With the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes tilting towards the Mariners, I’ve had several people ask me how similar it is to the Mariners’ pursuit of Ichiro.
Well, it’s really not similar. The Mariners had very little competition – mainly the Mets – for Ichiro back in 2000, and even though he was just 27 and had put up incredible numbers, there was doubt that he would be as effective in the MLB. Remember, even though Kaz Sasaki and Hideo Nomo had success pitching in the majors, there hadn’t yet been a Japanese-born position player that had become a star.
A huge advantage the M’s had was the fact that Ichiro had spent spring training with the team back in 1999. Make no mistake, the Mariners expectations were high. They had just lost Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in back-to-back seasons, and with Jay Buhner as a free agent, Ichiro was slated to be the new right fielder on a team that had won 90-plus games in three of the previous six years with two postseason appearances.
The M’s put up the big bucks, nearly $14 million just to sign Ichiro, and of course the rest was history. It was the best signing in franchise history as Ichiro won the MVP and Rookie of the Year awars in his first season as the team won a record-tying 116 games.