SEATTLE — The Shohei Ohtani The sweepstakes have been underway for nearly two weeks now and, somewhat surprisingly, there has been little momentum on the market for what is arguably the most sought-after free agent of all time.
The industry’s belief is that the Dodgers remain the favorites, the Mets could be the most aggressive in their financial bid, along with the Giants, and the Rangers could be emboldened by their World Series title to continue adding. The Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees – big-market teams looking for a rebound – would also be in the mix.
Other than that, it was mostly crickets on the two-way superstar. Perhaps it’s intentional given Ohtani’s veiled nature, but at least in Seattle the quietude reflects what’s going on behind the scenes. Industry sources told MLB.com this week that Ohtani’s arrival did not appear to be part of the Mariners’ realistic plan this offseason.
Perhaps this comes as a surprise, or perhaps not – but it reveals at least a shift in organizational thinking from just a year ago, even after significant contract extensions has Julio Rodriguez And Luis Castillo in the final months of the 2022 season. At that time, it was believed that the club was anticipating Ohtani’s imminent arrival and intended to launch an aggressive offensive once that long-awaited moment arrived. Granted, the Mariners weren’t the only club to take this approach.
As President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto said at CEO meetings last week“I’m sure there are 30 teams that would love to see him come to their market.”
Still, the pressing follow-ups are why and when things changed, especially given the start of the offseason.
It is also unclear whether these revelations were gleaned from correspondence with Ohtani and his agent, CAA’s Nez Balelo, after free agency opened on November 5, or earlier. Dipoto categorically I wouldn’t discuss Ohtani in the public forum at GM meetings, but it’s worth noting that Dipoto and the Seattle front office routinely conduct due diligence on any players they target.
The prevailing belief is that Ohtani – who barely speaks publicly on non-performance topics, including free will – would prefer adequacy and flexibility to the richest deal. Yet it’s clear that he nonetheless expects a huge payday, with speculation in the range of $50 million for an average annual value.
The Mariners’ projected 40-man payroll for 2024 is currently close to $150 million, per Baseball Contracts with Cribsincluding the six players due for a combined raise of more than $25 million and those scheduled to be raised through arbitration.
As for Ohtani’s slump in Seattle, even without pitching next year due to elbow surgery, he suffered in September, it would represent a huge improvement for a formation that needs more consistency. And he could do it as a permanent replacement at designated hitter, where the Mariners have received some of MLB’s worst production at the position over the past two years.
Yet it would also be unwise to suggest that Ohtani’s bat would single-handedly solve all of the Mariners’ problems. Beyond Rodríguez, Cal Raleigh And J.P. Crawford — each a Silver Slugger Award finalist — Seattle’s lineup is more uncertain than clear. The club already determined not to extend an offer eligible for Teoscar Hernándezemphasizing his desire to replace his run production with a more contact-oriented hitter, or even more.
The well-known problem is that this year’s free hitters are “not as robust a class as has been the case over the last couple of years,” Dipoto said last month. All of this puts the Mariners in a bit of a pigeonhole after being absent from hitter free agency the past two winters, at least at the premium levels.
“To that end, we are very comfortable in how we construct rosters. If it’s free agency, if it’s trades, we’re always pretty aggressive in that regard. The other teams will hear from us,” Dipoto said, adding that the Mariners have the resources to negotiate with other teams: “We have attractive pitches. We have a good agricultural system.
It cannot be ignored that signing Ohtani carries notable risks, beyond the basics stamped on all megadeals and the potential to financially cripple a budget in the long term. Ohtani’s elbow surgery — his second, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 — poses a legitimate question about how he performs as a pitcher long-term.
However, it was an offseason that began with player comments on adding more impact players, compounded by some confusion following Dipoto’s draft end of season commentary. And, fair or not, leaving the Ohtani sweepstakes so early could create another point of tension as the team prepares for an important season.
Things can obviously change in the Ohtani sweepstakes, but that’s where they currently stand in Seattle.