Kelenic told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that the Mariners told him "several times" last season he would have been called up if he agreed to a long-term deal.
"It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year," Brodie Scoffield, Kelenic's agent, told Nightengale. "It was made crystal clear to Jarred—then and now—that his decision not to call him up is based on service time."
Kelenic's comments follow years of questions about how teams use Major League Baseball's service-time rules to gain additional years of control and prevent players from hitting free agency.
The most famous recent example involved Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs in 2015. Chicago sent him to the minor leagues during spring training even though he was hitting .425/.477/1.175 with nine homers in 40 at-bats.
Then-Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters prior to the move that any reassignment of Bryant would be a "baseball decision." By not bringing him up until April 17, the Cubs gained an additional year of team control.
Bryant filed a grievance against the organization, but an arbitrator ruled in January 2020 that the Cubs didn't violate service-time rules. The 2016 NL MVP would have been eligible for free agency after last season if the arbitrator ruled in his favor.
Instead, Bryant is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2021 season.
Since there was no minor league season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelenic spent the year at Seattle's alternate training site. He wasn't called up by the organization and is expected to start 2021 in the minors.
General manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters Tuesday that Kelenic needs more development time. He has only advanced as far as Double-A, where he played 21 games two years ago.
MLB.com ranks Kelenic as the fourth-best prospect in baseball.
The New York Mets drafted Kelenic No. 6 overall in 2018 and traded him to the Mariners that December as part of the deal that brought Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to New York.
In his first season in the Mariners organization in 2019, Kelenic played at three different levels and finished at Double-A. The 21-year-old hit .291/.364/.540 with 23 homers in 117 games.