Commentary: Kelenic roster move is a bad 'human' decision, but a savvy organizational move

We're now a few days from the Mariners season opener, and let me preface this by saying that this franchise – for the first time in more than ten years – has me bullish on its long-term future.

In fact, while I’m not expecting a playoff berth this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if they finally made it to the postseason for the first time in 20 years. They had a winning record in the second half of last season including a series win over the Astros. Their offseason moves give me no reason to believe there will be any regression, while this core group grows together and will only add more up-and-coming talent as the year goes on.

One of those players is a possible game changer. Similar to Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic is special. Which is a big reason so many Mariners fans rolled their eyes this week when Kelenic was sent to minor league camp, confirming that he wouldn’t be on the Opening Day Roster.

From a business standpoint, this makes all the sense in the world. If Kelenic is on the Opening Day roster, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2026 season. But if the team waits at least 16 days after Opening Day to promote him, he’ll be under team control through the 2027 season. Frankly, that’s a no brainer. It would be foolhardy to not wait those 16 days and lose a full year of control over your highest-rated prospect.

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But there are so many reasons it looks bad – starting with Kevin Mather, the now-fired team president, who began this whole conversation by essentially admitting the team was guilty of service time manipulation.

And no offense to general manager Jerry Dipoto, but while his reason for holding Kelenic back sounds valid, I see it as nothing but lip service.

Dipoto continues to argue that Kelenic has just 22 games of experience at the Double A level – and promoting a player with such a lack of experience hasn’t happened in 27 years, since Alex Rodriguez in 1994. "We need to make sure he’s been fully developed," Dipoto says. It’s a perfectly reasonable argument, and one that will likely protect against any grievances of service time manipulation.

But frankly, we’ve never been through a pandemic either. And Kelenic would have played another 76 games at the Double-A level or higher last season in a normal year. He still was able to develop for months at the team’s alternate site.

And it’s not like there’s a backlog at the left field position either, especially with someone having to possibly fill Kyle Lewis’s spot in center field if Lewis is injured for Opening Day. Even the Seattle Times quoted a scout saying that Kelenic was the best outfielder they have outside of Lewis or Mitch Haniger – and that it would be a bad look to put anyone else there when it’s obvious that Kelenic is better than the other players.

So, let’s just call it what it is: Service time manipulation that really works out for the Mariners. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time where organizations game the system for their benefit – look at NFL contracts, which are significantly more team-friendly than player friendly.

In the end, I cannot wait to see Jarred Kelenic play. And he likely earned a chance to play for the Mariners last season AND Opening Day this season. But now that we’re here, and now that we only have to wait about a month more, it makes a ton of sense because the M’s will have control over their top prospect until he’s 28 years old.

So, Jerry Dipoto, I don’t buy your reasoning. Jarred Kelenic, I feel your pain.

But considering this franchise’s goal is to be consistently competitive with a core group of players over the long term, it’s actually a pretty saavy move.

Maybe not the right human decision. But the right competitive one instead.

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