Besides the Mariners, the Texas Rangers also met with Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday while the Dodgers and Giants had meetings on Monday.
The quest to sign Shohei Ohtani took the Mariners’ front office to Los Angeles for a face-to-face meeting with the Japanese pitching and hitting phenom and his agent, Nez Balelo.
The Mariners met with Ohtani and his representatives on Tuesday at the offices of the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, according to baseball sources. The traveling party to the meeting wasn’t known. General manager Jerry Dipoto, director of scouting Tom Allison, Pacific Rim liaison assistant Antony Suzuki and Japan-based scout Manny Noto traveled to Japan in September to watch Ohtani play multiple games.
Earlier reports that the Mariners were bringing in top players to help in the recruiting process have been somewhat downplayed. Star second baseman Robinson Cano is in the Middle East on vacation. But it’s logical to believe manager Scott Servais and possibly Dr. Lorena Martin, the team’s new director of high performance, would be a part of any presentation to Ohtani.
Mariners officials would not comment on any meeting. The team doesn’t comment on free-agent negotiations.
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The Mariners reportedly weren’t the only team to meet with Ohtani on Tuesday. The Texas Rangers followed the Mariners with an afternoon meeting per a report from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The Rangers reportedly sent an eight-person team into the meeting.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Cubs also met with Ohtani on Tuesday. He reported that the Giants and Dodgers met with Ohtani on Monday. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register confirmed the Angels also met with Ohtani on Monday.
That leaves the Padres as the remaining reported finalists who haven’t met with Ohtani.
On Sunday, Ohtani’s representative narrowed the field of 30 teams to seven, notifying the general managers of teams that didn’t make the list. The Yankees, once thought to be the favorites, were eliminated along with teams on the East Coast.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Ohtani seemed to be favoring small-market teams on the West Coast, and the reported finalists is certainly representative of that. All seven teams train in Arizona for spring training. During his time with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani worked out each spring in Peoria, where the Padres and Mariners have complexes.
Dipoto said in his podcast, “The Wheelhouse” two weeks ago, that the Mariners planned to bring their “A Game” for the process, which included multiple layers of presentation, including a video component. Teams already had to answer a questionnaire (below) for Ohtani and CAA to start the process.
“We’re not joking around,” Dipoto said in the podcast. “We’re bringing the big guns. We’re bringing the ‘A’ game. When we sit down, we’ll be sitting down with very notable faces and that is a part of what we want to sell. We want to sell the Seattle experience and what it means to the Japanese-Americans, our culture and how this organization has trended, and trended so positively when we have the star Japanese player. And make no mistake — this is a star Japanese player. He’s gifted. He’s going to make some team a lot better.”
He was effusive in his praise.
“He’s an incredibly gifted player on both sides of the ball,” he said. “He’s a gifted pitcher with a fastball that ranges from 93 to 103 mph, which is pretty phenomenal by itself. But when you add the fact that he has two polished secondary pitches — he has a hard, sharp slider and a split-finger that he uses as both as a changeup and a strikeout pitch — they are both advanced. He’s been a Cy Young-quality-level starter in the NPB.
“He’s also been a MVP-level hitter, playing DH and outfield with big-time power. I’ve jokingly referred to him internally as Roy Hobbs. He’s almost too good to be true when you watch him play.”
Like his on-field talent, Ohtani is unique in his decision to come to MLB. At age 23, he’s two years shy of the age to earn unlimited dollars as a posted free agent from Japan. Instead, he’ll have to sign a minor-league contract, which puts him under club control for six years at essentially the league minimum for the first three seasons. His signing bonus is limited to the international pool money for each team. The Mariners have $1.55 million, while the Rangers have the most at $3.53 million.
“He’s coming over as a 23-year-old, two years prior to when he would be exempt, he’s coming over with the knowledge that he’s leaving a fair amount of money on the table, which I think speaks a ton about his interest level in where he’s going,” Dipoto said. “Whether it’s the team he’s playing for, the teammates he’ll saddle up with once the season starts, or what he feels as a comfort level with the organization that recruits him, this is may be the most unique circumstance that I can recall in baseball. It is all about how you as a city, as an organization and as human beings appeal to an individual rather than the final paycheck, which in my lifetime, has never really been a thing.”