Mariners take new approach in Ohtani sweepstakes

November 10th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto’s Wheelhouse Podcast debuted six years ago this month, an all-inclusive, behind-the-scenes peek into the views and practices of the Mariners’ president of baseball operations. Yet, the most illuminating episode arguably remains the first.

In that November 2017 installment, Dipoto outlined the Mariners’ deep dive on attempting to sign Shohei Ohtani, marveling at the unheard-of feats that the two-way superstar had achieved in Japan, how the Mariners would leverage their geography and rich history with Japanese players to court him and revealing that the club had spent nearly a year “preparing for this moment.”

Six years later -- and to quote iconic Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, “My, oh my,” -- how things have changed.

Dipoto descended on the General Managers Meetings this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., knowing that he’d be peppered with questions on Ohtani’s second career foray into free agency, and Dipoto’s approach from the first go-round appears dramatically different.

“We won’t talk about any single free agent,” Dipoto told reporters, including’s John Denton, when asked about Ohtani. “We will take care of our business and tend to our garden and try to do it pretty quietly.”

Maybe it’s because the stakes are higher this time around than when Seattle first courted Ohtani, or because Ohtani himself has been incredibly veiled with his free-agent pursuits -- yet either way, Dipoto deliberately refrained from discussing the superstar.

“Nah, I won’t go there,” Dipoto said. “Thirty teams have interest in figuring out how he fits.”

It was an approach that many front-office officials took this week, including GM Chris Young of the World Series champion Rangers, who said, “Special player, that’s all I’ll say.”

In that debuting Wheelhouse episode, Dipoto was far more blunt, saying, “We’re not joking around. We’re bringing the big guns. We’re bringing the A-game,” later describing the club’s intention of clearing as much international bonus pool money to bolster their bid, as well as leaning on former Mariners Japanese stars such as Ichiro Suzuki to be part of the courtship.

Yet, Ohtani’s parameters were much different back then. He was a non-drafted free agent, had to be posted by his Japanese club, was subjected to international signing rules, which capped his signing bonus under $3 million, and was also unproven in MLB. This time, there are no spending limits, and Ohtani appears set to win his second AL MVP Award.

The Mariners were believed to be the runner-up to the Angels in 2017, with multiple sources saying that they thought it was all but a done deal until the last minute.

Even when asked hypothetically, how Seattle’s front office would financially value a player who was both an elite hitter and pitcher, Dipoto was mum, saying, “presumably.”

Ohtani revealed last summer that he’d spent extended time in the offseason in the Pacific Northwest, and at the All-Star Game was welcomed with “Come to Seattle!” in a surreal mid-game moment. Maybe those components will help the Mariners’ cause -- but if so, Dipoto won’t say.

“I’m sure there are 30 teams that would love to see him come to their market,” Dipoto said.