Salk: The pitch Seattle Mariners should make to Shohei Ohtani
Nov 15, 2023, 12:02 AM
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
There are free agents and then there is Shohei Ohtani.
By the end of this offseason, he will likely command the largest contract in the history of baseball, and the battle to obtain the rights to pay for his services will be as fierce as any we’ve ever seen.
In my lifetime, a few free agents chases have created buzz unlike any others. Alex Rodriguez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, José Contreras and Aaron Judge stand out in baseball. Obviously, we have never seen anything quite like the LeBron James “Decision” to go to Miami in 2010. In fact, that is the one most similar to this, because while money will obviously play a huge role in determining Shohei’s next home, it doesn’t appear to be the only factor.
Like LeBron, Shohei Ohtani is weighing a variety of factors with the money all but assured to be unprecedented.
Are the Seattle Mariners interested? Like 29 other teams, they could certainly find a way to fit him onto the roster. They might not be the favorites, but by all accounts they are at least in the conversation.
It’s impossible to have a conversation about free agents without talking about cost. Shohei is going to cost a lot – more than that, even. But unlike other free agents, he comes with an ability to generate revenue that doesn’t need to be split with the rest of the league. While he likely wouldn’t be cost neutral, signing Ohtani might not cost as much in the long-term as some others. And that could be especially true in Seattle where there is a long tradition of Japanese advertisement.
So let’s take money off the table (for now). Assuming all the teams can offer roughly the same amount, how do you convince Babe Ruth II to come to Seattle?
Unfortunately, this is where the Mariners run into trouble. By all accounts, he wants to play for a contending team with a history of success. The Mariners check the first box (sort of), but the second is a non-starter. He also just opted out of a broken culture in Anaheim, which makes me assume that will be a major factor in his choice. Throw in park factors, location, comfort and fans, and you have quite a complicated stew.
The Mariners have three major handicaps as they pursue the white whale. Fortunately, I have a strategy for turning all three into strengths. If I was in charge of pitching Shohei, this would be my strategy.
• 1. Winning here would be unlike winning anywhere else.
The biggest knock on the Seattle Mariners is that they have never been a serious contender. Use that to your advantage! Yes, the Dodgers currently have a better roster. So too do the Braves, Rangers, Astros and a few others. But after three seasons of 90, 90 and 88 wins plus a top-notch rotation, the Mariners are within striking distance.
But unlike Los Angeles, Atlanta, Texas, and Houston, there is a fan base here that is starving for a title. In fact, those other cities hosted the last four World Series parades. Joining those teams to win another title would be sweet (and possibly easy), but it wouldn’t come with the same reward.
Win in LA and you’ll be remembered for a few minutes. Atlanta barely cares about sports. Texas and Houston already have their heroes. But winning in Seattle? That would come with a lifetime of gratitude, worship and love.
There is nothing like being the first. If Shohei is wired like I think he is – and the way he claimed to be in his incredible speech to Team Japan during the World Baseball Classic – he would relish that opportunity.
“Let’s stop admiring them,” he told his Japanese teammates. “If you admire them, you can’t surpass them. We came here to surpass them, to reach the top. For one day, let’s throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning.”
That is not only the type of inspiration the Mariners need as a rallying cry, it is exactly the pitch they should use to land Ohtani. Does he really believe that? Does he want to be on the side of David as it topples Goliath? If so, this is the perfect spot.
• 2. This is the perfect ballpark for your future.
It is hard to convince free-agent hitters to come to Seattle. It’s not impossible – after all, Adrián Beltré, Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz took the plunge. But it’s been increasingly more difficult as hitters have access to more information and understand the way certain ballparks affect their numbers. Something tells me word will get out regarding the sudden drop-offs for Kolten Wong, Teoscar Hernández and others who were traded here.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported that in Ohtani’s upcoming year of recovery from elbow surgery, he would like to focus his attention on winning a batting triple crown. That would sure be easier in virtually every other park in the league. But remember, he is a unicorn. After this year, he will return to pitching. And guess what? This park is going to make that a whole lot easier than any other.
I would remind him that his arm will likely deteriorate before his bat. This is his second major surgery, and pitchers generally don’t have the staying power that batters do. If he wants to continue as a two-way megastar, he’ll need more help maintaining as a pitcher. And this is the perfect place to do that.
• 3. We care about winning.
This one isn’t going to work through words alone. Talk is cheap, and so is the reputation of this franchise. It took a brutal hit in early October when team leaders J.P. Crawford and Cal Raleigh publicly questioned the front office’s commitment to winning. If I was in Ohtani’s shoes, there is no way I would opt out of a bad situation in Anaheim only to jump into one where even the leaders are unconvinced.
This is where actions need to speak louder. This is why they need to act quickly on the trade market. Don’t wait for Shohei’s decision. Instead, show him your commitment by bringing in more talent. And if it doesn’t ultimately convince him, all you are left with is… more talent!
Trade for Juan Soto, and do it quickly. If that helps you land Shohei and you can’t afford to keep both, it will have been worth it to land the superstar bat you have been wanting.
The Mariners are not leading the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes –at least not publicly. They have some very real disadvantages (many of which are of their own doing). But if they can focus on a fan base that spontaneously chanted for him to come here and would revere him forever if he won, a city in which he chooses to spend time in the offseason, and a ballpark that will lengthen and help his two-way longevity, they might be able to even the score.
If the Seattle Mariners can show Shohei Ohtani that they mean it, they just might be able to win this whole thing.
More on the Seattle Mariners and Shohei Ohtani
• Ohtani headlines 2023-24 MLB free agency
• Where ESPN’s Jeff Passan thinks M’s stand in Ohtani sweepstakes
• Morosi: Why Seattle Mariners have a shot at Shohei Ohtani
• Angels reporter thinks Seattle Mariners are on Shohei Ohtani shortlist