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SEATTLE — The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes has 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 in all the time.
The industry’s belief is that the Dodgers remain the favorites, that the Mets could be the most aggressive in their financial offer, along with the Giants, and that the Rangers could be emboldened by their World Series title to continue to advance. The Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees – big-market teams looking for a bounceback – are also reportedly 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 at least reveals a shift in organizational thinking compared to just a year ago, even after significant contract extensions for Julio Rodríguez and Luis Castillo during 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 during the general managers’ 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 would categorically not discuss Ohtani in the public forum during general manager meetings, but it should be noted 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’s nonetheless expecting a huge payday, with speculation in the range of $50 million for an average annual value.
The Mariners’ projected 40-player payroll for 2024 currently stands at nearly $150 million, according to Cots Baseball Contracts, including the six players due for a combined raise of more than $25 million and those whose increase is provided for by arbitration.
As for Ohtani’s form in Seattle, even without pitching next year due to elbow surgery he underwent in September, he would represent a huge improvement for a lineup 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 JP Crawford – each a Silver Slugger Award finalist – Seattle’s roster is more uncertain than clear. The club has already decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernández, emphasizing its desire to replace his run production with a more contact-oriented hitter, or even more so.
The well-known problem is that this year’s free hitters are “not as robust a class as has been the case the last couple of years,” Dipoto said last month. All of this puts the Mariners in something 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.
Still, this is an offseason that began with player comments about adding more impact players, compounded by some confusion following Dipoto’s late-season comments. 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.
Gn En sports