MLB Hot Stove: Mariners plan on 'bringing the A game' to recruit Shohei Ohtani
Several prominent Japanese-born Mariners and ex-Mariners have said they will help as well
Earlier this week,, paving the way for two-way star Shohei Ohtani to be posted this winter. Ohtani is expected to be posted within two weeks, once the new system is ratified.
The 23-year-old Ohtani is the best player in the world not currently employed by a major-league team. Ankle and quad problems hampered him this season, but, while fully healthy in 2016, he hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers while throwing 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts. He is arguably the best hitter and pitcher in Japan.
Given his age and immense talent, all 30 MLB teams figure to pursue Ohtani once he is posted. Some clubs will have a better chance to land him than others, of course. Ohtani has his own personal preferences -- does he want to play for a contender? On the West Coast? Does he want to DH between starts? -- and that'll dictate his decision.
Regardless of his preferences, the Seattle Mariners intend to make a full court press to sign Ohtani, general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed on a new podcast.
Here, via MLB.com's Greg Johns, is a recap of what Dipoto said about Ohtani on the podcast:
"We have spent most of the past year preparing for this moment. Whether it's written presentations, something aesthetic for him to touch and feel ... we've put together a film on the merits of Seattle and the Mariners. And we're hopeful at some point we get to sit down in the same room.
"The history of the Japanese player in Seattle has been so celebrated and some of the greatest players in our franchise's history have been from Japan. There is an attraction there. There has to be, for a player who is as respectful of those who came before him as Shohei Ohtani appears to be.
"That is a positive in our favor, especially since all those players have been willing to assist us in the recruiting process, among others. We're not joking around. We're bringing the big guns. We're bringing the 'A' game. When we sit down, we'll be sitting down with very notable faces and that is a part of what we want to sell.
"We want to sell the Seattle experience and what it means to the Japanese-Americans, our culture and how this organization has trended so positively when we have the star Japanese player. And make no mistake, this is a star Japanese player. He's gifted. He's going to make some team a lot better."
Seattle has a very large Japanese community and it is the closest MLB city to Japan in terms of travel time, which would have obvious appeal to Ohtani. The Mariners have employed several Japanese-born players over the years, most notably the great Ichiro Suzuki, but also Hisashi Iwakuma, Munenori Kawasaki, Kenji Johjima, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Mac Suzuki.
Beyond the team's history with Japanese players and the Japanese community in Seattle, the Mariners can also offer Ohtani the opportunity to pitch and hit next season. He can serve as the DH between starts -- that's one advantage AL teams have over NL teams as they pursue Ohtani -- though they'll have to figure out a schedule that ensures he gets enough rest. In Japan, Ohtani would start Sunday, rest Monday, DH on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then rest Friday and Saturday.
Also, the Mariners could sell Ohtani on the idea of being part of the team that ends baseball's longest postseason drought. Cubs team that ends their World Series drought, but it is something. If Ohtani were to help the Mariners get to the postseason, he'd be a hero. And Safeco Field is fantastic. Who wouldn't want to play there?, Ichiro's rookie season, and they're trying like crazy to make the playoffs. No, this isn't as appealing as being part of the
Ohtani's posting will be unique because he is subject to MLB's international spending cap, meaning teams won't be able to blow him away with an offer. The Mariners traded reliever Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for an additional $500,000 in international bonus money last week -- teams can trade for an additional 75 percent of their original bonus pool -- so they're trying to put themselves in the best financial situation possible. From the Associated Press:
Ohtani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor-league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.
Under the 75 percent rule, the Mariners can increase their bonus pool to a maximum of $8.3125 million through trades, so they can still acquire another $2.8125 million. That's easier said than done though. Most international dollars across baseball have been spent or are earmarked for an Ohtani pursuit. Finding a team willing to trade international money at this point won't be easy. The Rangers ($3.535 million) and Yankees ($3.5 million) have the most available international hard cap space right now.
Once posted, Ohtani and his representatives figure to be very thorough -- or at least as thorough as the 21-day negotiating window allows -- and meet with as many interested teams as possible. The Mariners are going to get their chance at the table, no doubt. If nothing else, Dipoto and his staff plan on giving Ohtani the hard sell, and doing all they can to convince him to become the next great Japanese-born player in Mariners history.
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