Morosi: The great sales pitch Mariners have for Shohei Ohtani

Jul 15, 2023, 12:13 PM | Updated: 12:15 pm

Seattle Mariners All-Star Game Shohei Ohtani...

Shohei Ohtani during the 2023 MLB All-Star Game at the Seattle Mariners' T-Mobile Park. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The upcoming free agency of two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani may be the biggest sweepstakes in the history of Major League Baseball, even more so than when he first came over from Japan six years ago. That time, the Seattle Mariners essentially finished second in the competition to sign Ohtani. What would make this time any different?

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Well, a lot of things, as MLB Network insider Jon Morosi explained Wednesday during his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. And a number of those differences may make the Mariners a more viable destination this time around.

Morosi was asked by guest co-host Ryan Rowland-Smith, a former MLB pitcher and current Mariners analyst, what Seattle’s sales pitch should be, and the longtime MLB reporter left no stone unturned in his answer. Morosi had actually listened to Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher of the SoCal News Group, who wrote a biography about Ohtani, just hours before tell Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy why he thinks the M’s will be on Ohtani’s shortlist (click here for the full story), and he dove even deeper into possible reasons things could be in Seattle’s favor this offseason.

Let’s break down all that Morosi had to say.

Why do the Seattle Mariners have a shot with Ohtani?

• 1. The same reasons Seattle was the runner-up for Ohtani in 2017.

“I think that he really gave Seattle a lot of thought at the time,” Morosi said about when Ohtani ultimately chose the Angels when he came over from Japan prior to the 2018 season. “And I also believe that when you look back, the Mariners were still, as we now know, several years away from being a playoff team. We now know that to be true. So if Shohei’s calculation when he first arrived was, ‘I like what I’m hearing. I understand the incredible Japanese-American community in Seattle, the incredible influence of Ichiro (Suzuki) and (Kazuhiro) Sasaki and (Kenji) Johjima and (Hisashi) Iwakuma on the history of the organization – (Shigetoshi) Hasegawa, as well. Obviously, the Nintendo ownership (who were the Mariners’ majority owners from 1992-2016 and retain a 10% stake in the team), for all the reasons that we know, there’s such a great bond. Certainly, I think he would look favorably upon that thread of the story.

“But he was also correct – if in fact this was his calculus – that (in 2018) it was going to take a while for the Mariners to get to the playoffs, because it did. Unfortunately for him, he went with a team that has had an even longer drought in terms of one that’s still ongoing.”

• 2. The Seattle Mariners’ status as an up-and-coming team.

“Where the Mariners appeal to me, if I’m Shohei, I look at it and say, ‘I’m comfortable in the city. I’ve been there as a visiting player many times. Got a great ovation at the All-Star Game. And now my question is: What is my path looking like to get to the playoffs?'”

Related: Ohtani to Mariners? ‘Come To Seattle’ chants catch his attention

Considering the Mariners reached the playoffs in 2022 and are building a young core that includes franchise cornerstone Julio Rodríguez (22 years old), outfielder Jarred Kelenic (will turn 24 on Sunday), and pitchers Logan Gilbert (26), George Kirby (25) and Bryce Miller (24), the future remains bright even if the 2023 team is struggling to stay above .500.

Morosi also points out that staying in the American League West may be favorable, even over reuniting with Mets general manager Billy Eppler, who was the Angels’ GM when Ohtani first signed with Los Angeles.

“I realize with the Mets, there’s this connection to Billy Eppler. Well, I’m sorry, I want no part of the Braves right now in terms of having to face them all the time, and you also have two aging stars in the rotation. That seems a little complicated,” Morosi said. “The Mariners, on the other hand, have this incredible, youthful rotation that by all accounts is really fun to be part of. It would be a fun community to get into. If I’m Shohei, I would want to hang out with Kirby and (Luis) Castillo and Gilbert and talk pitching – that would be fun for me.”

• 3. Seattle’s payroll and roster flexibility.

When it comes to the 2023 Seattle Mariners team, those two things probably aren’t interpreted by fans as assets so much as reasons for frustration. But when it comes to trying to land perhaps the most talented player in MLB history who can essentially choose what team will pay him the largest contract baseball has ever seen, it’s actually a pretty big deal.

“You’ve got enough young pitching to either A, sustain your winning team at the major league level, and B, if you have to make a trade for a bat, you’ve got the pitching pieces to do it,” Morosi said. “And finally and most importantly, to me, I realize on some level (Mets owner) Steve Cohen is spending record numbers – (there’s) never been a team that’s more expensive in the history of baseball, yeah, but they’ve got a losing record right now. So that that seems a little bit strange to me, and one major difference is they haven’t even signed their franchise position player: Pete Alonso, not signed. They’ve spent basically $350 million this year, and the guy that they probably want to have signed isn’t signed, and that’s Alonso. Whereas Seattle, it’s amazing the payroll difference right now.

“The Mets are spending $200 million more this year than the Mariners – $200 million. And you look at teams that are (expected to contend in the coming years) in the (Mariners’) division or in the American League – the White Sox, the Astros, the Rangers. And I realize in many cases, the Mariners’ roster is going to get more expensive. But again, the difference between the Mets, let’s say, and the Mariners is that the Mariners have already signed Julio.”

The Mariners having Rodríguez signed to a long-term deal is a similar dynamic to what the Angels had when Ohtani joined them, which is that they were built around another young superstar center fielder, Mike Trout, who Ohtani could share the spotlight with.

“Ohtani would know that he could come here, and it’s like a younger version of Trout – you’ve got your guy (who) you know he’s gonna be there forever – and you’ve got enough payroll capacity to both pay me, as Shohei, and add another player or two,” Morosi continued. “Think about it – the Rangers right now, their payroll is $198 million; the Astros, $191 million; the Mariners, $136 million. So you can afford to bring in Shohei, and I realize other guys are gonna get raises in arbitration, but you can build a team around him. The Mets sign Shohei, their payroll is going to be half a billion dollars a year. At what point in time is that efficient? And so I think Seattle can say, ‘Look at our books. We have a good payroll. Not just a good payroll but a balanced payroll. Not a lot of bad contracts. This is a really good team.’

“That’s exactly what I would tell him. ‘We can sign you to an already excellent rotation, you’re exactly what our lineup needs, and we can add talent around you.'”

Listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with MLB Network’s Jon Morosi in the podcast at this link or the player near the top of this post.

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Morosi: The great sales pitch Mariners have for Shohei Ohtani