Mariners fans were concerned this week as Jarred Kelenic was pressed with questions about his MLB debut during a media session for the Mariners’ Virtual Baseball Bash. The 4th ranked prospect in baseball got some of the questions you might except, like what he thought about not debuting in 2020, and what he would think of starting next year in the minors.
However, Kelenic answered the questions professionally saying “If you were to ask me last year if I felt that I was ready to be in the big leagues, I would have told you yes. But I would’ve told you I was ready two years ago, so it’s kind of a moot point.”
While Kelenic might be cool and calm about it right now, his agent could feel differently and Kelenic could feel differently as well after a few excellent weeks in AAA to start 2021. Then if the Mariners called him up in May they can have him under team control for 7 years, meaning he hits free agency at age 28 instead of age 27 because of MLB service time rules.
In a recent article for the Seattle Times, Ryan Divish talked about how Andy McKay, Mariners director of player development, discussed how the Mariners did research on top MLB position players drafted out of high school, “The research shows that those players, including Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, amassed around 1,000 to 1,200 plate appearances in the minor leagues (Kelenic has 791) and at least 250 to 300 plate appearances above the Class AA level (Kelenic has 92).”
Meanwhile, high school draft pick Ken Griffey Jr. had 555 plate appearances in the minors before being called up, and while he was not drafted out of high school Juan Soto only had 512. Kelenic would have had about 450 plate appearances in the minors last season if it weren’t for the pandemic, putting him over 1,200 plate appearances in the minors.
The Mariners need to send a message to Kelenic and the fans and engage in talks on a 6-8 year contract to avoid any mentions of service time manipulation and to avoid arbitration negotiations. This is not common, but it has happened for top talents like the White Sox duo of Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. Both of them signed 6-year contracts for around $50 million before debuting.
Why would the Mariners sign Jarred Kelenic to a 6-8 year contract now?
Well, they already did it. The Mariners gave Evan White a 6 year $24 million contract before he had ever played a game in the majors. His situation is slightly different as the Mariners look at that contract as more of a good value for the future as it is not close in AAV to the White Sox deals and it also includes three team options during White’s prime. If the Mariners want to argue in favor of keeping Kelenic down in the minors for development, they should also look in the mirror as White clearly was not offensively ready for the majors last year.
Signing Jarred Kelenic to a big 6-8 year contract would also help Mariners ownership fix its image of not wanting to spend money this offseason, as it would send a message that they will spend, they just want it to be spent on the future. Signing Kelenic would also take away any talks of service time manipulation, as even if Kelenic started 2021 in the minors (which would be weird after signing a big deal and would most likely not happen) it would be clear that it is for development reasons.
The deal Kelenic would get would be similar to Robert, Jimenez, Evan White, and Ronald Acuna Jr, with multiple years of team options. I would imagine it would be around 6 years $45 million with one 2 year team option for $18 million AAV, and if the team option were to be declined it would include a buyout or become a one-year player option.
Seattle has no excuse for not at least engaging with Jarred Kelenic about a deal as it was pretty clearly proved at Summer Camp and the alternate site last year that he is ready, and it is not a unique thing to do as the White Sox did it with their top prospect duo and the Mariners would match them with their duo of White and Kelenic.