Shohei Ohtani would be a wonderful pickup for the Mariners, who are said to have asked Ken Griffey Jr. to join them on a recruiting trip to Japan.
Jerry Dipoto’s latest transaction was to send 100-mph reliever Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for international bonus money, which is not to be confused with the solid infielder from the 1970s, Don Money, or even the great Tigers slugger, Norm Cash.
This cash money, presumably, will be used to sweeten the Mariners’ bid for Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, the pitcher-slash-slugger who will be the jewel of the free-agent market. Or at least, he will be if and when the MLB Players Association signs off on the rules for Ohtani’s Japanese ballclub, the Nippon Ham Fighters, to post Ohtani. The deadline to work that out is Monday, and I fully expect the union to eventually acquiesce.
Ohtani would be a wonderful pickup for the Mariners, who are said to have asked Ken Griffey Jr. to join them on a recruiting trip to Japan in an effort to wow the 23-year-old phenom. Ohtani would boost the top of the Seattle rotation, give the Mariners a needed power bat and do so at close to the minimum salary, because the proposed posting rules preclude a bidding war.
Ohtani will thus sign with the team he deems most willing to let him be a two-way player in a city most conducive to his lifestyle. That gives the Mariners a fighting chance, because they have proven to be a comfortable locale for a succession of Japanese stars and have the creativity to satisfy his dual-threat desires.
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The Mariners, however, had best not put all their hopes in the Ohtani basket. They certainly are a valid contender, but little is known about his preferences when it comes to choosing a team. With teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers, Padres, Astros and especially the Yankees sure to be just as vigilant as the Mariners, their offseason blueprint should view Ohtani as a bonus, not a cornerstone.
The Mariners, above all else, need a talent influx, which makes this another in an endless stream of critical offseasons for the ballclub. It has been 16 years since they found the proper mix to get them into the postseason, and Dipoto no doubt will dive in with gusto to try once more.
In fact, he already has. In addition to the acquisition of the international bonus money (which conceivably also could be used in a bid for switch-hitting 17-year-old shortstop Kevin Maitan, the top signee out of Venezuela by the Braves last year who could be declared a free agent by commissioner Rob Manfred as a penalty for Atlanta’s violations of the international signing process), Dipoto made the ceremonial first big trade of the offseason. Because of course he did — sending reliever Emilio Pagan to the A’s for first baseman Ryon Healy.
It’s not Dipoto’s first attempt at filling first base, of course. Dan Vogelbach was supposed to be the future at the position until they realized his flaws outweighed his upside. Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso were stopgaps, as were Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee, while 2017 first-round draft pick Evan White is still a couple of years away.
Healy has power, without question, having hit 25 homers last year. He isn’t great in getting on base, nor is he an elite fielder, but he’s also just 25 and still developing. Certainly, at close to minimum salary, it’s a better solution to first base than signing, say, Mitch Moreland for $8 million. The Mariners get to bet on Healy’s potential while stockpiling money to throw at their other, more pressing needs.
No mystery what those are: a high-performing outfielder, preferably one who can play center field as a hedge against Guillermo Heredia (who might not be ready for the start of spring training after shoulder surgery) and a boost to their pitching staff, both starting and relieving.
On the former topic, this is a good opportunity to address one available outfielder, the esteemed Ichiro, recently cut loose by the Marlins at age 44. While I bow to no one in my respect and admiration for Ichiro’s career, I would recommend strongly against making what could only be construed as a nod to nostalgia and gate appeal (though I believe it would actually backfire on that front) by signing Ichiro. The Mariners have too many holes to award a roster spot to a player in what would essentially be a ceremonial role — Ichiro’s production last year was anemic. Bring him in as an adviser or ambassador, absolutely, but not as one of the 25-man roster.
Dipoto, meanwhile, has done a good job stockpiling pitchers who can provide depth in the rotation — Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez and Andrew Albers, in addition to youngsters such as Andrew Moore and Chase DeJong. But with the injury history of James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, and the second-half fade of Ariel Miranda, the Mariners need some surer bets in their starting five. Right now, Mike Leake might be the most reliable starter they have — a reality Dipoto needs to address before opening day.
Ohtani might well be the answer to that dilemma, and the dream scenario is an Ohtani-Yu Darvish combo. But I trust the Mariners have some good Plans B, C and D.