Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by Jason A. Churchill

Yeah, so, the Seattle Mariners are in contention in the American League by way of finishing No. 2 in the West. Entering play Monday, the Houston Astros held a 1.5 games lead on Seattle, which essentially extends to 2.5 games because the defending division champs already have clinched the tiebreaker: head-to-head.

But the burning questions, plural, surrounds top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert.

1) Should the Mariners call up one or both to enhance their chances to catch Houston?

2) If they do, what are the service time ramifications?

3) Should those ramifications even matter?

Should Seattle Summon Kelenic, Gilbert?

This is a question only the Mariners can answer. Why? Because they are the only ones to have laid eyes on these players all year with any regularity.

One can easily take a leap on Gilbert being more likely to help than one or more of the current arms residing in the big-league bullpen. He was close enough when 2019 concluded and the club admitted their original plan for the right-hander this season included a summer call-up.

But we don’t know a thing about how things have gone at the Alternate Training Site in Tacoma. At least not the kind of stuff we’d need to even begin to make an assessment on how ready he might be to help a club in some role.

Again, though, it’s reasonable to believe in Gilbert more than, say, Seth Frankoff or Aaron Fletcher. If only it was as simple as believing based on others being bad and how things were trending a year ago, the last time Gilbert pitched in a game.

With Kelenic, it’s more difficult to reasonably suggest he’s ready beyond guessing, which is what some have done the past few weeks. Unfortunately, “well, he was in Double-A last year and has hit like 5 or 6 homers in Tacoma this summer” doesn’t qualify as practical evidence.

My argument for calling up both players centers on how easy it would be to protect them from some kind of developmental disaster.

Gilbert doesn’t have to be asked to go five or six innings. Use him out of the bullpen a few times.

Kelenic doesn’t need to be asked to hit in the top 6 in the lineup and play center field daily. Use him in favorable matchups (versus right-handed pitchers), bat him seventh or lower and if the test looks rough early, curb his usage even further.

The range of potential results for both players in the majors extends from one end to the other. Both could struggle mightily in the short stint, or they could both be very good, or somewhere in between.

If handled properly, I don’t feel there’s a lot of developmental risk if the task proves to be a bit much for them right now.

The Mariners are asking the same thing from inferior talents, and have all year, and it hasn’t worked. The minuscule downside doesn’t scare me at all.

What are the Service Time Ramifications?

There seems to be some confusion on how service time works, so let me start with some basics.

First, players require 172 days to earn one year of service. Those 172 days can come all in one season or over parts of multiple seasons.

Second, most MLB seasons are 184-187 days long, but players are maxed at 172 days. If a players earns service time for the entire season, they receive 172 days, not the pure number of days in the season. Yes, it’s dumb.

For 2020, players are receiving prorated service time. For every day they spend on the 2020 roster, it means 2.8 days of credited service. This means if Kelenic or Gilbert were called up and spent 10 days with the big club it would count as 28 days of service.

The impact of those 28 days, just for example, are as follows:

  • Both would start 2021 needing just 144 days to earn a full year of service.
  • The potential for eventual Super 2 arbitration status must be considered. Super 2 status is a when a player ranks in the top 22 percent (in service time) of all players with less than three but more than two years of service. These players get a fourth year of arbitration starting a year sooner.

If both Kelenic and Gilbert earned 28 days of service in 2020, in order to hold them off from ending 2021 with a full year to their ledger — which means they get to arbitration and free agency sooner — Seattle would have to hold both players out for 45 days or more next season, suggesting a mid-to-late May call-up.

If neither player gets a day in 2020, the club can wait as few as 14 days (depending on the exact length of the 2021 season).

For the record, the Super 2 number is usually around two years and 120-135 days, though last season it was just 2.115.

It would relatively easy to manipulate both arbitration and free-agent service time concerns for both Kelenic and Gilbert if they received 25-30 days of service for 2020. It may, however, disrupt the club’s roster plans if that is the case, and if GM Jerry Dipoto and staff decide not to make the move, that may be a significant factor.

Should Service Time Even be a Consideration Right Now?

Yes.

If a big part of the club’s long-term plan includes starting fresh in 2021 with the players in question, it does matter, because not being able to do so right smack in the middle of a rebuild and right in the middle of offseason planning (yes, right now is the middle) is a pretty major issue.

While the counterargument of “yes, but you have a chance to get to the postseason” carries a little bit of weight, let’s hash that out for a second here.

It’s a small chance at the postseason regardless of who does or does not get called up this month. That matters. It’s also a very, very small sample for which these players would theoretically be upgrades. Entering Monday, Seattle has 16 games remaining.

For context, the best player on the planet has been worth 1.3 wins over replacement to lead all of baseball over the last 16 games. Even if we assume the players Kelenic and/or Gilbert replaced were worth, say, a quarter-win below replacement level for those 16 games, that still requires the call-up to be worth as much as a top-10 player to make a difference.

Of course WAR can’t account for the little things; a catch Kelenic makes that Phillip Ervin or Dylan Moore doesn’t. a batter Gilbert gets out that Fletcher or Frankoff may not. Those events, with specific context, are worth more than WAR accounts for in the grand scheme.

So, yes, service time should matter. But it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in anything. Almost ever. There rare occasions when waiting a day or two more may serve the club down the road.

As far as options go, there is an impact.

There’s a great chance Kelenic starts 2021 in Tacoma regardless of what happens the final few weeks this season, call-up or not, perform or not. There’s also a chance Gilbert does, too. Not as good a chance as Kelenic, perhaps, but it’s there. If the two are called up this month, it means being added to the 40-man roster, which in turn means if they are optioned to the minors next year, even just prior to the season opening, it burns an option.

It’s my opinion, however, options aren’t much of a concern in this situation. Players get three option years (or four in super-rare scenarios when a player has less than five season of pro experience — majors and minors — and hasn’t been on a pro roster for 90 days or more in any on season, and hasn’t posted a 60-30 active roster/IL split in any one season), so it’d be an upset if Kelenic or Gilbert ran into option issues down the road.

In the End

The Mariners are in no position to rush a prospect. There will be no need to start either player on the Opening Day Roster next spring, and it very well could benefit both from spending six or eight weeks in Triple-A.

But there’s no reason to hold off on 2020 because of 2021. So if the Mariners believe 30-40 PAs and some outfield time from Kelenic helps them compete better to finish things this season, he should be called up for 10-14 days.

If the club believes Gilbert has a better chance to get some outs than Frankoff, Fletcher or Brady Lail, he should be summoned, too.

It may not make a difference in their chase of the Astros. Both players could play well and Seattle still may come up short. Both players could struggle, too

But the same way the sample may not be long enough to make a meaningful difference on the club’s chances to make up 2.5 games, it’s also not enough to damage these players’ futures.

Kelenic is probably at a point now similar to where Evan White was to start 2020. He’s struggled, but the club keeps running him out there. Gilbert is probably close to where Justin Dunn was in March, and he, too, has shown he can handle it and keeps getting starts, despite struggles.

This is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario for the Mariners, and it’s not wrong to hold the players back.

But not only does the upside outweigh the risk (development, service time, offseason & 2021 planning), I think the most likely outcome does, too.

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