If arrogant swagger is a valuable part of a sports championship team, Kevin Mather is more than ready to do his part.
The Mariners’ seldom-heard-from president told the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club Feb. 5 that after the club wins a World Series, it will stage a celebration in downtown Seattle that will make the Seahawks 2014 Super Bowl version “look like a neighborhood Fourth of July parade. We’re gonna do it right. I’m looking forward to delivering with that.
“I think we’re on the verge of something special.”
Remarks like that alone are something special, coming as they do from a leader of a franchise that, as the saying goes, could mess up a two-car funeral. It takes some gumption to publicly imagine a parade before a team that has four post-season appearances in 43 years gets there again — for the first time in 20 years.
His no-one-will-notice cockiness is like Sen. Ted Cruz flying to a warm beach in Mexico on a public airline while his voters freeze to death back home. There should be an inner voice saying, “Hey, pal — let’s think about this.”
Guys like Mather and Cruz don’t have inner voices.
Optimism is good. The Mariners have a few things going for them. But to use the Seahawks as the comparative to be vanquished in Seattle is a little like a six-year-old trying on Daddy’s Army jacket in the attic, only not as cute.
Mather’s backhand of the Seahawks was just the sardonically funny part of his casual remarks on a Zoom conference with a service club that was recorded and finally made its way to Twitter Sunday, then exploded around the sports world.
I don’t know what is more damning — that Mather didn’t know he was being recorded, or that he did.
Sunday night, Mather released a statement of apology via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times:
Statement from Kevin Mather pic.twitter.com/R2PugeImF6
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 22, 2021
Perhaps the most confounding part of his Rotary talk was that Mather said things out loud that never get said by MLB executives, because such disclosures can hurt the club in relations and negotiations with players, as well as relations with other teams, agents, fans and the MLB office.
Mather said it was “probably” 3B Kyle Seager’s last year with the club, and declared him “overpaid”; said he was “tired” of paying the translator’s salary of former pitcher and now special-assignments coach Hisashi Iwakuma (“his English suddenly got better when we told him that”); said ace pitcher Marco Gonzales was “boring;” called catcher Luis Torrens “Torres” and, most dubiously, seemed dismayed at how potential superstar OF Jarred Kelenic (whose name he mispronounced; it’s Kel-nik) has conducted his business with the Mariners.
So among the other things Mariners President/professional cabbage Kevin Mather said today, he doesn’t even bother to pronounce *top prospect* @JKelenic_1019 last name correctly.
It’s rather trivial compared to his other comments but cmon dude, seriously? pic.twitter.com/DehvcRLbzw
— Zach••• (@zachleft) February 22, 2021
“I guess I would say he’s unhappy that he hasn’t played at T-Mobile Park, but he thought he should have been in left field at T-Mobile Park three years ago,” Mather said. “I mean, he does not lack confidence.”
Mather disclosed that Kelenic turned down a long-term deal with the Mariners similar to one another young potential star, 1B Evan White, signed a year ago before he had his first MLB at-bat. The deal was questioned by some, including the players union, for setting a bad example of leaving future money on the table in exchange for security.
“He took a lot of heat for signing that deal,” Mather said. “The union really pushed back and said don’t do it.
“But I like Kevin White. He’s a nice young man. He said, ‘I have $23 million guaranteed. That changes a person’s life.'”
Of Kelenic, he said, “He’s a 21-year-old player who is quite confident. We offered him a long-term deal — a six-year deal for substantial money with options to go farther. After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he has turned us down. And in his words, he’s going to bet on himself.
“He thinks after six years he’s going to be such a star player that the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-year options will be undervalued. He might be right. We offered, and he turned us down.”
Mather confirmed that Kelenic and 14 other top prospects in 2020 were deliberately kept out of MLB action in the 60-game season in order to delay the start of their service times. It’s a common practice in baseball, but rarely acknowledged publicly because it sends the obvious signal that teams aren’t giving their best shot at winning, and alienates agents who want no delays in their clients’ progress to free agency after six seasons.
“If we would have had an injury problem or a COVID outbreak, you might have seen my big tummy out there in left field,” Mather said. “We made the decision to invite 15 prospects, who were all in Tacoma — 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids who never would have seen T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium, if not for COVID.
“As devastating as 2020 was on player development and getting better, we took a risk if we had to call people up from the taxi squad. We were a little short on players, because there was no chance you were going to see these young players at T-Mobile Park — we weren’t going to put them on the 40-man roster to start the service time clock.”
If you had any doubts the Mariners, and similar clubs around MLB, regarded 2020 as a throwaway, that should clear up things.
Mather also did another thing that none of his peers do — nor does his boss, majority owner John Stanton — and that is admit the club is in solid financial shape. It’s certainly good to know if you’re a fan or a journalist, but really bad when the corporate posture is to poor-mouth a team’s finances in order to extort concessions from unions and municipal governments.
“As bad as as our year was financially in 2020, we were better than most,” he said, also disclosing that MLB had a 2020 loss of $2.9 billion. “I attribute that to luck — better to be lucky than good. It was a low (player payroll) year, where we were at the very bottom of our rebuild, step-back cycle. Our payroll was as low as it was going to get, thank goodness. We also have a television deal with ROOT Sports and we punch well above our weight on the television deal.
“We had 60 games, no fans, and we, per game, got a lot more than we probably deserved as compared to similar teams. Financially, we did better than most of the other professional sports teams.”
Nevertheless, the Mariners were tight-fisted in the slow-developing vet free agent market, not making an expensive offer until LHP James Paxton agreed last week to a one-year deal that, with incentives, could be worth $10 million. Mather’s take was not just of appreciation for the acquisition, but of conquest.
“We have taken the position that there are 180 free agents out there on Feb. 5 still unsigned,” Mather said. “Sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over, and come hat-in-hand, looking for a contract.”
That sneer seemed apply to Paxton, who made $12.5 million last season the last of a two-year deal with the Yankees. Mather claimed Scott Boras, Paxton’s agent, said Paxton was going to get more than $12 million. When that market didn’t materialize, Paxton settled for his former team’s offer.
Granted, this is a first-world, one-percenter problem. But do the Mariners gain anything by having their club president take a public jab at Paxton and Boras?
I could go on with other insinuations and obliviousness by Mather, but you can read the folly for yourself with the transcript here (credit for discovery goes to Eric Hess @SeattleSunDvl).
Keep in mind that the last time Mather generated personal news was in 2018, when he and the club settled inappropriate workplace complaints by three women employees against Mather and two other executives, Bob Aylward and Chuck Armstrong. Only Mather, who joined the Mariners front office in 1996 as executive vice-president of finance, and in 2014 succeeded Armstrong as president, remains with the team.
The only comment issued by Mather in 2018 was this: “I am committed to ensuring that every Mariners employee feels comfortable and respected, and can contribute to our success both on the field and in the community. Can we do better? Of course.”
It sounds as if Mather isn’t doing better in making employees feel comfortable and respected. It isn’t sexual harassment this time. But it is strike two, and in this game and this world in 2021, that means Mather needs to be out.
Make no mistake: The firing will be not one of conscience, but because he’s become bad busineas for baseball people like Paxton, Kelenic and others.
One more thing: In listing for his Rotary audience players likely to contribute this season, Mather called Yusei Kikuchi “our Japanese pitcher.” Those of us who follow national politics hear an echo from a rally for former president Trump, when he shouted to a Black man in the crowd, “There’s my African-American!”
Is Paxton “our Canadian pitcher”? Is Julio Rodriguez “our Dominican outfielder”?
If the Mariners ever have a championship parade downtown, please let someone else deliver it.