Shohei Ohtani Could End Seattle’s MLB-Longest Postseason Drought

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, December 7, 2017 11:48 PM UTC

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 11:48 PM UTC

Could the Seattle Mariners end the longest playoff drought in baseball next season? It largely depends on whether the “Japanese Babe Ruth” chooses to join the M’s.

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Are you wondering why Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove League has been rather quiet thus far? Because all 30 teams were hoping to land Shohei Ohtani, who has been called the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because he’s considered a No. 1-caliber starting pitcher and also is a terrific hitter.

If Ohtani were a typical free agent, he’d probably be looking at a contract worth $200 million or more per season, but because of the new collective bargaining agreement and the fact Ohtani decided to come over before age 25, he would only make the MLB minimum of $545,000 next season and wouldn’t be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest. He can get a signing bonus from any team, but that’s capped by international bonus rules. No club can offer him more than about $3.6 million right now.

Ohtani, 23, apparently doesn’t care too much about money and just wants to play somewhere he’s comfortable. He also wants to be a starting pitcher while playing the field or at DH on days he’s not pitching. Many thought the New York Yankees were favorites to land him, but Ohtani has narrowed his list to seven teams: Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs. So that’s three AL West teams, three NL West clubs and the Cubs. Ohtani must make a decision by Dec. 23.

The rumors are that Ohtani prefers the West Coast and a smaller-type market. That would presumably rule out the Rangers, both L.A. teams and the Cubs. Most believe the Seattle Mariners are the favorites as Seattle isn’t an overwhelming media market like a New York or L.A., and the Mariners were the long-time home to the greatest Japanese player to ever play in the USA: future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.

I’m here to tell you that if Ohtani signs with Seattle, the Mariners could end the longest playoff drought in the majors and be legit World Series contenders in 2018. Seattle is currently +3200 on 5Dimes MLB futures to win the first World Series in franchise history. The M’s last made the postseason in 2001 when they tied an MLB-record with 116 regular-season wins and Ichiro was AL Rookie of the Year and MVP. Seattle lost in five games to the Yankees in the ALCS.

The Mariners were close to earning a wild-card spot in 2016 with 86 wins but slipped to 78 last year. They have a quality lineup led by second baseman Robinson Cano, shortstop Jean Segura, third baseman Kyle Seager and DH Nelson Cruz. GM Jerry DiPoto already has been busy this offseason. He landed first baseman Ryon Healy (.271, 25 HRs, 78 RBIs in 2017) from Oakland for some minor leagues. And on Thursday, DiPoto acquired former Marlins All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon for prospects. Gordon hit .308 with 60 steals last year and will move to center field. The Mariners also got $1 million in international bonus pool money in the trade, which is important:

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Addition of $1M in int’l slot money, as reported by @Feinsand, would bring #Mariners to $3.557M, putting them slightly above #Rangers in race for Ohtani.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2017

The biggest hole on the Mariners is the rotation, and that’s where Ohtani would fit in first and foremost – the Mariners also have said they will let him DH and move Cruz to right field. Seattle’s rotation right now looks something like James Paxton, past-his-prime Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez and Hisashi Iwakuma. That’s not a playoff rotation.

Ohtani would immediately become the ace if his stuff transitions as most scouts believe. The guy can hit 102 on his fastball. In 2016 with the Nippon-Ham Fighters he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in just 104 games and had a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in only 140 innings. In one start, he threw 31 pitches that were at least 99 mph. His numbers were a bit down in 2017 (.332 BA, 8 HRs, 3.32 ERA) as Ohtani dealt with ankle and hamstring injuries.

Whichever team lands Ohtani, its futures odds will get much shorter.

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