of both the game’s rulebook and the CBA, the part that they miss is that all of the organizational behavior alienates both the workforce and the customers, and there’s a whole lot more money to be made by keeping those groups happy than is saved by this constant pursuit of every last dollar that can be squeezed out of a joyless enterprise.