MLB

Seattle Mariners CEO Kevin Mather’s Blunder Could Cost MLB Tens of Millions of Dollars

The Seattle Mariners haven’t sniffed the MLB playoffs in close to two decades, and there is fresh insight into possible reasons why. Their CEO shared some business practices recently that put him in the running for the least popular boss this side of Office Space. Why anyone would want to play for the American League team while Kevin Mather is in charge is a mystery following his incredible gaffe.

If Mather survives the episode that came to light over the weekend, then the Mariners shouldn’t. Yes, it’s that bad.

Seattle Mariners CEO Kevin Mather has started his apology tour

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Kevin Mather has worked for the Seattle Mariners since 1996 and served as team president since 2014. His college degree is in accounting, and he might not have taken electives that would have honed his people skills.

Mather apologized Sunday after his comments to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club on Feb. 5 surfaced on YouTube. As is often the case these days, the meeting was conducted “virtually.” Naturally, the video landed on YouTube, and the list of people he alienated corresponds closely to the Mariners’ roster heading into spring training.

Among his transgressions:

  • Chiding the English-language skills of certain employees, compounding it with a stereotypical observation that Dominican Republic native Julio Rodriguez “is loud.”
  • Sharing contract negotiation details concerning prospect Jarred Kelenic.
  • Observing that Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager is overpaid.

Those remarks weren’t even the most potentially damaging ones to the Mariners and to MLB. But they gave Mather a place to start with his damage control.

“I want to apologize to every member of the Seattle Mariners organization, especially our players and to our fans,” Mather said in a statement reported by ESPN. “There is no excuse for my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my terrible lapse in judgment.”

“I’ve been on the phone most of the day today apologizing to the many people I have insulted, hurt, or disappointed in speaking at a recent online event. I am committed to make amends for the things I said that were personally hurtful and I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage I have caused to the Seattle Mariners organization.”

The Seattle Mariners may have exposed MLB to liability

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As if humiliating team personnel wasn’t bad enough, Seattle Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather may have exposed his club and MLB to union trouble. At the very least, Mather showed that the team doesn’t care for the collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball players.

Before spring training even opened, Mather’s mind was made up about top outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, who turned down a six-year contract that included three club options, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

“We would like to get him a few more at-bats in the minor leagues, probably Triple-A Tacoma for a month,” Mather said.

A month is how long it would take to keep Kelenic from accumulating a full season of major-league service time. That would delay salary arbitration by a year and then have the same effect on free agency later on. MLB team executives deny it, but the short-term demotion of players who deserve to be in the majors is a common tactic to save money.

Just over a year ago, Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant lost his arbitration appeal stemming from a similar situation. Demoting Bryant after he tore up spring training in 2015 allowed the Cubs to hang on to Bryant for another year at a lower salary, but the arbitrator sided with the team.

Bryant went on to earn the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and was the league MVP the following season.

MLB owners paid dearly once for collusion

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Kris Bryant has agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, but he probably won’t last the season. Knowing that Bryant likely won’t consider the Cubs when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, they will almost certainly trade him this spring or summer.

It will cause the debacle of his rookie-season demotion to be rehashed. The media will be quick to connect his situation to what Seattle Mariners executive Kevin Mather said about sending prospect Jarred Kelenic to the minors to begin the 2021 season.

MLB owners elected Peter Ueberroth after he finished running the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Mysteriously, the free-agent market for players suddenly dried up for two years. Three collusion lawsuits later, owners agreed to pay $280 million to settle all the claims.

There’s no evidence of collusion in the service-time issue, but the Seattle Mariners have seemingly announced that they’re suppressing the earning power of their own players. At some point, one of the athletes affected will seek arbitration over being held back. Mather’s words will figure prominently in the argument, and the outcome could be costly to owners.

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