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The Mariners are almost certainly out on Shohei Ohtani and that’s a bummer
Let's spend way too many words talking about it.
It’s always weird when you go back and read an old Mariners blog post from years ago and see what else was happening around the event or item described in the piece. Like, yes, that really was a weird game—but Ian Snell missed some bats and may turn out to be a shrewd buy-low move.
So, hello, future readers. Probably just me. The Mariners traded for Luis Urías on Friday but, just before that, we received another report indicating the club is all but out in what had been a long-awaited pursuit of Shohei Ohtani.
Hey, future people! Is Ohtani pitching still? That’d be cool. Hopefully not for the Rangers, though.
Anyway, we’re gonna talk about Ohtani in the painful present, how that now includes two veritable reporters indicating the M’s are out and hit on the big points folks are talking about in response.
“This isn’t anything new. We want to hear nothing.”
First, background. We have two stories that dropped over the past few days pointing to the improbability (impossibility?) of the Mariners signing Shohei.
First, the highlighted line from ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Ultimately, this will come down to Ohtani's priorities. If it's money he wants, nobody has more than New York Mets owner Steve Cohen. If it's resonance in Japan, no relationship between team and player matches that of the Seattle Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki (though the notion that the Mariners will pay top dollar for Ohtani simply is not real at the moment). And if it's comfort, he can just go back to the Angels, who gave him relative carte blanche the past six years.
…it’s been mostly crickets on the two-way superstar. Perhaps that’s by design given Ohtani’s veiled nature, but at least in Seattle, the quietude is reflective of what’s taking place behind the scenes. Industry sources told MLB.com this week that landing Ohtani doesn’t appear to be within the Mariners’ realistic agenda this offseason.
I’ve heard some people say something along the lines of “Ohtani said if recruiting attempts leak, he’ll hold it against teams—so of course we haven’t heard anything!”
We have heard something, though. We’ve heard from two different reporters the Mariners will not offer Ohtani a competitive contract and we’ve heard signing him would be unrealistic.
It’s not nothing. Not at all. You don’t write these things—especially not if you’re Kramer and your report is going to run on Mariners.com and go out in the associated Mariners news emails—if there is any question they are not true.
For clarity’s sake, Kramer is employed by MLB and not the M’s—and the Mariners largely don’t have control over the editorial stories running on the site. But it’s still a big-time report you don’t run without really trusting your sources.
So, who might that be? Where’s this coming from?
Wellllllllll, I hate to say it but this is probably coming from someone within the organization. They know it isn’t happening, they know it can’t happen under current restraints and they’re putting it out there now to soften the blow and move on.
With reports indicating Ohtani could sign before the Winter Meetings on Dec. 3-6, an announcement could drop from the sky any day now. The Mariners could have even been told by Ohtani’s reps that, if the M’s have submitted their best and final offer, they are out.
They are almost definitely certainly probably out.
But wanna dare to dream?
Maybe Ohtani is seriously considering playing in Seattle, perhaps even wants to play in Seattle…but he’s not going to sign a deal that isn’t even competitive. So maybe his camp is pushing this to lean on the Mariners to take the plunge and sign him for the money they feel he deserves.
Or maybe it’s the other way? Maybe it’s the Mariners saying “Let’s get this done or we’re moving on. We’re not going to be dragged along for leverage, we’re gonna bow out and tell everyone in the process.”
Like, it’s almost definitely not either of those last scenarios. I’ve followed enough offseasons and read enough reports like this one and “Maybe it’s all a smokescreen!” is batting a cool .000/.000/.000 for your Seattle Mariners.
“It was never going to happen, it was always unrealistic”
I know it was always unrealistic. It was always unlikely. Der.
I’m not mad that the Mariners can’t or won’t overcome their circumstances to land a beyond-generational player, I’m mad at the circumstances—ones that are largely of their own creation.
Yeah, it is unlikely Ohtani would land with a second-rate franchise. But the Mariners don’t have to be a second-rate franchise. We don’t have to accept that.
“It’s not a good idea anyway”
This one’s a doozy for me.
Like, I know, I get where these folks are coming from. They mean well. They may not even be wrong.
They say, with Ohtani undergoing his second Tommy John surgery, it’s very possible he’s never an effective pitcher again. And if that’s the case, paying $50 million or more annually for a designated hitter probably isn’t smart.
But all we’ve heard for a long time now is that Ohtani is a different level of player and, as a result, teams who are interested likely have one normal budget for this free agent season and then a contingent one for the possibility of signing Ohtani.
And that’s for good reason. It makes a lot of sense because with Ohtani, like few other athletes in sports, the organization that lands his services is guaranteed to immediately see an enormous financial windfall.
There’s the straight-up ticket sales to see Ohtani—the Mariners would make a push towards the top of the attendance leaderboards, already landing at #10 last year. You may have more sellouts than not in 2024 with just landing Ohtani.
Then you obviously have all the commercial and advertising money that’d take a massive jump. In-ballpark advertising, the jersey patch, radio and TV advertising rates and so on. All of those see a big jump in value when a logo is appearing next to the face of the most famous baseball player in the world.
And then you have the more direct TV money. The way that works is on the cusp of changing in a significant way and having a player like Ohtani may be even more important and impactful than it is now.
Travis Sawchik of The Score put it well.
The Mariners’ television situation is already getting real dicey and when they finally are forced to go over-the-top—with fans paying them directly to watch games vs. them getting a fee from everyone with a certain cable package—revenue generated will be even more closely tied to the product on the field.
And finally, you get to where MLB owners really make their money, franchise valuation. The Mariners are already worth close to $2 billion; how much does that number change if Shohei Ohtani is under contract?
This is a lot of sentences to say: Shohei Ohtani will probably pay for himself.
The delta between the cost of his contracts and his on-field availability/performance would have to be massive for it not to be the case.
Starting just in 2024 and 2025, the latter his first full season back on the mound, there’s no way Ohtani isn’t worth at least $50 million to the Mariners or any team he signs with.
It’s a no-brainer.
“They have other needs they need to fill and a limited offseason budget.”
First, see above with regards to the pool of money from which the Mariners would draw for Ohtani’s contract. And second, fans aren’t pissed about how the team is or is not spending their budget, they’re pissed about the budget.
According to Darren Gossler’s regularly-updated accounting, tabulation Divish and even the Mariners credit with being the most accurate, the club’s 40-man payroll currently stands at $136,160,714.
That is approximately:
$35 million below their previous high-water mark
$64 million below a top 10 payroll (approximately $200 million)
$100 million below the first luxury tax threshold
They can’t meet and exceed their previous highest payroll—now six seasons ago? That $200 million top 10 mark is probably more reflective of the 2024 value of 2018 dollars. We’re all paying a hell of lot more for tickets, among other things.
And finally, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for a team in this market, with these fans and in this park to at least push up against the luxury tax when they have World Series aspirations. That’d still sit outside the top five.
Plus, they wouldn’t have all these holes to fill if they already spent the money to fill them. If the Mariners were never going to be serious players for Ohtani, sitting out the last two offseasons is even more infuriating.
So what’s up? What the hell is going on? Where is the money going?
Shortly after Kramer’s piece dropped, Nathan Bishop had a tweet that echoed something I’ve been thinking for a while.
Broke billionaires, man.
And really, there is only one billionaire in this ownership group. It wasn’t a super-wealthy ownership group to begin with, once they bought out Nintendo’s majority share—and buying out Nintendo surely took a lot of cash, a lot of debt or some combination of both.
They just may not have the dough. And that sucks.
But also, why are y’all making major real estate deals then? Making ballpark renovations to accommodate the wealthiest fans? Where’s all the All-Star Game, Winter Classic and concert revenue going?
While all these numbers are on different scales, I’d also prefer for this team’s ownership to refrain from being among the biggest donors to local conservative political candidates if they’re going to cry poor about their ball club.
Also, as Conor Kelley noted in the Times, this organization is in line to take $507 million worth of taxpayer money since the Safeco Field deal.
They owe us. As stewards of a civic treasure, one this community has invested in, they owe us.
And if they don’t have the money to make good on their promise of championship-level baseball, they need to find someone who does.
“If people want it to change, they need to stop giving the Mariners money. I know I am.”
Man, I get it. Boy do I get it.
When the Mariners reached out in August to let me know that, if I didn’t let them know I cancelled, my “Pro”-level Flex Plan for $1,500 would bump to $2,000 and auto-renew a few weeks later, I cancelled that ASAP.
That doesn’t mean I won’t have some kind of Flex Plan in 2024, but with no exclusive presales looming, like the All-Star Game, there was no reason whatsoever to plop down two grand on next year’s club. No way. Not after how little they did to improve the roster last offseason.
While I’m not spending any money on the team right now, I know I will next summer. Plus, I’m spending a hell of a lot of time on them right now—both this offseason and literally right this second as we close in on 2,000 words in this post.
With that in mind, and me growing ever-tired of finding different ways to say “Man, it really sucks to have an organization tell me they’re just not going to be a first-class operation in this league,” what I wrote midsummer still holds up.
I feel like a sucker.
If I were to attempt to distill it down, that’s gotta be it.
I feel like a sucker.
And honestly, if you were to ask me if I were going to do anything about it, well, probably not. I’ll write on it. I’ll try to write on it, even when there’s not much to say.
And then I’ll go to ballgames. I’ll watch and listen to ‘em, too.
“They could still have a good offseason.”
Absolutely. One hundred percent.
The Mariners could still have a championship offseason. There are players they could add and moves they could make that’d cement them as the favorites in the division and among a handful of teams as the most likely to win it all.
It gets a lot harder if they have a hard cap on payroll that sits below their previous high—let alone the modern equivalent of what that figure should be.
But they could still do it. Maybe they spend more than they ever have. Maybe they don’t and still manage to swing a series of moves that lead to one of the best teams in the game playing at T-Mobile Park next summer.
Sure, it could happen.
When developments like this happen, people always jump to what it means. I know I do. I did it with Urías.
Sometimes, though, you gotta just sit with it. A big thing happened and the most important aspect of the event is simply, well, that it transpired.
After years of circling this player and this offseason, after wondering if the organization was saving their bullets by sitting out each of the last two free agent classes, the Mariners are almost certainly out on Shohei Ohtani, perhaps the greatest player who ever lived.
And they’re out because of money.
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