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Mariners' pursuit of Ohtani takes positive turn

Japanese star reportedly prefers to be in smaller market that wasn't on East Coast
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- Speculation that the Mariners are among the top contenders in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes rose sharply Sunday when the Yankees, Red Sox and numerous other teams were informed by the Japanese star's representatives that they were not in the running.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told New York reporters that Ohtani's agents indicated their client preferred a smaller market that wasn't on the East Coast.

SEATTLE -- Speculation that the Mariners are among the top contenders in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes rose sharply Sunday when the Yankees, Red Sox and numerous other teams were informed by the Japanese star's representatives that they were not in the running.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told New York reporters that Ohtani's agents indicated their client preferred a smaller market that wasn't on the East Coast.

Combined with the Mariners' strong history with Japanese players and team ownership, Seattle naturally is among the franchises that would seem to fit the bill.

But while multiple reports indicate the Mariners are among about six-to-eight teams that will be meeting with Ohtani and his representatives this week in Los Angeles, everything regarding Ohtani continues to be highly speculative, and the Mariners declined to confirm whether or not they've been invited to the in-person interview sessions.

Ohtani field narrows; West Coast preference?

By Sunday night, various reports indicated that the Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers were also still in the hunt, while the Angels, Astros and Reds were among a handful of other potential finalists. Teams definitely eliminated were the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins, Pirates, Brewers, Rays, Cardinals, White Sox, Braves, D-backs, A's and Nationals.

Sunday's news was another indicator that money doesn't seem a significant factor in Ohtani's thinking. The Yankees ($3.5 million), Twins ($3.07 million) and Pirates ($2.26 million) were three of the five teams with more available international pool money than Seattle. The Rangers ($3.53 million), Giants ($1.83 million) and Mariners ($1.55 million) are now the three teams with the most pool money who haven't been ruled out.

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Whichever team wins Ohtani's approval will also need to pay a $20 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters, a small price to pay for a player expected to be a force as a big league pitcher and potentially as a hitter as well.

All 30 Major League teams were cleared to pursue Ohtani on Friday when he was officially posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters once Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball came to an agreement with MLB that allows clubs until a Dec. 22 deadline to sign the 23-year-old standout.

Ohtani's representatives asked all 30 clubs to supply a written response to a series of questions, and now the group is being whittled down to teams that will be allowed to meet face to face with the man dubbed "the Babe Ruth of Japan" in the coming days.

While Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto declined to comment on the current situation, he spoke openly of his team's plans to pursue Ohtani on his Wheelhouse Podcast two weeks ago.

"We're not joking around," Dipoto said on the podcast. "We're bringing the big guns. We're bringing the 'A' team. When we sit down, we'll be sitting down with very notable faces, and that is a part of what we want to sell.

"We want to sell the Seattle experience and what it means to Japanese-Americans, our culture and how this organization has trended so positively when we have the star Japanese player. And make no mistake, this is a star Japanese player. He's gifted. He's going to make some team a lot better."

Video: Dipoto joins The Wheelhouse Podcast to discuss Ohtani

The Mariners have had at least one Japanese player on their roster every year since 1998, including 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, catcher Kenji Johjima, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, outfielder Norichika Aoki and infielder Munenori Kawasaki.

Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan quoted unnamed sources Saturday saying the Mariners have asked some of their current players to clear their schedules Tuesday through Friday to potentially be able to meet with Ohtani in L.A., and it's believed some former players have indicated a willingness to help.

One player who doesn't appear in position to aid the recruiting process is All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, who is currently in Israel on vacation, according to his Instagram account.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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