The All Star Break happened this past week. Seattle hosted, there were lots of events all around town, and I wasn’t there. I don’t feel bad about that, because – for instance – tickets to the All Star Game and the Home Run Derby were insanely expensive. The thing last weekend sounded kinda cool, where there was the Futures Game and the Celebrity Softball Game all for one ticket. But, then you’ve got all the driving it takes to get there, finding parking, all the walking, being around all the people, and God forbid if you’re sitting in a section drenched with sun, but it’s not super fun to be roasting during a hot summer day, even in Seattle.
Quite frankly, I had other plans last weekend that were far more enjoyable. And I’ve got other things to spend my money on that take priority. So, even though this might be the last chance for me to attend any sort of All Star festival in my hometown (it took 22 years to get back here; I’ll be an old man probably the next time they come again), I don’t feel bad about missing out. Maybe if I was 10-15 years younger, with more disposable income, I would’ve been all over it. But, whatevs.
I also just didn’t have a ton of interest. I missed even watching the Home Run Derby on TV because I wanted to see the movie Past Lives in a theater. I watched a good chunk of the All Star Game, but that was because I was visiting my dad, and even then I couldn’t be bothered to stay the full nine innings. I blame a lot of my lack of interest on the Mariners being super mediocre (and therefore super disappointing, considering pre-season expectations). Whenever the Mariners are super mediocre, I use the All Star Break to unwind, and detach from all things baseball. That was more or less my status this week.
But, being on Twitter and whatnot, you can’t help but hear about interesting things. Like the Shohei Ohtani experience. The fans chanting, “Come To Seattle!” Him talking at the press conference about how he spends some offseason time in the Seattle area (apparently going to Driveline for some hitting instruction/analysis in Kent), and how much he likes the area. We already know that the Mariners were one of the final teams in on him when he originally came to MLB from Japan. And we already know that he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
So, what are the odds that the Mariners are able to sign him?
I gotta say, first and foremost, I can’t remember the last time I was this invested in a free agent. There are, I’m sure, free agents in every sport, every year, that I would really want for my teams. But, maybe the financials don’t line up, maybe they’d be blocked by a player I like who’s already on the team, or maybe they just have no interest in signing in Seattle, so the rumors never point to us being a possibility. But, here, you have to think the Mariners are in on it. The organization desperately wants and needs him, both for his pitching as well as his hitting. We fit a lot of the parameters of what he’s looking for in a new home. I’m sure we’d be willing to structure the contract around his wants and needs; maybe he gets a full no trade clause. Maybe he wants an opt out (or multiple opt outs) after a certain number of seasons.
I’m not saying the M’s are a lock, or that we’re even frontrunners. There are other organizations in other markets with more money to spend and a better winning pedigree that I’m sure could put us to shame. But, at the very least, the Mariners have a seat at the table, and that’s important.
That being said, I’m reluctant to get my hopes up. Granted, I’m ALWAYS reluctant to get my hopes up because I’m a firm believer in jinxes, and believing that something good might happen is a great way to ensure that something actually-terrible is going to happen.
There’s only one positive outcome, and that’s Ohtani signing with the Mariners. There are two neutral outcomes: he makes a surprise retirement, or he opts to play outside of Major League Baseball (both options are quite remote). The rest of the outcomes are all bad, with the worst being: he signs with the Rangers, Astros, or Angels (spoiler alert: the A’s have no shot, so it’s not even worth mentioning the entirety of the other teams in the A.L. West).
If I’m being honest, I think the least likely of the three would be Ohtani signing with the Astros. I don’t know that they have the money to take him on. Of course, that would be the most enraging, so I’m not ruling it out for that reason alone. I kinda think – depending on how the rest of this season shakes out – that the Rangers are a sneaky option: lots of money, a youngish team on the rise, lots of All Stars to surround yourself with, and they were reportedly one of the preferred Ohtani teams the last time he was a free agent (which were: teams on the west coast, the Rangers, and the Cubs).
I want to say the Mariners are (and should be) all in on Ohtani. There are a lot of arguments you can make that one of the big reasons why we didn’t opt to make a bigger splash in free agency last offseason was because we knew we were putting our eggs in the Ohtani basket for 2024 and beyond. Of course, they can’t come out and say that, so instead they say the reason is Julio’s contract and Castillo’s contract (both of which were signed during the previous regular season). This is sort of akin to how the Mariners went out of their way to free up international dollars the last time Ohtani was a free agent, when we were caught with our pants around our ankles thanks to the Angels signing him. At that point, we had nothing to spend that money on, and ended up trading a lot of it away, rather than make any attempt at signing any international guys.
Will that be our downfall in 2023? Will we have gone to all these lengths to save money, only to fall short once again? And how is that going to affect our roster-building strategy for 2024 if Ohtani goes elsewhere? Will we be left with scraps and have to find other ways to try and improve?
Or, am I wrong entirely, and the price tag for Ohtani will actually be too high for the Mariners?
We can’t rule that out, even though it makes all the sense in the world to sign him at whatever the cost. The money can be made back through other avenues. I know it’s looking like a $500 or $600 million deal in totality (10 years, $50-$60 million per year), which will be the most expensive contract in MLB history by a million miles, but billionaires are good at one thing: making money. They should have no problem making money off of Ohtani.
Nevertheless, the Mariners are a notoriously cheap organization. Not like Oakland or Tampa are cheap; but those franchises have stadium issues that never got squared away. The Mariners HAVE their stadium. They own a majority stake in their cable channel (Root Sports). And yet they still manage to underspend compared to the big dogs. They blame the middling media market, meanwhile they take home a tidy profit damn near every year there isn’t a worldwide pandemic.
So, I can’t say with 100% certainty that the Mariners aren’t scared off by that pricetag.
I also can’t say I would necessarily blame them, in one very specific respect: what if he gets hurt?
As a pitcher, you’re always subject to arm issues. What if he needs Tommy John or any other litany of injuries that would keep him out for a significant portion of the year? That not only eliminates one of your best pitchers, but also your best hitter, in one fell swoop. Now you’re paying $50-$60 million a year for someone on the IL, that you hope will return to form. He’ll also be 30 in July of next year. There’s a good chance he’ll never be as good as he’s been these last three seasons with the Angels. Can you afford that sort of contract when he’s pushing 40? When will he need to be transitioned away from pitching and become a full time DH? Will this be a Robinson Cano situation, where we’re shedding great players just to get out from under his contract, if we even can?
Don’t get me wrong, I still want Ohtani! Even if he’s only giving us five good years, that’s our window anyway! I want a World Series title in the next five years; we’ll worry about years 6-10 when they come.
But, I have every reason to believe he won’t sign with Seattle. There will be some other team with more money, more amenities to offer, and a better plan to win it all. What have the Mariners EVER done to show you they’re committed to going all the way? To doing whatever it takes? Sure, they make big splashes to go from bad to mediocre. But, when they get to be even a little good, the M’s pull back on the throttle. They stand pat when it comes to trades. They pinch every last penny in free agency. They never push their chips all in.
And that, more than anything, is the reason why we’ll never see Ohtani in a Mariners uniform. Either we won’t pay him what he’s worth, or he’ll see right through us and have enough sense to know that the Mariners won’t do a damn thing once he’s here. Felix Hernandez is the King; he’s also the #1 cautionary tale of an organization that let a remarkable talent be squandered by not doing enough to build around him. Felix deserved better than the Mariners. So does Ohtani.