Destination Seattle: A Detailed Look at a Potential Home for Shohei Ohtani
By Stevil, September 18th, 2017
|Shohei Ohtani performing a magic trick for fans. He's better at baseball. Photos by Jason Coskrey, Japan Times.|
Update: Shohei Ohtani chose the Angels; Seattle's search for a front-line starter continues.
Since there still seems to be a lot of talk about Ohtani, I'll weigh in a little deeper with a collection of my thoughts. For the record, I may be reading into public statements far too deep and I may have everything completely wrong. But when I hear personal accounts of who Shohei is as a person, it's reassuring of the opinion I've formed. With that said, here it is....
I believe that to understand Shohei Ohtani is to understand the simplicity and honesty in his words and actions. He would seem to be a pipe dream for most Mariners fans (well, any fan), though we know the immediate dough involved won't be a factor as the hard-caps in place will prevent teams like Boston, Los Angeles, or New York from ignoring the rules and shattering previous contract records. It isn't about money, and that's not just the reality of the situation, it's also his own opinion.
So why might he choose Seattle?
Seattle has a long history with great Japanese players, welcoming them with respect and going the extra mile to make them feel at home (and I stress the extra mile). The city itself is a short, direct route with non-stop flights to Japan, and is renown for its friendliness, yet also known as a place where you can blend in while maintaining a relatively private lifestyle. Bainbridge Island, among several other semi-secluded places in the region, immediately comes to mind as a place where he might find refuge from the spotlight and that alone could have value.
Sounds simple, right?
Finding him PA's would be seemingly difficult with Nelson Cruz around, but maybe the answer would be letting him bat when he pitches and using Cruz to pinch hit. When he isn't pitching, restrict him to pinch hitting with a significant lead or deficit (he wouldn't likely be used the day before a start, though). He stated that he believes hitting has made him a better pitcher, but he also recognizes the concerns that comes with the territory and stated that the decision to allow him to hit would ultimately be up to the team.
Regardless of how often his bat would be used, Seattle has become known as a fun place to play. There's a sense of unity here and bringing in Darvish (one of his pitching icons) at the same time on a back-loaded contract could be one of many factors weighing into his decision. Or not. For what it's worth, Ichiro got to play with one of his icons, Ken Griffey Jr.
Still pretty simple, or at least somewhat convincing, right?
Marc at USSM wrote an excellent piece detailing some of the incentives and perks that could help persuade him to choose Seattle, including the possibility of bringing along a teammate. Dave Cameron also wrote an excellent breakdown at Fangraphs, more from a financial standpoint, on how a team might lure Ohtani by focusing on the presentation of what a second contract might look like. Seattle's in the conversation from that perspective, as virtually all the big contracts would be off the books by the time a second contract for Ohtani would come to fruition. If you haven't checked out these posts, I recommend doing so.
But there's a couple of other things I would like to touch on that I believe may give Seattle further advantage.
Prior to Charlie Furbush undergoing the knife last year, the Mariners had an incredible track record of keeping players surgery-free. Since then, Tony Zych had somewhat of a pioneering surgery last offseason (successfully), and though Seattle had a few arms blown out this year, they’re all exceptions to the norm in some way. Smyly never made it out of spring, and Marshall and Weber were extreme short-timers in an M’s uniform. Heck, Weber was in the 3rd or 4th inning (I think) of his first start when he went down. Cishek's surgery last offseason had nothing to do with his arm, and Simmons, like Smyly, clearly had something going on before arriving here, and he (Simmons) didn't pitch until September. Simmons didn't undergo surgery, I mentioned him because of the significant time missed.
The 2017 season has been a mess for Seattle, but it doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on the Mariners' handling of their pitchers. And though I was ticked when Dyson cut the season short to have a minor surgery when the team needed him most, rather than simply waiting til the offseason, Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners handled the situation professionally.
Rick Griffin is the Senior Director of Athletic Training and has been here since 1983. The players have loved him (Griffey made sure that was clear) and their history with pitchers speaks for itself, despite the barrage of oddities that plagued them this season. This all adds to the spirit of community and trust that is firmly in place in Seattle, even more so with their new front office. The history regarding the health of pitchers is something probably more interesting to his advisers and future agent than to himself, but it's certainly worth making note of.
Since last offseason I've read countless articles, posts, and listened to many interviews on, or with, Shohei Ohtani. There's even more out there now since he made his intentions to come to MLB clear, despite the restrictions, and everyone seems to believe he will go to a NL team, or a place that can pay him a ridiculous amount of money ASAP and/or let him hit regularly. Many journalists have been quick to point out that he spoke with the Dodgers, Rangers, and Giants as he was finishing high school, and have suggested that these teams might be the most likely destinations given his familiarity with them.
Well, he initially intended to come straight to MLB, but found the Nippon-Ham Fighters to be a team that could nurture him while allowing him to reach his ceiling and find his limits—if any existed—and I believe this is a huge clue in addition to his own words, which, oddly enough, seem to have been overlooked. He turned down LA, Texas, and San Francisco. The difference now is that the initial contract is basically out of his control, which makes things ....(wait for it)....simple. He knows he'll get paid in due time. So it's more about finding the right place, as far as I can tell.
Ohtani at age 22 has already shown character, integrity, honor, and has made it clear that he doesn't care about the figures, though he cautioned that other Japanese players shouldn't sell themselves short and expressed concern over that possibly being a negative side effect from his decision. Think this is a guy who doesn't care or is self-centered? Think again. He has shown a conscious, leading with his heart, head, and talent. This is a player who truly loves and respects the game. I can honestly say that I can't think of a single player that has impressed me more before arriving in MLB.
He has stated that he would like to help his teammates, inspire them to perform to their maximum ability, and that he gives (and will give) 100% every time. That may sound trite or cliché to some, but I don't doubt for a second that he does—and will do—just that. He's also suggested that he would like to play for a fanbase that hasn't known success, to help them get what they've longed for. Everything about Shohei screams “local celebrity hero” and everything about that last bit screams “Seattle!". He may not be just a game-changer, he may be a community-changer, or even a life-changer, and there may be more satisfaction for him in that than just winning baseball games. In fact, he's been clear that he truly enjoys playing, that it doesn't matter if it's a practice, or a live game, and he doesn't feel pressured at all, regardless of the situation. Does it get any more simple than that? He's 22 and living life to its fullest.
Think about that for a second. Here's a guy with unprecedented talent in this modern day and age (though Mike Trout used to pitch), yet hasn't expressed the slightest bit of interest in anything you could remotely suggest as selfish. If his ultimate goal is to be the best human being possible as much as it is being the best player possible, and he doesn't sweat much of anything else, where better a place for him to do that than the Pacific Northwest?
One article I read noted the links between San Diego and Hokkaido, as well as their hiring of Seiichiro Nakagaki as Director of Applied Sports Science, suggesting San Diego may have advantages over other teams. The Padres have a clear need for not just one front-line pitcher, but for two (or even three). They lack offense as well, so it's not hard to envision a fit on paper as they could offer him PA's and possibly bring in Darvish simultaneously. But A.J. Preller has a shady history. He was suspended in 2010 for violating international signing rules while working for Texas, then fined for conducting an illegal workout (or workouts) just before the international draft in 2015 (with the Padres). He's now infamous for hiding critical medical documentation concerning the health of players traded, in which he was suspended for 30 days. It wasn't just one incident, either. There were three. If there's any current GM in baseball with less integrity than Preller, I would like to know who that might be. Coppolella might be his equal.
For whatever San Diego has working in their favor, I would argue that Preller's conduct is a huge red flag, one that Ohtani will be made aware of, if he hasn't been already. There's likely going to be some degree of verbal agreements in place, so this is a legitimate issue.
Jerry Dipoto has been a model of honor, respect, and integrity among GM's, whether you like the deals he's made, or not. He's been fair in his dealings with other teams—many teams—and I believe that's a positive reflection of his character. He speaks a language that is clear, simple, and honest. He's already proven that. When you weigh that with what Seattle has done, and what Seattle as an organization and as a community offers, it isn't hard to see the Mariners being the best fit for Shohei. Seattle seems to match his character.
The point of all this isn't to convince anyone that Seattle should make an effort to sign him. That's a given. The point is to show why Seattle makes sense beyond the standard arguments that you would typically hear of most teams. What Mariners fans could see and how they think about sports may never be the same again. That has to be attractive for him as much as it is for the fans.
So, Jerry, envoke The Way of the Baseball Gods and make him feel at home. Unlike this post, it should be...
On that note, I'll excuse myself for a while--but not before ignoring the doctor's orders and indulging in a little Jameson.