The “Free Britney” movement has gained traction of late following a recent New York Times documentary on Britney Spears’ conservatorship, an unusual arrangement that allows the pop singer’s father to control most aspects of her career. Meanwhile, a similar controversy exists in baseball with fans and players coming to the defense of Jarred Kelenic, who finds himself at odds with his big-league employer over the hotly-debated subject of MLB service time.
Most would agree Kelenic, baseball’s fourth-rated prospect according to MLB.com, belongs in the majors. The left-handed-hitting outfielder seems to share that perspective. In fact, the 21-year-old Wisconsin native believes he’s being punished for rejecting a contract offer the Mariners proposed 14 months ago.
“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,’’ said Kelenic’s agent Brodie Scoffield. “It was made crystal clear to Jarred—then and now—that the decision not to call him up is based on service time. There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues."
Kelenic’s stalemate with Seattle has gained increased attention in the wake of comments made by former team CEO and president Kevin Mather, who all but admitted earlier this month the Mariners were stashing him in the minors to delay his free agency. The Mariners aren’t the first team to exercise this technique and surely won’t be the last, though many including Yankees ace Gerrit Cole have criticized Seattle for blatantly manipulating Kelenic’s service time.
“You’re not putting the best players on the field for people to see,” remarked an unusually candid Cole in support of Kelenic and other big-league-ready talents being wasted in the minor leagues. “It’s just tired, man. Players are over it.”
While some might accuse Kelenic of looking a gift horse in the mouth, Seattle’s offer was likely an empty gesture, a low-ball proposal deceptively packaged as long-term stability. This happens more often than you would think. For instance, George Springer was presented a seven-year, $23-million extension offer before he even logged an MLB at-bat. Sure, there was inherent risk in the former Astro turning that offer down—he could have gotten injured or been a complete bust at the major-league level. But in the end, Springer, the recent recipient of a six-year, $150-million megadeal with Toronto, was rewarded handsomely for betting on himself.
Even with Mather gone (the disgraced exec resigned Monday), Kelenic’s fractured relationship with the Mariners isn’t going to repair itself overnight. “I was extremely disappointed,” Kelenic told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, lamenting last year’s missed opportunity. “I feel that guys should be rewarded for their play, and have the best guys on the field, especially when you talk about a team that hasn’t gone to the playoffs in 20 years and your best prospects are just sitting there watching.”
Traded from the Mets in a deal that brought Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Big Apple, the former sixth overall pick sports an impressive .290/.366/.516 batting line with 29 homers, 110 RBI and 35 steals over 173 minor-league appearances.