Seattle Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather issued a public apology for a “terrible lapse in judgment” after a series of wide-ranging comments, which included questioning the English proficiency of two players, were made public over the weekend.
In a speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club in Washington on February 5, Mather complained he was “tired of paying” for an interpreter for former Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma—who returned to the franchise in January as a special assignment coach.
He made similar comments about minor league outfielder Julio Rodriguez.
A video of the speech was uploaded on YouTube on Sunday and while it was swiftly deleted, several clips made their way onto various social media platforms.
Hours after footage first surfaced, Mather, who has been with the Mariners since 1996 and was promoted to the role of president and CEO four years ago, publicly apologized.
“I want to apologize to every member of the Seattle Mariners organization, especially our players and to our fans,” he said in a statement. “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.”
“I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma ‘X,’ but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him,” Mather said.
“His English suddenly got better. His English got better when we told him that.”
Speaking about Rodriguez, who is considered one of the most promising MLB prospects, he added: “Julio Rodriguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”
Mather also acknowledged top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert were unlikely to start the season with the Mariners as the organization looked to keep them under control for longer by manipulating their major league service time.
“We control his major-league career for six years, and after six years he’ll be a free agent,” he said about Kelenic.
While technically not against the rules, manipulating service-time is a controversial practice that essentially allows a team to delay a player’s first big salary.
Here’s the complete transcript of Mather’s speech.
“I can only assume there are fans amongst the BBRC since every spring, either I or Jerry come over and answer questions, and the questions this group asks are of the highest quality.
“I thought I’d ramble a little bit […] My next meeting is at 10, so as people drop off, I’ll answer questions until we’re done.
“There’s really three topics: I’m going to touch briefly on 2020, and what the 2020 experience was like. [I’ll] Briefly tell you what 2021 will look like, because my guess is that’ll change. And then to end on a high note, I’ll tell you about the team and where I think we are.
“2020: A terrible year financially, we played 60 games, no fans. We had forest fire smoke so bad that we played five of our home games on the road. But I’m reminded of two things: No one cares if wealthy sports team owners lose money. Shut up and move on.
“I’m reminded of a Tiger Woods putt, those of you who are golfers will know what I’m talking about […] Tiger hits this long putt down the hill, and the announcer says ‘That’s pretty good […] Better than most […]’ and the putt falls in and the crowd goes crazy. Why do I think of that ‘better than most’ commercial? Because as bad as our year was financially in 2020, we were better than most.
“I attribute that to better lucky than good. It was a low year, we were at the very bottom of our rebuild step-back cycle, so our payroll was as low as it was going to get. We also have a television deal with ROOT sports, and we punch well above our weight on the television deal. We had 60 games, and per game, we got a lot more than we probably deserved compared to other similar sized markets. Terrible year financially, but we did better than most.
“Second thing, and last thing I’ll say about 2020 […] When we decided to play 60 games, every team was allowed 60 players to bring to spring training summer camp. You’d have 26-28 on your major league roster, and 30-32 players on your taxi squad […] They weren’t in a bubble, but they were in a bubble…We made the decision, when we invited the 60 players, to invite 15 prospects. Our top prospects were all in Tacoma, summer camp was 30 days and then Tacoma was a 60-day practice/exhibition game.
“We brought 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 and brought our high-end prospects in, really got to know them, they got high-end instruction in Tacoma. The risk was, if our major league team had had a COVID outbreak, or injuries, and 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, we weren’t going to start the service time clock. There were all kinds of reasons that, if we had an injury problem or COVID outbreak, you might’ve seen my big tummy out there in left field. You would not have seen our prospects playing in T-Mobile Park.
“The risk paid off, we had a great year in development for 15 of our prospects. As the season went on, other general managers around the league realized they missed an opportunity, they went to the commissioner and asked to expand the taxi squads, add 10 more people […] The commissioner pondered it for a few days and concluded it wasn’t worth the risk. So I’d like to thank Jerry Dipoto and the baseball department, but on the bright side of 2020, we did better than most clubs on player development.
“Let’s move on to 2021[…] I’m going to end this the same way we started. I’m embarrassed to tell you that spring training starts on February 17. Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona, the state with the highest COVID infection rate in the union, but on February 17, pitchers and catchers will report. There’s a new spring training schedule coming out, don’t buy your plane ticket quite yet. One, the schedule’s going to change, and two, it’s not clear we can have fans in Peoria, Arizona.
“Seventy-five players will be invited to spring training, no minor league spring training until the major league team leaves to start the season. So minor league spring training will start in April after the major league team comes to T-Mobile Park, [to reduce the risk of infection]. Our opening day is April 1, we will play a 162 game season, as normal as normal can be. Our interleague opponent is the NL West.
“There will be no expanded playoffs, no DH in the National League, no seven-inning double headers, no runner on second base in extra innings. Yes, the union and MLB could not come to an agreement to push the season back. We tried to push the season back a month so players would be vaccinated, start the season in early May, play a 154 game season, we could not come to an agreement […] That is also embarrassing.
“Finally, on a high note, I’m going to talk about the team. We think we are in a fantastic spot.
We believe the AL West is on its way down, we believe the Mariners are on the way up, this could be a lot of fun for a lot of years. 2021 is probably a stretch, as far as making the playoffs, but a few highlights:
“At first base, we have Evan White, a gold glove first baseman. He struggled at the plate last year, statistically, but the analytics department will tell you he’s a fantastic hitter, he hit the ball hard and had a lot of bad luck snakebites last year. He’s going to be a good hitter. Don’t worry about Evan White.
“Dylan Moore will be at second base, or our utility player, perhaps left field in April. We are trying to sign a second baseman as we speak. J.P. Crawford is a Gold Glove shortstop. Kyle Seager, this is probably his last season as a Mariner. He will, and I’ve already told him, he’ll be a Mariners Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. Last year he seemed to find the Fountain of Youth, had a fantastic year, and we expect the same in 2021.
“We traded with the Padres last July and picked up a catcher named Luis Torres [sic]. Luis Torres [sic] is a fantastic catcher, he’s young and he’s controllable, and he had such a good breakout with the Seattle Mariners that our minor league catcher of the future, Cal Raleigh, he was going to go home at the end of September but decided to stay and go down to Arizona, work in the camp, because he realized that his playing time might be shortchange by Luis Torres [sic].
“We picked up Ty France in the Padres trade, third base/DH/second base/first base. I really want to remind everybody of Mitch Haniger. Mitch Haniger was an All-Star in 2018, was off to a great start in 2019, had a devastating injury, has been out for 19 and 20.
“He’s healthy, he’s in the best shape of his life, he’ll be in right field and I have no doubt an All-Star in 2021. Mitch Haniger has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder as we talk about our prospects and these young kids. He’s mentioned more than once, what about me?
“In center field, we have Kyle Lewis. He was the Rookie of the Year last year, Kyle Lewis is a great human being, and Kyle Lewis will push himself to get better. On the pitching staff, we have Marco Gonzales, signed to a long-term deal. Marco Gonzales is very quietly, very boring, but Marco Gonzales might be the second- or third-best left-handed starter in the American League. He has very quietly put up fantastic numbers.
“Justus Sheffield is also a starting pitcher for us. He would have been the Rookie of the Year if not for Kyle Lewis taking the award for us. I enjoyed whispering that in his ear as we made a presentation on the field last September.
“[Yusei] Kikuchi, our Japanese pitcher, was much better last year. His numbers didn’t show it but he’ll be one of our starting pitchers. We’ll run a six man rotation like we did last year, and we’re in the process of trying to sign yet another starting pitcher in the next week or so. [James Paxton has since signed a one-year contract.]
“We’ve made several additions to our bullpen.
“On the minor league side, Jarred Kelenic, we’ve been talking about him for a year and a half now. He’ll be in left field in April. He’s a 21-year-old player who, um, is quite confident. We offered him a long-term deal, six-year deal for substantial money with options to go farther. After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he’s turned us down and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself. He thinks after six years, he’ll be such a star player that the 7th, 8th, 9th year options will be under value. He might be right, he might be right, we offered and he turned us down.
“On the mound in April, you won’t see him on April 1, but by mid April you’ll see a young man named Logan Gilbert. He’s the real deal, he’s a top of the rotation pitcher, and I can’t wait to see him at T-Mobile Park.
“I mentioned Cal Raleigh, Cal Raleigh is our catching prospect, he’ll be here some time in 2021. He’s a switch-hitting catcher and we think very highly of him, he and Luis Torres [sic] will probably share the duty for the next six years.
“Finally, in the San Diego [Padres] trade, we picked up a young man named Taylor Trammell. The first time I met him, I thought he was in the wrong field, he looked like a tight end for the [Seattle] Seahawks. He’s 6’4”, 220 lbs., chiseled, and he’s an outfielder that will be here in 2021, probably the back half of the season.
“The point of all this: We have very highly thought of young players that will be here in 2021, and as they learn and grow, we think the back half of 2021 will be better than the front half of 2021. Before I close […] we started the step back plan in August of 2018. We have gathered prospects. It’s been an expensive, and I know painful, process for our fan base.
“But we have, in the top 100 [of] Baseball America […] Now when you’re lousy in your minor leagues, you dismiss Baseball America and say, you know, we’ll see what happens kids change [and] kids grow up, but since we have six of the top 100, we don’t dismiss it.
“We speak quite highly of it. There’s 30 teams in baseball, and the Mariners have six of the top 100, I can do the math on that; we’re doing quite well. We actually have two in the top 10. These players arrive in 21, 22, 23, which gets to my point: I think this is going to be a lot of fun for a long time.
“We will offer long term contracts, we did a long term deal with Marco Gonzales. We did a long term deal with Evan White […] when I say long term deal, he had not played a game in Major League Baseball, and we signed him to a $24 million contract, overpaying him in year one, two, and three.
“Fair in years four, five, and six. And then, if he’s a superstar, we have the option to exercise and keep him in years seven, eight, and nine. Weep not for Evan White, but if he’s a superstar, we’re only gonna pay him $15 or $16 million a year, [while] on the free agent market he might get $20 to $24 million a year. So we took the risk in the early years, and he took the risk that he’s a superstar in the later years of his contract and he’s probably underpaid.
“He took a lot of heat for signing that deal, the union really pushed back and said, don’t do it. But I like Evan White, he’s a nice young man, and he made the comment, he said, ‘I have $23 million guaranteed. That changes a person’s life. I’m signing the deal. And if I’m good and they pick up my options, I’ll have $55 million guaranteed. That changes my family’s, my grandkids’ lives.’ I like the young man. We will offer more long term deals.
“And there’s a certain pitcher that I won’t mention, who was in the bullpen at T-Mobile Park during our summer camp. And this was reported by one of the coaches. The players were sitting around talking about Evan White and, you know, he made a mistake signing this long term deal and delta.
“And this particular pitcher, who is going to be here in 2022, he said, ‘If somebody offers me $23 million guaranteed, find me a pen as fast as you can, I’m signing.’
“So we’re going to do that, our ownership is committed, we’re eager to sign these players up [and] we’re willing to take that risk. Some we’ll win on, some we’ll lose on, but we’re going to try to get three or four more players signed on these long term deals over the next two years.
“Finally, in closing, I think we’re on the verge of something special. I know our fans have been patient, I know our fans are frustrated, they have stuck with us. They have been loyal, and they deserve a winning team. We’re going to get there, and it’s not going to be a one year […] we’ve got talent stacked up and spread out and at various ages and levels in our minor leagues that we think we can consistently win.
“We also have an ownership group that is committed to winning, and they will spend money […] when we need to go get a starting pitcher or a free agent left fielder, we’ll go do that. So we’re very much looking forward to delivering to our fan base.
“I close with: The Seahawks won the Super Bowl, good for them. Fantastic. And they had a heck of a parade. Bob opened with the story of the [Minnesota] Twins and the World Series, we had a parade in Minnesota, and when you win a World Series, it’s a month long process.
“There’s a best-of-five series, best-of-seven series, best-of-seven series, and it goes for a month. So when we win the World Series, as much as I liked the Seahawks parade and then winning the Super Bowl, that parade will look like a neighborhood Fourth of July parade, because when we win this World Series, we’re going to do it right and I’m looking forward to delivering. With that, this group always has great questions.”
Question: What about getting to go to games, and if people can go to games are they going to have to wear a mask for three or four hours outdoors?
“It’s a question I don’t know the answer to. We have worked closely with the city, the county, the health officials. The Seahawks tried to get fans for their playoff game. And I told my staff, I said, let’s just pull their coat and stay out of this one. And they were not able to do it. We have designs, socially distanced T-Mobile Park will hold 9,870 fans.
“The real question is, do we have to stay away from the field, do we have to be back six rows? And those are pods of four. I’m afraid one of the issues the county is going to have us do, at least in April, and perhaps May, is the pot of four has to be from the same household. And how do we enforce that? We’re working closely with the county health officials. Some ballparks will have fans. Texas, Florida, they will have fans, and not as socially distanced as perhaps we will be at T-Mobile Park. The state of California, we don’t think they’re going to have fans all year. So we’re working on it.
“My best guess is small in April, bigger in May, bigger in June, perhaps big crowds in July, August, and let’s hope in September, we’re pushing for a playoff spot and we have big crowds in September. That’s my guess, that it’ll phase in, and my guess is mask[s] will probably be mandatory in the first half. But that’s all, you know, I’m still hoping to have fans in Arizona. And that’s the end of the month.
We talked to the national health officials. I’m not supposed to say his name, but the commissioner talked to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. And if we could have pushed spring training back a month, Dr. Fauci thought that the players would be vaccinated before they left at the end of April, and we could start early May and have our players vaccinated. We could not come to an agreement on [that].”
Question: “Kevin, what was the players union’s position on why they didn’t want to move back spring training?”
“It’s an interesting question. The players are worried that they won’t get paid. We offered to play 154 games, there would have been some doubleheaders, and they would have been seven inning doubleheaders, on Saturdays, play 154 games, we [would have] pa[id] them for 162 games.
“There is a chance, the commissioner can cancel the season, he can cancel games, he can cancel the season, he has that authority. Let’s say the South African COVID virus, which is getting people’s attention, comes to the United States, takes over and we have to shut down. Airplanes are grounded. At that point, the commissioner is going to have to cancel at least a certain number of baseball games.
“And as he told me the other day, he said, ‘If we played a 10-game season, and I tell the owners that they have to pay the players for 162 games, I better have my resume updated.’ The players wanted to guarantee 162 games and the commissioner basically said that’s a non starter […] There is a high level of distrust between the Union and the management currently, and I’m very worried about what’s coming in the future. Good question. I could go on and get into more details on that.”
Question: “What are the odds we see [James] Paxton or Taijuan Walker?”
“It’s a good question, Paxton has surprisingly not signed […] We are of the opinion, the industry lost $2.9 billion dollars, and before any of you make faces: No, nobody cares that rich owners lost money. But we lost $2.9 billion last year, and we have taken the position that there are 180 free agents still out there on February 5 unsigned, and sooner or later, these players are going to turn their hat over and come with hat in hand, looking for a contract.
“We think Walker is one of them. James Paxton made $12.5 million dollars last year, and his agent has told us that he’s going to make more in 2021. Interestingly, we started a conversation with Paxton yesterday, and it is for substantially less than he made.
“There’s a chance. We’re having conversations and Walker thinks he’s going to get a three-year deal. I don’t think he’s going to get a three-year deal, and there’s a chance he comes back as well. When I said we’re looking to get another starting pitcher, you just named two that we are in the early stages of talking to, but February 17 is fast approaching.”
Question: “I’m a little confused about the Kelenic kid. My recollection is that he’s a top prospect we have out there, and I’m a little confused about your statements about them earlier. It sounded like you wasn’t happy with [the] contract opportunity long term. Is he in the system, is he going to be in the system, or is, is he actually gone, or going?”
KM: He’s in our minor league system […] In 2019, we promoted him to AA. He is a very good player. And quite frankly we think he’s going to be a superstar. We control his major league career for six years. And after six years, he’ll be a free agent. We would like him to get a few more at-bats in the minor leagues. Probably AAA Tacoma for a month, and then he will likely be in left field at T-Mobile Park for the next six or seven years, and then he’ll be a free agent […]
“He won’t commit beyond his free agent years. I wouldn’t say he’s unhappy, he appreciates the offer, he just refused to sign it. He thinks he’s going to be that good. And he thinks he will be a very well-paid player after six years, and I think he might be right. Hopefully with us, but we’ll see where we end up […] he’s not unhappy, 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. I mean, he does not lack confidence.”
Moderator: “Kevin, thank you for your presentation again today. It’s always interesting to get an update from you on how the favorite team is doing here. So, in honor of your presentation, and through the generosity of Cashman Consulting and Jeff Cashman, we are donating 1000 pounds of fresh produce to Harvest Against Hunger.”
“Thank you for your interest. We really appreciate that there’s an interest out there, we think we’re in a really good spot, and we’re excited about the future thing, and I’m really looking forward to the next spring when I tell you who we signed and how many games we’re gonna win.”
Moderator: “I know it’s been a tough year for the Mariners, and I think this quote is really appropriate to all of us: When you come to a fork in the road. Take it. And this is a very famous quote from Yogi Berra, so hopefully the road that we take will be better for all of us, [in] 2021 and beyond. So with that we are adjourned. And I’ll turn it back over to you guys for more questions.”
Question: “Despite all the obvious trying times in 2020, you shared that one story about the young player saying, hey you know give me $23 million and I’ll sign. Can you think of any other positive leadership stories that came out of a weird year in a weird season?”
“Marco Gonzales has really taken a leadership role. One good story in 2019, we had a veteran pitcher, that we have since traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks who had a, you know, attitude. He’d been around, he’d been there, done that. And our bullpen coach was talking to the starting pitchers in spring training; he was talking about, you know, when you go out and throw your bullpens, you know, it’s only 20 pitches [so] let’s make sure it’s quality, and he was giving this speech.
“And the pitcher who’s no longer with us kind of rolled his eyes and said, ‘Don’t tell me how to throw my bullpens yet.’ As the meeting broke up, Marco Gonzales, with a help of a couple bullpen guys, pushed this particular pitcher into the locker and said, ‘Listen, if you want to be a dick, be a dick, but do it quietly.’ And, you know, for a young kid to do that, good for him. Good for him. And […] it’s hard for a pitcher who only performs every fifth or sixth day to take a leadership role, but Marco has really kind of owned that.
“Kyle Lewis, for being a rookie, will be a leader in our clubhouse. And I have to compliment Kyle Seager, [he] is a veteran player. He’s probably overpaid, but his attitude, and this has been a tough couple of years where we traded veterans and came in with young kids who are learning, and Kyle Seager has stayed positive and has had a tremendous attitude. There’s been several times, that’s why I whispered in his ear that he’s going to be a Mariner Hall of Famer because it’s gotta be some tough years for him, but he’s been positive, he’s been upbeat, and it’s really been fun to watch him grow.”
Question: “Tell us about Julio Rodríguez.”
Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud, his English is not tremendous. But he and Kelenic are very good friends. He’s a year behind Kelenic, he probably […] won’t be here till 2022 or 2023. Fantastic kid. We’re really big on social media, he loves to get out in front, he loves the Mariners, and between him and Kelenic, we think we’ve got an outfield that will be as good as any in baseball for the next six years. He’s the real deal. He’s ranked higher than Kelenic, which […] as I said, Kelenic doesn’t lack for confidence. Kelenic is not happy that he’s the fifth highest prospect on Baseball America, and Rodríguez is the fourth highest prospect. It’s little things like that bother Kelenic.”
Question: “It’s pretty clear that you’re pretty frustrated with the union. What other things, what other issues are out there that are keeping you awake at night?”
“I worry about our fans. I worry about, you know […] We need to make it easy for fans to come to T-Mobile Park, and I’ve really challenged my operations department, my concessions, my merchandise: If they’re coming to T-Mobile Park, they shouldn’t have to stand in line to spend money with us, they shouldn’t have to stand in line to get into the building.
“We need to get better with big crowds. Part of it is [that] the rules have changed since 9/11, you know, magnetometers and we’re […] gonna bury big bollards out in the sidewalk so that the truck can’t drive into the stadium. The rules have changed, and we have to pay attention. We have to make it easy for fans to come to the ballpark.
“I worry about the neighborhood. You know, we have employees that show up at 4:15am and leave at 10 o’clock at night and there’s not enough parking, so I can get away with charging $30, $40, $50 to park in my tiny little parking garage across the street, so I don’t let my employees park there. I have them park down on the other side of […] CenturyLink, I’ll call it CenturyLink. And so I hire police to escort them to their cars, as they check out and punch out, and they walk in groups in their escort with police. We got to do something about our neighborhood.
“I worry about once this is behind us, getting people to come to T-Mobile Park is. It’s going to be critical. My parking guy is talking about socially distanced fans, the 9,000 I talked about, and he wants to have all these management people back to run the parking garage. I said there’s going to be for 9000 people, there’s enough parking around the ballpark, you’re going to open the gates and say park for free for crying out loud! Stop it. But little things like that, that we have to do to entice fans to come back down and experience the fun and joy of gathering and T-Mobile.”
Question: What’s happened to the season ticket holders?
“It’s remarkable how many season ticket holders left their money with us. I had to point out to the bank. In the next year, here’s our forecast for next year, we’re required to give them the budget. I said, I’m not expecting the season ticket holders to pay me in advance […]
“There’s going to be a little bit of a [inaudible]. As we start the season, we will likely offer them seats, socially distanced seats, and they will use up their credit. My suspicion is they won’t be able to use their entire credit because of socially distanced requirements, but our season ticket fan base, it’s remarkable. We gave them a 15% discount in 2021 if they left their money with us, and a shockingly high percentage [did]. And we’re very appreciative.”
Question: “Kevin, the changes in the minor league organizations around baseball and the fewer teams. What does that mean for the Mariners, and also the new status of the Everett franchise, and their relationship with the parent club?”
“Minor league baseball went through a dramatic change. We went from some teams [having] six or seven minor league teams. We went to four per club. It was, you know, we tried to negotiate it with minor league baseball.
We owned 51 percent, you didn’t ask this but we owned 51 percent of the Modesto Nuts. The reason we own 51 percent of the Modesto Nuts is [that] we were sick and tired of playing in lousy facilities. So we bought 51 percent so we could then move our minor league affiliate there. It was things like that that drove the change in minor league baseball. We had the choice, they called us and asked if we wanted to stay in Everett. Everett was a short season [club], they started in the middle of June and ended in September. The short season teams are now gone.
“They asked us if we wanted to stay in Everett, we quite frankly like the owner in Everett. We thought he was a good person, we like the location of Everett, we don’t particularly like the facility called Everett. We talked to the owner, we could’ve gone to Spokane, we could’ve gone to Vancouver, but the problem with Vancouver is that you run into visa problems, particularly when you bring kids from Venezuela and the Dominican and try to get them across the border for a three-game season.
“And I’m about to watch your facial expressions because not only is the replay here to stay, we’ll have an electronic strike zone within two years. The umpire behind home plate will be called by a machine. There’ll be a home plate umpire, he’ll have a piece in his ear, so just in case the ball bounces through the strike zone and the machine calls that a strike, he can overrule that. The electronic strike zone is coming, it’s pretty hard to argue that the technology doesn’t exist to do that.
“They’re within millimeters now of, uh, every pitch, heck they know the spin rate on every pitch that’s thrown. And everybody’s analyzing the data on all of that. So it’s there, it exists, and they’re going to use it. We just have to get better at the replays, when we have a replay it’s gotta be done quickly and move on. There can’t be a two minute stop of the action.”
Question: “Baseball today has a lot of players from other countries, obviously from the Caribbean and Venezuela, but now from Korea and Japan, etc. What does the club do to help these players learn English?”
“Some clubs are better than others. 20 years ago, if we signed a 16 year old in the Dominican, we’d send them to a dumpy old academy with no hot water and a lousy rock-filled field.
“Then when he was 18 or 19, we’d send him to Peoria, Arizona, put him up at the Hampton Inn, and give him $30 a day. He doesn’t even know how to make change! $30 a day for per diem, and surprise surprise they’d get in trouble because they wouldn’t know how to speak the language or make change or even buy dinner.
That’s all changed. We have an academy in the Dominican now, our Venezuelan and Dominican kids are there for several years. English is taught, English classes are mandatory, high school diplomas are mandatory.
“And life skills, here’s a dollar bill, here’s a quarter, here’s how it works. Really critically important, as much as their skills as a pitcher or hitter or shortstop, critically important skills so they can survive and thrive in the United States, which is what we’re ultimately hoping they do! Some teams [are] better than others, I’d like to think we’re on the front edge of that, we’ve got a really nice academy.
“As far as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, those players are typically older. They don’t come over as 16 or 18 year olds, they come over as 28, 30, 32 year olds. We typically […] it frustrates me […] For instance, we just re-hired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible. He wanted to get back into the game, he came to us, we quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league.
“He’s coming to spring training. And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better, his English got better when we told him that! For the older players from the Far East, we have an interpreter that travels with them. For the younger Dominicans, Venezuelans, Caribbean players, we really invest in them at a young age before they get here. Good question! It’s important.”
Question: “A couple questions, one relating to pitchers, one relating to the draft. You went to the six-man rotation last year, that seemed more logical due to the season.
“Do you see this as something that’s part of the future? And along those lines, what do you see with these relievers starting games like Tampa does? And the second question there, last year’s draft was five rounds instead of the 40 rounds […] it’s been in the past. What do you see happening with that going forward?
“One of the reasons we reduced the number of minor league teams is that we’d have a 40 round draft simply to staff a roster. The days of finding a fireballer from, you know, Bumbleduck, North Dakota, in the 39th round, and he turns out to be Cy Young, those days are over.
“There’s too much video scouting now, a lot of it is done on video and the players send stuff in, and as we get closer to the draft, for the high-end players, we’ll go see them. As a general rule, a lot of the scouting is done electronically, via videos.
“That’s one reason we reduced the number of teams, because why are we spending all this money when […] and I apologize, I don’t know the stats but I did at one point: After the fifth round, the chances of making the major leagues over the last eight years are…[Video cuts off].