On Friday morning I went through something that I along with the rest of the Mariners fanbase is so prone to over the last decade and a half: let-down. False hope. That little shining light that all the sudden gets burned out.
But this news really stung. In fact, so badly that I would put it on my Mount Rushmore of disappointments in all my years as a sports fan, joining the Seahawks throwing the ball on the 1-yard line, flying to Miami to see Notre Dame get obliterated in the BCS National Championship, and the Mariners falling one game short of a playoff birth in game 162 of the 2014 season.
The highly coveted “Japanese Babe Ruth” in Shohei Ohtani signed with Seattle’s AL West rival, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This was a whopping gut punch and slap in the face to every Mariners fan alive, and for so many reasons.
The decision was so unexpected. Of Ohtani’s seven finalists (Mariners, Rangers, Angels, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres) the Angels were the team that people thought Ohtani would least-likely go to, given the little connection they had prior to the announcement. The M’s on the other hand, were considered to be the clear-cut front runner.
This was due to their rich history and success with Japanese players, the relatively small market of Seattle sports, along with general manager Jerry Dipoto’s borderline obsession over the Japanese phenom, quoting that the Mariners were “all in” on Ohtani, among other factors on top of those. Then to add on to the list of reasons, they not only bolstered their roster by adding speedster and former NL batting title winner Dee Gordon via trade, they acquired an extra $1 million in international slot money, giving them the most cash among the seven finalists to pay to Shohei.
So now Ohtani is going to be playing in the city of Angels, as he will rep the red and white, and have his name inscribed into the same lineup card as the game’s greatest player, Mike Trout. As I saw on Twitter earlier, “Angels in the Outfield just became a nightmare.”
The way ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law phrased it on Friday in an interview on 710ESPN Seattle was “I can tell you, it’s pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Mariners.”
Keith, you took the words right out of my mouth. These two teams have matched up similarly in the last couple of seasons, both having similar flaws in their lack of starting pitching. Both of these teams will also be looking up at the reigning World Champion Houston Astros in 2018 in terms of the AL West. But now for Anaheim, the gap between them and the Astros doesn’t seem as far due to winning the Shohei sweepstakes. For the M’s, it’s going to be an even bigger uphill climb than it was before.
Maybe people think I’m over reacting, and losing out on Ohtani isn’t the end of the world. There is of course the portion of baseball fans out there that believe Ohtani isn’t worth all of the hype and praise that he’s been getting. Many think he won’t ever develop into being a star at the plate in Major League Baseball. Many think nobody can be a two-way player. But my opinion differs.
Never in my lifetime have I seen a free agent player this young, with so much talent, giving a team the opportunity to get a front-line starter and middle of the lineup hitter in one body… for so little money. And I doubt we will ever see a scenario like this again.
Per MLB rules, Ohtani is not allowed to make a free agent contract, as he is not 25 years old yet. The Angels will be paying him a minor-league contract over the course of six seasons. So even if Shohei turns out to be a bust and doesn’t pan out the way people think he will, it’s not really money going to waste since he’s being paid so little to begin with.
In the end, it just sucks. No way around it. It really seemed like the M’s had this in the palm of their hands and it slipped away. Like having the golden ticket, only to have it swiped by Slugworth (For those who get the Willy Wonka reference).
Oh, what could have been: where have we heard Mariners fans say that before?
By no means do I blame this on Dipoto. He might be the only person on the planet whose more devastated by Ohtani’s decision than I am. Aside from forcefully dragging Ohtani to Seattle against his will, Dipoto did everything he possibly could to try and sway the Japanese star to sign. It just hurts to think about how much deeper the Mariners lineup could have gotten over the course of 24 hours, after the Dee Gordon trade.
Sometimes I lay there and think to myself: “Is this playoff drought ever going to end?” “Will I ever see the Mariners win the World Series during my lifetime?”
While that may seem ridiculous, as other teams such as the Blue Jays and Royals had longer playoff droughts, they also have World Series titles, while Seattle has never appeared in a Fall Classic in their 40 seasons as a franchise, being one of only two clubs to never reach one. Each of the last three or four offseasons I hear analysts and experts pick them to either win the division, or grab a Wild Card spot. But somehow, year after year, something goes wrong. Whether it be a surplus of injuries, under performing, or whatever else you can draw up, it’s always something.
Often I think it would take an All Star caliber lineup to push the M’s into October. Maybe that’s a large reason as to why I let myself hop aboard the Shohei hype train and rode it halfway around the world. I thought to myself that if a guy getting compared to Luis Severino on the mound and Freddie Freeman at the plate couldn’t turn the franchise around, then nobody can. But now that’s just wishful thinking.
As to where the team goes from here: there is still starting pitching out there, a lot of it being top-quality. But Dipoto is going to have to be willing to fork over some paychecks to make it happen. Because I can tell you right now, this current pitching staff isn’t going to cut it if they are looking to end their playoff drought in 2018.
The rotation consists of one borderline ace in James Paxton, but every time you turn around he gets himself injured faster than you can snap your fingers. There’s Felix Hernandez, who (if we are being brutally honest) has made me cringe watching him pitch over the last two seasons, not exactly earning the title “King Felix” anymore. You have Mike Leake, who can be a decent middle to back-end of the rotation type of starter. And to cap it off, a handful of young, struggling guys such as Andrew Moore, Ariel Miranda, and Marco Gonzales, to name a few.
So what does this translate to? My guess is about 75 wins from where they are sitting at this current moment. If Dipoto wants that to change, he’s going to need to go and get at least one more top-of-the-line starter. All Stars such as Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are on the free agent market, and Rays starter Chris Archer appears to be on the trading block.
Shohei is gone, but can the Mariners move on? Can they find a way to avenge the absence of the Japanese Babe Ruth to their ballclub? There’s only one way for fans to find out, and it’s just about my least favorite method that exists.
Play the waiting game.