The Mariners have long been considered a candidate to pursue Shohei Ohtani this winter, yet chances may be slim that the reigning AL MVP will head to the Northwest. According to MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer, “industry sources” say “that landing Ohtani doesn’t appear to be within the Mariners’ realistic agenda this offseason.”
Why this is the case isn’t specified, or whether or not this might represent a shift in the Mariners’ thinking after having some early talks with Ohtani and his representation. Kramer cites some possible reasons, several related to the record-setting price tag that Ohtani is expected to land this winter. It could be that the M’s are wary about committing what will likely be over $500MM to a single player, even one of Ohtani’s stature and ability.
Seattle hasn’t been exactly shy about payroll in the past few years. After all, the franchise could end up spending $470MM on Julio Rodriguez, and will owe the young star at least $210MM based on the terms of his elaborate contract extension from August 2022. Luis Castillo and J.P. Crawford signed lucrative extensions in their own right, and the Mariners inked Robbie Ray to a $115MM free agent deal in the 2021-22 offseason.
These deals notwithstanding, the Mariners are currently projected for a $143.3MM payroll in 2024, putting the team around the middle of the pack in spending. The $143.3MM figure does represent one of the higher payrolls in franchise history, and adding Ohtani for what could be $50MM in average annual salary would put the M’s into uncharted financial territory for them.
As Kramer notes, splurging on Ohtani might leave little in the budget for the front office to address other needs. Obviously adding Ohtani would be a major way of addressing Seattle’s broad need for lineup help, “yet, it’d also be imprudent to suggest that Ohtani’s bat alone would solve all the Mariners’ problems,” Kramer writes. If president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto did get the green light to boost payroll by $50MM, using that money on multiple players might be a wiser way of upgrading the roster than spending it all on a DH-only player whose pitching future might be somewhat murky after a second major arm surgery.
In theory, an early pivot away from Ohtani might help the Mariners in some other winter pursuits. There has been a ton of speculation and very little fact about exactly how Ohtani and his camp plan to approach his free agency, yet recent reports indicate that Ohtani might pick his next team before the Winter Meetings begin on December 4. Even if Ohtani is planning to leave the market relatively early, that still gives the Mariners a couple of weeks to pursue other free agents or trade options while many of the bigger-spending teams are still tied up waiting for Ohtani’s decision.
Even though there are plenty of other ways for the Mariners to improve the club besides signing Ohtani, there is sure to be some disappointment from Seattle fans that the two-way superstar might not be on the radar. The Mariners had a somewhat quiet offseason last winter, and as Kramer points out, this relative lack of aggression coming off a playoff berth was interpreted by some as a sign that the M’s were financially gearing up to make a big run at Ohtani this year.
The Mariners were one of the seven teams who were the finalists for Ohtani when he first came to the majors from Nippon Professional Baseball during the 2017-18 offseason. With some speculation still existing that Ohtani might prefer teams on the west coast, the Mariners were seen as a natural potential landing spot this time around, especially since Ohtani has spent time in Seattle in past offseasons and stated that “I felt like it’s a very nice city. I really liked it.” As well, the Mariners’ longstanding connection to Ichiro Suzuki (one of Ohtani’s baseball heroes) has made the team a popular destination for Japanese talent, and the thinking was that signing Ohtani would only strengthen that bond for a new generation of fans.
Even if Seattle is out of the picture, Ohtani’s market is still very active. Teams like the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers, Cubs, and probably other big-spenders like the Yankees, Mets, Padres, and Phillies have all been linked to Ohtani to varying degrees, so it could be that the Mariners felt they weren’t going to win a bidding war with so many clubs involved. Given how Ohtani’s camp is prioritizing secrecy in negotiations, we might not hear much concrete news about his next destination until a signing is imminent.