M’s Take the Easy Way, Re-assign Jarred Kelenic

marc w · March 27, 2021 at 10:39 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s made it clear, as soon as Jarred Kelenic came up limping a bit after trying to beat out a ground ball, that his chances of making the opening day roster were non-existent. Pay no mind to the comments made by disgraced ex-President Kevin Mather; this was nothing to do with service time manipulation, you see, and everything to do with lost in-game at-bats. Missing a couple of weeks left him behind in his development compared to his older rivals. It’d be for his own good.

Yesterday, the M’s followed through, re-assigning Kelenic to minor league camp. As Daniel Kremer’s story at MLB.com notes, he’ll stay in Arizona after the end of the Cactus League, as teams are trying to quickly schedule some games at the complexes. With the minor league season delayed, assigning him to the “alternate site” would mean another month of workouts and scrimmages, but no actual games against other teams.

But if another month of batting off of Ljay Newsome wouldn’t do his development any favors, it’s not quite clear that playing against, say, Texas’ A+/AA relievers is any big step up. Most of the prospects who are nearest to the big leagues will probably be in the alternate sites, after all. The move also opens up a possibility that I’d joked about on Twitter: that the M’s will leave him down long enough to gain another year of club control, then call him up *before* the minor league season actually begins. As good as Jerry Dipoto is with the media, that’d be tough to spin.

A young player without a lot of minor league PAs being sent down isn’t the end of the world; it’s routine, and in most cases, absolutely justified. That said, the M’s are trying to compete in a near future that never quite materializes. They’re trying to build around a core group of players they can count on for years to come. There’s no doubt that an extra year of club control on Kelenic could help the M’s, but if this spring showed anything, it’s that he can help them right now. If the M’s had LF locked down with established veterans or something, no one would note this move. Instead, M’s left fielders are projected for *negative* WAR in 2021, a year after a disastrous year with Dee Strange-Gordon, Tim Lopes, Jose Marmolejos, and, yes, to be fair, some Dylan Moore starts. The M’s themselves have made it extremely easy for Kelenic’s eventual grievance: Kelenic would help this team from April 1st, and everyone knows it.

Years ago, Bill Bavasi – for all of his faults as a GM, and there were many – recognized that you gained some good will just by not picking stupid fights with players. Thus, the M’s under Bavasi never took a player to an arbitration hearing. Those hearings can be brutal, as to win, teams need to essentially tell an arbiter just how bad they think he is. They’re adversarial, by nature, and the stakes are generally so *low* that Bavasi found the financial juice not worth the squeeze. Likewise, he promoted oft-injured Aussie and one-time USSM fave Chris Snelling *after* he suffered an injury, putting him on the MLB injured list instead of the minor league one; this did nothing but give Snelling some service time and provide him more money. It made no financial sense, and he was under zero obligation to do it. But he did.

If Jarred Kelenic is who we all think he is, the M’s will want to sign him to a long-term extension. To say that the relationship between Kelenic and the M’s has been a bit strained is an understatement. After Mather’s comically awful performance in front of the Bellevue Rotary Club, the best thing the M’s could do for a while is to show that they can be a good employer. No, that doesn’t mean doubling everyone’s salary or extending Kyle Seager for another 10 years. It means trying to put the best team on the field, and it means not falling back on the true-but-weak “the CBA allows us to do this,” excuse. You don’t have to do everything the CBA allows you to do.

Baseball players are notoriously competitive, and as I’ve written before, there’s a large and growing gap between player competitiveness and team competitiveness. Teams don’t need to be good to make money, and club control seems to be of equal value to teams as, you know, skill at playing baseball. That tension between the baseball side of the house and the financial side grows when teams do this, and the fact that the Players Union’s agreements allow it doesn’t make it feel any better to, say, Kyle Seager, who knows that the M’s are putting out a worse team than they could. Again.

If the M’s are going to compete next year, they simply can’t be as bad as many of their projections think they’ll be. They can’t be a 73 win team this year and transform things in an off-season. The M’s themselves tend to think that their pitching is much better than projected, and they may be right. But if they are, if they’re closer to .500 (78-81 wins), then weakening themselves for a month is even more dubious. Yes, Kelenic’s age-27 season has a lot of value to the club, but so does this season.

Kelenic led the M’s in OPS this spring, and struck out just one time. It was an open question as to how he’d respond after a year stuck at the alternate site. He answered them about as convincingly as possible for a kid who only had 9 games. It’s not a shock that he’s been sent down, and he handled it quite well. All of this is by the book. But it just highlights that the “book” is not about winning.


8 Responses to “M’s Take the Easy Way, Re-assign Jarred Kelenic”

  1. eponymous coward on March 27th, 2021 4:30 pm

    Well said. And Kyle Lewis coming up lame after a crash into the wall is just *chef’s kiss* for this off-season plan of “we don’t need our best young players OR to spend a few million on some established MLB starting players, we’ll just run 2 OF/DH spots using guys who should be in Tacoma or on a bench”.

  2. Stevemotivateir on March 27th, 2021 7:44 pm

    You joked about it, but the news about Lewis today made me realize that it’s probably not the stretch we thought it was…

    What if an outfielder gets injured in the second half of April? “We wanted to get him more PA’s–we really did–and we’ll likely send him back down once _______ returns from the IL, but injuries are out of our control and we feel like this is the best move given our options under the current circumstances”.

    Nobody would buy it, but that would be the spin.

  3. Stevemotivateir on March 27th, 2021 8:10 pm

    Taylor Trammell learned that he made the club; drives in 4 with a single and HR.

    That’s one way to divert attention.

  4. sexymarinersfan on March 28th, 2021 3:50 am

    Trammell did everything he could and earned the LF spot regardless as to whether Kelenic is ready or not. Jake Fraley has been red hot as of recent as well. It just happens to be in our favor that it blocks Jarred from arriving before his service time clock begins.

    I’m a little worried about Lewis to be honest. If he does miss time, then we’ll just run out Fraley,Trammell, and Haniger until he’s healthy again. Marmo can play LF or RF, with Haniger and Fraley spelling in CF.

  5. Stevemotivateir on March 28th, 2021 1:03 pm

    ^Trammell and Fraley have made their cases, no doubt. And they’re already on the 40. Giles will open up a spot for a reliever, but Seattle probably isn’t in a hurry to DFA anyone.

    Still, I think there’s little question that the team would be better with Kelenic. I was skeptical about his readiness last year and had reservations heading into spring. But he looks the part now.

  6. Stevemotivateir on March 29th, 2021 3:02 pm

    Me, following the game on the 12th vs. the Reds:

    I wasn’t able to catch the game yesterday, but I was curious how White looked. He had a sacrifice fly and no strike outs, but he has quietly been having a bad spring. I don’t know if it’s process, or something else, but nobody’s really talking about it.

    They should be.

    Well, since then he has 9 hits over his last 29 ABs to finish out spring on a positive note, and he absolutely blistered some balls that went for outs. He only had 6 K’s over that span as well, so there’s a lot to like.

    This is obviously good. Fraley turned it on after his 0-17 start, so there has been a lot to like from the Mariner bats the last few weeks.

  7. 11records on March 29th, 2021 4:46 pm

    I would need be surprised if they find a reason to send Trammell down for 17 days in August to work on… something…

  8. Stevemotivateir on March 30th, 2021 9:13 am

    If Trammell continues to struggle with breaking balls like Marmolejos, he’ll probably need to go to AAA well before August.

    But the simple fact that they’re promoting him now is a good thing. He has earned it.

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